So what will we get with Grace this week? An engaging story, or a fairly average episode? That’s the way this series has been going so far. Such is the life of a mystery-of-the-week series.
And this week’s instalment… well, there was a lot going on. A lot.
Packing a story with a highly complex (and convoluted) murder mystery, plus the ongoing relationship between Roy and Cleo, PLUS a new member of the team out to get Roy does not necessarily mean it was any good. Far from it.
Dead Man’s Footsteps was a bit of a head-scratcher, its many constituent parts making it a real muddle.
We started off with a young woman applying contact lenses, pulling on a wig and heading out, getting into a lift. She became trapped, the lift’s controls failing.
The action then switched to the discovery of a skeleton in a storm drain. Roy and the team were called to the scene, naturally, with forensics dating the body back 10 years or so. Indeed, further analysis revealed several similarities to a cold case that was close to Roy’s heart – his own wife, Sandy. The prospect of finally finding Sandy’s body (and perhaps finding what really happened to her) hit Roy hard, and he was on edge.
So much so, a new addition to the team – the odious Cassian Pewe (why do all bad buys have Harry Potter names?) – who had previous with Roy was tasked by Vosper to look into some of the county’s cold cases. Number one on his list was Sandy’s disappearance, and he set about reinvestigating Roy. His argument was that in most spousal disappearances or murders it’s almost always the husband, and he further argued that Roy had never been investigated properly.
With all of these strands set up, we still kept flitting back to the lift woman, who had escaped her claustrophobic confinement but was soon taken hostage by a softly-spoken, smooth-looking thug who was keen to retrieve what she had stolen from him. To say she was having a bad few days was an understatement.
A murder mystery, a hostage situation, a cold case investigation… as I said earlier, there was a lot going on here. Of course, the murder investigation and the plight of the lift woman in the present day were bound to converge at some point. But Crikey O’Reilly… these parts took their time joining up.
The murder mystery was a hugely convoluted affair, which didn’t help with the old comprehension levels. We had the cold case, where the victim in the storm drain was found to be the ex-wife of a shady gang boss called Ronnie Welbeck… who had faked his own death. Not only that but the investigation then turned to France and then Spain, and it became apparent that Welbeck’s second wife had not only laundered his life insurance money through stamps for him but was also murdered.
(Laundering money through rare stamps are a real thing, apparently, before you ask).
So where did the lift woman come into it all? She had been seeing Welbeck and was sent to retrieve the stamps after they were stolen by his associate, Chad Skebbs. Except Abby – lift woman’s real name – stole them herself and was now in hiding. (Abby eventually outfoxed everyone and escaped Roy and co to Rio de Janeiro.)
See what I mean? No not only preposterous but also a proper muddle.
And that was only the murder mystery side of things. It didn’t help that we had these side issues to deal with, which weren’t really dealt with properly. Cassian Pewe had dug up Roy’s back garden in a bid to find Sandy’s remains but found nothing and just kind of disappeared after the finale (which involved Roy, Pewe, Abby and her dementia-ridden mother in a caravan teetering on the edge of a cliff, employing full Star Trek wobbly movement acting). The Pewe strand seemed to be a complete waste of time.
And can we have a word about Vosper, who just makes bad decision after bad decision and treats Roy really quite badly?
The (other) real problem I had with this episode was the total non-appearance by the real big bad, Ronnie Welbeck. He had killed two of his wives, fakes his own death and – in a higgledy-piggledy way – had scammed his way to his own life insurance. But he was only onscreen in the final scenes. It’s really quite difficult to get a hold on a story when the main perpetrator isn’t the focus of the show.
A lot of people think that Grace is something you can switch off to on a Sunday night, and there’s no doubt that it has these kinds of qualities. And you can understand why Russell Lewis is heading this series up – John Simm as Roy Grace is highly watchable, and you just know ITV setting it up as a Brighton version of Morse.
But when you get stories so muddled, so difficult to follow and so far over the line in terms of believability, I’d argue that it’s actually really rather difficult to switch off and go with the flow in a sort of cosy crime sort of way that many contend this show allows them to do. There are good things in Grace, but I still contend that it’s still trying to find its feet – a lot like Roy in the caravan.
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE ONE REVIEW
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE TWO REVIEW
Grace is shown on ITV and is now available on ITV Hub in the UK