Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Inspector Lewis: Old, Unhappy, Far Off Things

Sorry this post is so late -- I was sidelined with a terrible sinus headache yesterday (yes, that is an awesome way to spend a DAY OFF, but I digress...).

Inspector Lewis began its long-awaited Series IV debut Sunday with the episode Old, Unhappy, Far Off Things. I absolutely loved this return to Lewis & Hathaway's world -- the series regulars were in fine form, there were a couple of great guest stars, and Hathaway was deliciously cranky and wore a trench coat for nearly the entire episode. The ENTIRE episode -- be still my heart. :) Here's the episode summary:

Luminary graduates from Oxford's last surviving all-female college are on campus to honor beloved professor Diana Ellerby (Juliet Stevenson, Place of Execution). There is the confident lingerie CEO, the provocative newspaper columnist — and then there's the passive aggressive Poppy Toynton. Poppy never quite blossomed intellectually like her peers. When Poppy is found dead on the stairs, her seething rage against her fellow graduates exposed, Lewis and Hathaway step into the esteemed circle of women to investigate. But Lewis is haunted by memories of 15-year-old Chloe Brooks, attacked at the college ten years earlier. Lewis's work on that case interrupted by the death of his wife, now his deepening obsession with it threatens to derail the Toynton investigation. Is it unresolved grief or detective's intuition? Lewis and Hathaway get a dizzying education in the scandals and secrets of Lady Matilda's College, as well as a lesson or two in feminism, as they untangle a new case and bring a far off one back into terrifying focus. Kevin Whately, Laurence Fox and Hattie Morahan (Sense and Sensibility) star in Old, Unhappy, Far Off Things.
Lady Matilda's, the last all-female college at Oxford, is readying itself for change -- there was a recent vote to open to male students, and one of the college's most famous professors, Diana Ellerby (Juliet Stevenson), is leaving for Princeton. A party celebrating Diana's accomplishments brings her best and brightest students back to Oxford, including Freya Carlisle (Zoe Telford), a newspaper columnist, and Lakshmi Eyre (Stephanie Street), a retail executive. On the fringes of this glittering circle are Poppy Toynton (Kathryn O'Reilly), whose inclusion in Diana's "circle of trust" has always baffled the more successful members, and Ruth Brooks (Hattie Morahan), a nurse whose career stalled when her sister was attacked and left comatose at an Oxford party ten years prior -- a case Lewis investigated, that coincided with his wife's hit-and-run related death. (I realize Ruth's character doesn't show up until the second party, but I'm trying to condense things here.) Past and present collide as Lewis discovers that this latest case will force him to revisit some of his pasts most painful memories.

I've always rather felt that Inspector Lewis's strongest episodes are those that delve into the pasts of our beloved main characters -- Lewis (Kevin Whately), Hathaway (Laurence Fox), Hobson (Clare Holman), etc. -- and provide some glimmers of insight into the events that made them into the team that exists on our TV screens today. It's been almost two years since we really revisited the shattering event of Lewis's loss of his wife -- her death informs so much of his character, especially the reticent man he was early on in the show that it would be easy to surmise that the writers have exhausted (or forgotten) the event entirely. Since discovering who was responsible for his wife's death in the Series II episode The Quality of Mercy, we've seen a gradually more relaxed (marginally -- he's still delightfully set in his ways) Lewis, open even to the previously unthinkable possibility of dating again. Forcing Lewis to revisit a place that he associates with his greatest heartbreak turned out to be a highly effective way of revealing how such pain never really goes away, and the scar can be ripped open when one least expects it.

Hathaway makes my world go 'round, when it comes to this show, and watching the friendship and trust grow and develop between Lewis and Hathaway is one of the show's greatest joys. Seriously, I could write an ODE to those moments (that would quickly fall apart into incoherent fangirl babbling, but it's the thought that counts, right?). This episode was just chock-full of Hathaway-related goodness. By far the highlight was witnessing his concern over Lewis's reaction to revisiting an unfinished case, circa the time of his wife's death. Fox doesn't have to say much -- his character really is a man of very few words -- so the acting is all in the eyes and expressions and movement. Subtle but powerfully done.

It was particularly interesting to see Hathaway react to the re-entry of Lewis's former DS, Ali McLennon (Saskia Reeves). McLennon retired early and was apparently convinced that there was nothing left to investigate in Lewis's old case involving the Brooks sisters. Lewis can't shake the feeling there's more to the story, but for some INEXPLICABLE REASON (male stupidity? :P) seems really into the idea of reconnecting with Ali, who has apparently harbored a thing for him all these years. This brings up a couple of discussion points -- 1) Whatever happened to the burgeoning romance between Lewis and Hobson last year (in Your Sudden Death Question they're planning a weekend getaway, and in Falling Darkness Lewis gets all hot & bothered over Laura's past -- jealous much)? I did think their romance was progressing a tad fast, but if the showrunners' idea of back-pedaling is pretend that least season never happened, that doesn't work for me, either.

And 2) Seriously, how adorable was it watching Hathaway SEETHE WITH REPRESSED JEALOUSY when Lewis is (stupidly) WAY more interested in listening to his former DS than him, even going so far as to take her out for PINTS! I could just hear Hathaway mentally ranting -- "What ON EARTH are you taking that SKANKY FORMER COP out for PINTS FOR?!?! GOING FOR PINTS & DISCUSSING CASES IS OUR THING!!!!!!!" :) And despite the distinct LACK of Lewis appreciation for his loyalty, he goes ABOVE & BEYOND (read: sleepless) creating timeline boards for ten-year old cases, all in the name of supporting his BFF Lewis. I love these guys. :)

A couple of quick casting notes -- Zoe Telford as Freya may be a familiar face to Mystery fans, as she's appeared in episodes of Poirot and Foyle's War, and perhaps most notably as Watson's love interest Sarah in Sherlock. Juliet Stevenson (Diana Ellerby) is a period film veteran. Stevenson memorably portrayed Mrs. Elton in the 1996 Emma, and in the 2002 Nicholas Nickelby she proved just how adept she could be at playing creepy/crazy people. *wink* I am hard-pressed to think of an actress better suited to hide a whole lotta crazy beneath an icy veneer of respectability. Seriously, watching Stevenson fish around for a ten-year-old corpse is over-the-top, but it's the kind of melodrama amidst the ivy-drenched Oxford halls that makes this show so much fun. Casting-wise the best surprise of this episode was, for me, Hattie Morahan's appearance as Ruth Brooks, one of Diana's most promising students whose future was irrevocably altered by the horrifying attack on her sister. Morahan is perhaps best-recognized thanks to her appearance as Elinor Dashwood in the 2008 miniseries version of Sense & Sensibility -- and for my money this is her best TV appearance since that role. She brings the perfect balance of strength & vulnerability to Ruth's character (plus she has this awesome NAME!! HA!!), AND she gets to be on the receiving end of Hathaway's multi-tasking matchmaking AWESOMENESS -- so yeah, on the last point alone, EXCELLENT subplot there.

Old, Unhappy, Far Off Things was an excellent start to the newest slate of Inspector Lewis episodes. My boys Lewis and Hathaway are in fine form, and if this episode is any indication we're in for a real treat over the next few weeks. If you watched the episode I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Update 9/14/11: Read my DVD files update for this episode!


Anne Mateer said...

Halfway through the show last night my husband looks at me and says, "Why haven't we been watching this before now?" (We watched our first two Inspector Lewis episodes two weeks ago.) That pretty much sums it up. We love love the complexity of the characters and the story.

Unknown said...

@Anne - YAY! :) I'm ridiculously happy to know their are two new Lewis fans in the world. :) Have fun playing catch-up!

Heidenkind said...

That was a pretty fancy coat Hathaway was wearing. I was obsessed with it. :)

The whole thing with Ali was dumb. I mean, it was pretty obvious she was suspicious just based on the fact that she was coming on to Lewis; and yeah, what happened to Lewis & Laura's relationship??? WTF?

Unknown said...

@heidenkind - LOVE the coat. I was totally distracted by it too -- every time Hathaway appeared on-screen in it, I was all "SHINY! Hathaway in a snazzy coat! *drool*"

The Ali thing was ridiculous. And if Lewis and Laura broke up or something, dang it we deserved to SEE IT HAPPEN.

bcd said...

WHY was the freshman killed? Poppy I understand, Ali I understand, but WHY the freshmand student? And, yes, Hathaway's coat and his longer hair have him competing with Idris Elba for most compelling cop on British tel

rgb said...

Yes, why was the freshman killed? I don't understand that at all. In the US version they edit out 10 minutes, so is there something missing? She found the first body, but she did not see the killer. Just don't get it.

Unknown said...

Oh my goodness, great question -- I can't believe I totally forgot to address that. I have preordered the Series 4 DVDs, which I think come out on 9/13, so I will definitely be re-watching this episode ASAP!

Lori said...

This was a great return to IL though I am a little concerned over the total lack of explanation with Lewis/Hobson and why the freshman was killed. But then again, Hathaway's brilliance can right many wrongs!

Unknown said...

@Lori - The Lewis/Hobson thing is BIZARRE. It's like this is a script from mid-series 3 instead of series 4. Very bad continuity. As to the other issue, given PBS's history of editing these shows for broadcast, I feel really confident that the freshman's murder will be made clearer on the DVD release. Will let you know. :)

Avalon said...

Hi Ruth,

I was so happy to come across your blog. I am a long time fan of Colin Dexter and the Inspector Morse mysteries, as well as the Inspector Morse series. Now, Lewis and (the dishy) Hathaway are excellent! I was glad to see that others were concerned about what happened to Laura/Lewis and I was extremely distracted by the student's death being unexplained. I will be glad to see what you find out via the dvd.

Thanks for a great discussion forum!


Unknown said...

@Avalon - Hi Jana! Thanks so much for stopping by & commenting - it's great to meet other fans of Lewis & Hathaway. :) I hope you'll come back to join in further Lewis discussions!

Unknown said...

For anyone interested, I've updated this review with a link to my "DVD files" post for this episode, where I discuss the differences between the DVD and broadcast versions of this program. Just follow the link added to the bottom of the above post!

Katja said...

I had the impression that Ali was the one trying to revive the connection, not Lewis, and that she was doing it because she needed to know how much Lewis had found out. I thought Lewis was resisting her blandishments.

Too fun seeing Juliet Stevenson, whom I always associate with using ketchup to explain the off-sides rule (Bend it Like Beckham) and Saskia Reeves (Lady Jessica in the Dune miniseries) in very different roles.

Unknown said...

@Katja - You could definitely be on to something - I have an admitted bias towards being frustrated during the Ali/Lewis exchanges because he seemed awfully susceptible. :P That, and the fact that the Lewis/Hobson romance hinted at in the previous series seemed to vanish -- but yep, maybe I wasn't giving Ali enough credit.

I love Juliet Stevenson, she is such a great actress -- and played a very different role in the recent BBC miniseries The Hour (just finished airing this past Wednesday).

JRTStarlight said...

To be thus is nothing, but to be safely thus. A literary reference - just in case, you know, to be safe. Poppy was killed not because Poppy threatened the professor, but given what she was like, just to be safe, since the professor was leaving her behind, better to kill her, just to be safe. The freshman found the body but also heard something? What did she hear - what did she see? Nothing, but the professor couldn't be sure of that. So just to be safe, I think that's why the professor killed the freshman. I'm guessing, of course, and if there's 10 minutes that didn't air in the U.S., maybe it's explained better there. But I think the professor killed first out of jealousy, then pushed the girl to cover it up (coma) then Poppy, to be safe, then the freshman, to be safe, then Ali, to be safe, then went to burn the body, to be safe. When she couldn't, she felt she had nothing to live for, so up in smoke she went, too. Quite a miserable character, really. Doesn't say much for feminists, does it, other than she was a poor example.

Anyway, I comment to offer my thoughts as to why the professor killed the cute freshman girl - she didn't know for sure what she heard or so, so, to be safely thus.

Unknown said...

@JRStarlight - Thanks for sharing your perspective!