For a while now, two or three (or four) at a time on the weekends, I’ve been watching the British drama Wire in the Blood, streaming on Netflix. I’ve just finished watching the fourth season of the six produced (the show having been canceled after 6, in 2009, because it was “too expensive”. Really? How?). It’s based on the novels by Val McDermid, of which I have the first, and haven’t gotten to it yet; I don’t know if the books are going to go on my List, as I gather they’re far more graphic than the serial, and the serial is quite graphic. (Being British, it has far more leeway in that area than American tv.) It’s a bit Criminal Minds, a bit Mentalist, a bit Monk, a bit Sherlock Holmes, and all excellent. (Oh my God – from Wikipedia: “An adaptation for U.S. television is being developed by CBS Television Studios and DreamWorks Television.” For the love of heaven, people, come up with your own damn shows instead of messing with British ones! I wonder if it’s still in the works, and when it might show up on the schedule.)
Dr. Tony Hill is a clinical psychologist who is better working with information than people; his forte is to examine the details of a crime and interpret the characteristics of the person who committed it. In other words, he’s a profiler – but he always corrects people who label him as such, so I’ll respect his preference. He is a unique individual, is Tony, socially inept, more likely to tell the unvarnished and perfectly blunt truth than to take into account the feelings and sensitivities of the person he’s talking to, and to all appearances uninterested in pursuing a personal relationship with anyone, male or female. He’s brilliant, almost Holmesian brilliant, and this is part of what makes him so very impatient with ordinary dull mortals – when he knows he’s right, what difference does a lack of evidence make? In lieu of anyone of his intellectual equal with whom to work through ideas, he often talks to himself – often dividing himself in two, roleplaying a conversation with the unknown subject in question. In other words, to the casual eye he’s completely barmy, and doesn’t try to disguise it; he’s straightforward and unselfconscious in his barminess – but he makes himself indispensable to the (fictional) Bradfield police.
Another reason I’m hesitant to approach the novels is Robson Green’s stunning job of portraying Tony. His depiction is ingrained now, and it will be difficult if the Tony Hill of the books is very different. He presents a character who is deeply alone, deeply damaged, deeply vulnerable and yet very very strong – but whose strength has limits. He is confident in his abilities to the point of an appearance of arrogance, but acutely aware of the consequences if he is wrong, or slow, or unable to force action to find or to stop the people he determines are guilty. It was, I’ll admit, Robson Green’s bonny blue een which were a draw in the beginning, but he’s a gorgeous actor in more ways than just that – the writing and the cast as a whole kept me once I’d been caught. Green has managed to make Tony Hill a hugely sympathetic character with whom I’m delighted to spend a couple of hours on a weekend night, but with whom I’m very happy not to have to deal in person.
The series starts him out partnered with D.I. Carol Jordan, played by Hermione Norris. She presented a Place the Face moment – I knew her, I knew I knew her, I could not for the life of me figure out where I knew her from; I had to resort to imdb.com for the answer: she played the horrid, adulterous, and much frillier Mrs. St. John in Berkley Square. I truly hated Mrs. St. John, which means Ms. Norris is a very gifted actress, because Carol Jordan is fantastic. She starts off the series completely unwilling to depend on Tony Hill – until he is able to prove to her that he is as good as he thinks he is and says he is, and her case closure ratio
increases dramatically. She’s much like Tony, in a way – alone, and strong-yet-vulnerable, with the added necessity of proving she’s not just a good cop but a good woman cop. She and Tony have what is usually called chemistry, in spades – there is always a cloud of will-they/won’t-they/did-they trailing along after them, and on that subject I’ll say no more. (I do wonder what goes on in the books; from what I’ve seen, the series of books and the series of tv programs begin at the same point, but diverge rather drastically.)
Put it this way – the show is so well done I only barely scoffed at Carol’s brother Michael, just enough for form’s sake. (In case I’m less than clear, they have the same last name. The result was not a problem in the UK, apparently, though somewhat more to be avoided when possible here.)
The rest of the cast is excellent as well:
Doreene Blackstock is Annie, often in the background and not used as much as she might be, but enjoyable when she is – and then gone after the first season.
Alan Stocks plays D.S. Don Merrick, an older detective (older than the kids Annie and Paula and Kevin, anyway) for whom the first adjective that springs to mind is “reluctant”. He is slow to accept Tony Hill’s help, in general and on specific cases, unwilling to diverge from procedures he’s used to, and at times downright sullen or obstructive – but I liked him. He still made a good cop, and someone you’d want at your back, while still showing the strains of the job: the constant barrage of evil and pain get to him.
D.C. Paula McIntyre (Emma Handy) joins the squad in the second season, and while she still isn’t being given a great deal to work with her role has (happily, in part) expanded a bit by the end of the fourth season. She’s solid, and while it might be a good thing for the series if she were to show some effects of what happens to her in one episode, then again Tony never does either, so we can just assume it all goes on behind the scenes.
One character I never expected to like is the ambitious and not always bright D.S. Kevin Geoffries (Kev – played by Mark Letheren). He’s not stupid on the job – Kev is a damn good cop. He can just be a right moron at times. He does something appallingly stupid in the first episode, but works his way back to a second chance – which he almost blows by doing something almost dumber at the end of season 2 – and yet when all’s said and done I really like him.
And despite the violence and the long hard look at depravity, I really like the show. I like it for many of the same reasons I love Criminal Minds: the fight against evil, intelligence pitted against horror – and, of course fine writing and acting. I’ll miss it when I’ve gotten through the six seasons.
As to what the title means … It comes from T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets”: “The trilling wire in the blood/sings below inveterate scars/appeasing long-forgotten wars.” Meaning? Who knows? “Robson Green said the phrase ‘wire in the blood’ was taken to mean a genetic kink, something impure and unusual in the blood, that leads to the kind of psychosis Hill might deal with.
“Val McDermid says: ‘Who knows what Eliot really meant by that line? Robson’s explanation is as good as any… For myself, I’ve always taken it to be a metaphor for the thrill of adrenaline surging through the bloodstream. But we’ll never know for sure.” OK.
My impression of the title is of something alien and electric running in the veins of the unsubs the show deals in, something which shouldn’t be there, and the presence of which creates the sort of – yes, thrill a psychopath feels with a kill. The imagery it gives me is of a literal, very fine wire inserted by some means through the vein of the arm, jolting like a needle hitting the side of a vein (nasty feeling), coloring the perceptions and reactions of the owner of the arm.
I was glad, for once, to have been accidentally spoiled for the information that Carol Jordan inexplicably leaves Wire in the Blood after Series 3. There is a rather feeble excuse given that, while Tony was away from the force for a time, not only did the Bradfield police offices move, but … so did Carol. All that was ever said was that she was offered a job she could not turn down – in South Africa. Whatever happened – whether Hermione Norris left for another role or the producers decided to replace her, the switch was made in a horrible fashion; not only was there little explanation for the viewer, but Tony was never told until he showed up at the station and found D.I. Alex Fielding (Simone Lahbib, who was apparently Isobel Anderson in Monarch of the Glen, though I have absolutely no memory of her) in Carol’s office. She just left without a word. And that’s terrible. Poor Tony.
And it’s part of what I mentioned above, about the tv serial diverging from the books; on paper, Carol never leaves. As usual with any change like this, I wanted to hate Alex Fielding … but she’s very good, is Simone Lahbib, and the character is, well, perhaps too much like Carol, but good nonetheless. Her soft brogue is delightful, and she put up a hell of a fight to making use of Tony’s skills – although she might have capitulated a little too quickly, still, he proved himself.
Again. Poor Tony.
They start Alex out in season 4 with a very interesting mystery about her: she does not work over. She is always available, always conscientious, probably works more than an 8-hour day – but where Carol was at the office first thing in the morning and well into the evening, Alex seems to leave promptly at the inner limits of her job description. It was pretty clear that she had somewhere important else to be, but we aren’t shown why until the very end of the episode, when we – very briefly – meet her young son. He is given a couple of scenes – his first being with Tony, to boot, who is bemused by the presence of a child in his new partner’s life – but is rarely otherwise mentioned; Alex is apparently one whose personal life is just that, and if we ever find out who and where the father is it could well be in the course of a case. That’s my prediction, anyway: we’ll see if I’m right.
Another casting change was the – also unexplained – disappearance of D.S. Don Merrick (Alan Stocks) a season before Carol’s departure. It can be explained logically within the show’s universe as a result of his attack on Kev at the end of season 2, with good reason; but it very simply never is mentioned, much less explained. Paula and Kev simply gain rather larger roles, and that’s about it. It was a shame, but they do well making up for his loss.
Did I say “poor Tony” up there a couple of times? Make it three, because what they do to him in the third season is beyond the rest: brain tumor. In the end of season 4 there’s the possibility that it has returned – and in the end he is distraught and depressed and considering death, and berates himself, something about how he’s so full of himself that he thinks a migraine is a brain tumor … Which wasn’t fair. There’s the old Arnold Schwarzeneggar line “It’s not a tumor!” Well, in Tony’s case, it was a tumor, and if it was me every twinge I would immediately think “it’s back”. Poor, poor Tony.
I look forward to the remaining two seasons… And, as I said, I’ll miss it.