The Wire in the Blood

February 21, 2011 at 8:47 pm (BBC, TV) (, , , , , , )

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 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.



  1. words for hangman said,

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  2. Jay Miller said,

    All these years later I am still reeling from the disappearance of Hermione Norris from WIRE IN THE BLOOD. I watched a couple of episodes with her replacement, but nothing personal, Ms. Norris and Robson Green together WERE this show. And the disgracefully abrupt way in which her departure was handled says little for the show’s writers or producers. I’ll never watch this show again, just keep replaying the first three seasons and root around for other shows starring the remarkably talented Mr. Green and the superb Ms. Norris. I can only wish someone with a brain will cast them together again…

    • stewartry said,

      They were wonderful together – and I’d love to see them together again as well. I miss Carol and hate the way she was dropped. But … like I said, I wanted to hate Simon Lahbib, and couldn’t. For me the show is worth adapting. Which is unusual for me – I’m not usually good at the adapting.

    • Linda said,

      I totally agree with Jay Miller – way along here in 2013. I LOVED Hermoine Norris as Carol Jordan and the sexual tension between her and Tony (Robson Green) is palpable and as interesting to watch as the murder mystery itself. She has a certain “something” that cannot be replaced. Show’s producers….how could you do this to us??

  3. Tedly said,

    I have been watching it on Netflix stream as well. It just get’s better and better all of the time. I was simultaneously watching MI-5 when all of the sudden Carol (Hermione Norris) joined their team. I was annoyed by her somewhat but she grew on me. I only hope CBS does not butcher it. Tony Hill’s character is what really makes the show worthwhile.

    • stewartry said,

      I just started Season 5 last night; I think I’m used to Alex, and Tony, as you say, is after all the main draw. And I really shudder to think what CBS might do. Who on earth can they use to fill Robson Green’s shoes? Thanks for the comment!

  4. Nicola Semple said,

    I have heard that Ildy Modrovich, who wrote for CSI:Miami has been writing for the american version CBS plan to make. Not sure how I feel about this, I love CSI but the Miami version is so cheesy. America just can’t get that gritty feel that Britain does. It’s the influence of social realism and this is what made Wire In The Blood so good. I was totally heartbroken when I found out it had been dropped – says it all about Britain. ITV is so desperate to keep spicing things up, they think that dropping programmes all the time for something new is the way to do it.

  5. Judith adrienne Kostezky said,

    I agrre about the chemistry between Norris and Green. And why on earth did she leave? She is married to the honcho who governs the network that brought “Wire in the Blood” to life on the small screen. And Val McDermid herself has said “?” . Her books don’t kill off Carol. Ooh but i’m a salacious seeker1… But did their chemistry get real in ‘rea’ life as well ?????

    • stewartry said,

      Thanks for the comment! Is she really married to a network guy? How weird. You have to wonder …! I haven’t read any of the books yet – soon, though.

  6. CaroleMM said,

    I agree with the amazing chemistry between Norris and Green, which has caused me to ‘waste’ many an hour re-watching my favorite episodes from seasons 1-3.

    Just one note –the second picture of Robson Green alone (3rd photo) is from Touching Evil. He never actually looked quite that handsome in WITB, which of course hasn’t stopped me from watching it endlessly.

    • stewartry said,

      LOL – you’re right, he’s rather too young in that picture for WitB. Good catch. I think I’ll leave it, though, since it is an awfully pretty picture … : )

      I liked Simone Lahbib a lot more than I expected to. But …

      Thanks for the comment!

  7. phiberphan said,

    Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeease bring the real Tony Hill (Robson Green) back with Hermione Norris…….never seen better or more intellegent TV than WITB!

  8. Fox Mulder said,

    Being in America & of X-files descent I was immediately drawn into this Brit-driven crime thriller that was as well acted as it was written & that alone is rare enough to be worth investing time into! Having said that, when Duchovny (Fox Mulder) decided he was going to be a big movie star & let his launching pad (X-files) take a back seat I was incredibly disappointed that the main character was to become the T-1000 from terminator 2 😦 If that wasn’t bad enough Gillian Anderson (Scully) went off to be more mom than FBI agent & was replaced by that girl I know from something but that something was never good enough for me to remember or care who she was or what I was watching her in. *sigh* So when the bomb drops suddenly & without warning that Carol Jordan, the co-main character & driving interest behind sexual tension between her & Dr Hill, is gone without a trace only to be told in the show as leaving for south Africa…well I was pretty bummed to say the least. Not surprisingly after doing some google research I find she left for what I assume was a more lucrative job in spooks, a show I am unfamiliar with.

    My point is this: great shows needs to be developed like sports franchises. If you have a couple players that make you a championship team, lock them into long-term contracts & guarantee your product! Get the studio to green light you for 3 seasons or whatever is feasible & then sign your best players to those deals with options for the studio to resign you once the contract is up. I have seen too many good shows get ruined because the actors get too big for their britches & think they’re headed to Hollywood fame. Dance with the date who brought you!!!

    Anyways, great show regardless. Literally makes a mockery of the majority of American pop culture crime swill that seems to just promote fascist agenda lightly veiled with enough sex & violence to entertain the average dumbed down couch slob. I’m looking @ you David Koresh!!!

  9. P. Sluis said,

    It seems American exec types just can’t leave a good thing alone… they have to screw it up as is exampled by the changes made to Wire in the Blood. I’ll re-watch the early seasons and not the newer. The interactions of Tony and Carol (Green and Norris) gave the drama it’s life; the acting by both is exquisite. The show no longer has a ‘wire in the blood’ without ‘Carol”. They should have simply cancelled the show rather than continue a watered down version. I think it a sad day for a great TV show when all they can do to boost ratings is to emphasize their lead actress’s décolletage. When acting and writing is sub par I guess all that’s left is cleavage. The CSI shows in the U.S. are also now all about cleavage and little to do with true acting. It’s interesting to watch and compare those shows over the few years they have aired and watch the lowering of necklines as the writing, plots and acting have steadily declined. Really too bad but then so much of what we do manufacture here no longer has good value/worth.

    • stewartry said,

      I was surprised that I actually didn’t mind the …er…what’s-her-name episodes; it did make me uneasy when the storylines kept throwing her together with Tony and made it seem inevitable that they would end up “together”.

      We do steal the best … *sigh*

    • Sandra D said,

      Greetings from America. I just recently discovered Wire in the Blood and love it but what a shocker when I played the next episode and Carol had left. I’m so glad I can see the “Original” via netflix. I don’t know if America has done their version yet or not and I’m almost sure I won’t watch it after seeing the British version. You are so right about CSI. I loved it when it was about the case and how they solved it. Then it became a soap opera-more about the personal lives of the characters than the murder case. Then I discovered Criminal Minds and they have a revolving door for their characters. I can’t think of one actor that can do Dr. Hill justice and I love Doc Martin-no one else could take Martin Clunes place on that show either. I will keep searching for more murder mystery shows I can enjoy. If anyone can suggest more I would appreciate it.

  10. Mac Robb said,

    Enjoying the series.

    I am totally frustrated in finding the origin/logic of the term “Wire in the Blood”.

    Anyone like to field this?

    • stewartry said,

      From The title Wire in the Blood – where it came from and what it means..
      The phrase “the wire in the blood” comes from T.S. Eliots “Four Quartets”. – “The trilling wire in the blood/sings below inveterate scars/appeasing long-forgotten wars.”
      As for the meaning..
      In an interview 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”.

    • lncmens said,

      What Wire in the Blood means to me: When I’m rooting around, I usually grab something (i.e., a computer cable wire) and follow it to a logical conclusion. Always with an “AH HA” moment. I like to think this describes what Dr. Tony Hill does, intrinsically. DI Carol Jordan, too, but just a little less so (as she’s really more about evidence than “gut,” i.e., blood, than Tony).

      • stewartry said,

        Excellent point! In the Lord Peter fandom they call it a “scissors moment”, after that instant when something like “SSSSCIOR” unscrambles in your mind to “scissors”. It makes for a great team when there’s a “just the facts” person and an “AH HA” person.

  11. Jediwoman said,

    i also love this show! However, I was also unhappy when Hermione Norris was inexplicably replaced. After Carol Jordan’s replaced, the Paula character, played by Emma Handy , dropped a lot of weight, her wardrobe changed to mirror Simone Lahbib’s. I wondered if Carol Jordan was replaced bc she was too tough? I can’t envision Simone Labib’s character screaming “piss off” at a passing motorist the way that DI Jordan does. I always found Jordan’s candor and spontaneity so refreshing. I disagree that DI Fielding is another Carol Jordan; she is so much more stereotypically “feminine” to the show’s detriment.

    I attempted to watch the US version but only saw one or two episodes. There are reasons why British crime dramas are so good; I prefer them over our own. (Prime Suspect, Touching Evil, etc.). Netflix streams entirely too few of them!

  12. Elizabeth said,

    I thought as did everyone what a terrible pitiful exit of Jordan. She is the best of the two and although Fielding would not be my first choice, I really think that the child just does not fit into the strong Jordan stand alone except for Tony picture. She is to motherly. I have watched up to beginning of 6th season. I have a feeling that it is going to end with Fielding and Tony getting together because of the boy. Perhaps his tumor will return and take him out permanently, one or the other is the way I predict it will end.

    • stewartry said,

      Unfortunately, from the little I can find Hermione Norris left the producers little choice – she left, so they had to replace her in the part, replace Carol Jordan, or let the show go. I can’t maintain too much respect for an actor who walks away from a show in which she is one of the reasons the show exists in the first place. It was a little like Robin Hood leaving Robin Hood… Oh wait, he did.

      I didn’t want to like Simone Lahbib, but I did in the end, to my surprise.

  13. Roe said,

    British TV, especially Wire in the Blood, is fantastic! I’m so hooked and now I’m down to the last two episodes and it saddens me. American TV does not and most likely will never have the same quality of programming that British TV has. Thank goodness for Netflix 🙂

    • stewartry said,

      That’s the problem with watching a series that’s already ended! On the one hand, you can binge and not have to wait for new episodes – but on the other, when you’re done … you’re done.

  14. azzyandlexie said,

    Wire In the Blood is my favorite criminal Drama show of all time. I miss the show. Watching it on Netflix again. As the rest of you said, I really was upset when CI Carol Jordan abruptly left; just as her and Tony Hill were seeing eye to eye. In that closing season even Tony said to Carol, “We work well together…”. And then, next season she’s gone off to Johannesburg, South Africa. Just didn’t make much sense. All of that was explained in a short phone call Tony had made. It took awhile to like the new CI. Pretty strange that they would cast a character so similar in many ways to Carol. She was a good replacement, if they needed one, but they should’ve concluded the relationship between Hill and Jordan. Possibly her marrying Tony and going into another line of work. That could have been easily written into the complex dialogue that was “Wire In the Blood.”

    • stewartry said,

      Even if they had just inserted a scene in the beginning, killed her off and shown Tony at the funeral, or created a more believable scenario for her leaving (Johannesburg?) – SOMEthing!

      That being said, I need to watch that series again soon.

      Glad you stopped by!

  15. Lauren said,


    A British girl here. Glad to see that Wire In the Blood went down well in America. Not sure if you ever did read the books, but I would urge you to do so. Yes, they are graphic but not horrendously so. You also learn a lot more about Tony and Carol, their backgrounds etc. There’s quite an interesting ongoing story with Tony’s mother. Kevin’s history is not really touched upon so much in the series as it is in the books and you do find out what happened to Merrick – he didn’t just disappear, but the storyline in that particular book might have been deemed a bit too delicate a topic for television. Oh and Hermione Norris’ ‘replacement’, Alex DOES feature in the books but Carol is also present and if I remember correctly they don’t get on too well. It’s quite a different character to that in the series (Alex, I mean). And don’t worry about being put off by Tony being different in the book. Robson Green has the character spot on so you’ll really enjoy it. It actually makes reading them better as you can picture Green and Norris doing scenes as you’re reading. Go for it!!

    • stewartry said,

      Hi, British girl! Thanks for the information! I did read the first one a while back, and it was excellent. A strange experience – the series episode was so close, but it had been long enough since I’d seen it that I didn’t remember everything that happened even though it all felt very familiar. I don’t know why I’ve never read any more of the series – now that you’ve reminded me, I’ll have to remedy that! Thanks again.

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