“Unforgotten”–The Power to Recall

 

Unforgotten PBS series

This British crime drama (PBS Masterpiece Mystery), comprised of three episodes in two seasons, focuses on one stone-cold case per season. Each involves a murder at least three decades old. The detective team– Cassie Stuart (the wonderful Nicola Walker of “Last Tango in Halifax” and Sunny Khan (the perfectly cast Sanjeev Bhaskar of “Indian Summers”)–solve each cold case in a delicate balancing of tension with hints of romance.

In Season 1 of Unforgotten the detectives discover the 1976 remains of a teenage boy found in the sub-basement of an apartment complex. No one but the two detectives seems to care or expect closure to the case, presuming any persons of interest would be untraceable or dead.

Unforgotten, like all good mysteries, creates encrusted layers of complex clues, red herrings, and surprises. There is no last-minute perpetrator inserted to fool the viewer. Nor is the culprit easy to guess in the first few minutes of watching. Characters are inserted in such a way that the viewer wonders where the interrelated scenes are going– a priest who helps the homeless, an older man losing patience with his wife’s descent into dementia, a woman tutoring students for their exams, and a man who obsesses over political power. There’s no indication that any of them know each other — or, really, could possibly know each other.

Season 2 of Unforgotten takes the drama up a notch. The detective team investigates another cold case– of a middle-aged man stuffed into a suitcase. His past is sordid. As the two detectives investigate the texts of possible suspects left on the pager of the deceased, secrets and lies are revealed for each of the persons of interest. But, all of them have rock-solid alibis. Questions of what constitutes justice are provocative. The two detectives eventually solve the mystery.

What distinguishes a mystery about a cold case is the stories of older people who have tremendous arcs revealing a complex series of rebirths: their pasts so complicated that who they are in the present is virtually unrecognizable. All middle-aged and old people were once young, with challenges and sex lives they may wish to forget but are not forgotten. In Unforgotten the history of each character– of their secrets and regrets– is the core narrative.  Like all good stories, the characters’ arcs reveal who we were, who we have become, and who we could be. Unforgotten is a stunning melodrama!

Note: The two-season series has now ended, but can be seen on PBS.com. Season 3 of Unforgotten is now in production.

 

“The Escape Artist”–Thrilling Escapism

 

Escape Artist 2In this two-part mini-series aired on PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery Theater over the past two weeks, Will Burton (David Tennant of “Broadchurch”, “Dr. Who”, and “Harry Potter” fame) is  London’s top-ranked criminal defense barrister.   Maggie Gardner (Sophie Okonedo, 2014 Tony-award winner for “A Raisin in the Sun”), is equally brilliant but number two in trial victories.  Both Will Burton and Maggie Gardner are at the top of their game,  two intellects who are perfectly matched and relentlessly ambitious.

 

Burton believes “everyone deserves a defense,”  even for the despicable murderous psychopath, Liam Foyle (fearsomely played by Toby Kebbell). After Foyle’s acquittal,  Burton soon regrets his victory.  Winning at all costs becomes tragedy.

Foyle too, is more than the cliché image of ignominious evil.  He is a creepy bird lover who is handsome and deceptively charming to the vulnerable and lonely.  The triple cat-and-mouse games (between the two lawyers, between Burton and Foyle, and between Gardner and Foyle) are riveting and suspenseful but some of the sequence of events revealed at the end are not carefully connected and leave unanswered questions.  Nonetheless, “The Escape Artist”  succeeds, despite the occasional lapses in logic, to mesmerize and terrorize.

“The Escape Artist” is a thriller in which the viewer is drawn to the story and wishes to escape it simultaneously!  Brilliant performances and enough twists and turns to hold this viewer’s attention!

[NOT available online at the PBS website but only on Netflix.]