The Judas Tree
Jonathan Creek – The Judas Tree (4th April 2010)
Jonathan Creek returns for it's second feature length special after January 2009's “The Grinning Man”. Written, and now directed by, David Renwick; 'Jonathan Creek' follows a man who's builds illusions and solves mysteries.
Writing a review of this episode of Jonathan creek hasn't been as straight forward as I was expecting. I'm a big fan of the show and regularly revisit some of the best episodes (Miracle in Crooked Lane, Satan's Chimney, Danse Macabre) on DVD, or stop and watch a random one when they pop up on the repeat channels. Even if you can remember the mechanics behind a particular episode's mystery, it's still easily re-watchable entertainment. It achieves that by cramming in plenty of creepy or funny situations, witty dialogue and well drawn characters. Not to mention Alan Davis, who doesn't like Alan Davis. Basically what I am saying here is, it doesn't draw in the viewers solely on it 'mystery' pre-tense. That's important.
The reason why we don't have entire new series of Jonathan Creek these days is because Renwick has trouble coming up with new “locked room” murder mysteries for Jonathan Creek to sink his teeth into. We can hardly blame him for this as they are extremely difficult to write. He now brings us 'The Judas Tree', and as if it exudes some weird metaphysical Creek feedback, overall I'm left with a general confusion about this episode and Renwick's efforts therein. Some elements don't quite make sense at face value. The end result was an episode that I wasn't too keen on. So, like Jonathan, I shall break down this confusion and see what it is that doesn't feel quite right. Lets hope the conclusion we reach isn't more startling and macabre than we possibly could have first imagined... or something.
First lets start with the characters and acting, those are the lynchpin of a solid Creek episode. Here there aren't too many problems. Davis is as rock solid as ever and slid back into his character without missing a beat. Always a staple of Creek are the guest stars, well knowns (Paul McGann as Hugo Dore, Doreen Mantle as Mrs Gantry, Ian McNeice as Father Roderick Alberic) and the unknowns (Natalie Walter as Emily Somerton and Sasha Behar as Harriet Dore). They all gave fine performances and their characters were just as we've come to expect from good Creek players. Then there's the new sidekick (assistant..?) introduced in the last special, Joey Ross (Sheridan Smith). In this episode she hasn't been given as much to do as before, so to keep her around and pad out her part she has now been recruited as Adam Klaus's new magician's assistant. Actually, while we are here lets deal with Adam Klaus. The entire Adam Klaus sub-plot is even more pointless than ever. Frankly it should have been stripped from show and all future episodes. It's not funny and a waste of time. End of. Back to Joey; the need for an 'assistant' is to give the audience some one to relate to, some one Jonathan can feed exposition to and use to tease out titbits of information so the mystery unfolds. Since they've made Joey something approaching an equal to Jonathan, working puzzles out nearly as well, there are less opportunities to use this most basic of story telling devices. So Renwick is making it harder on himself here. Personally I like Sheridan Smith and she's fine in the role. But her character's worth in the show needs addressing for future episodes.
Now the story itself. This episode has two flashbacks plus a fractured introduction to it's supporting characters; all before we catch up with Jonathan himself. This doesn't make for opening that draws you in. It's pretty much a mess. The first flashback before the opening credits starts with a car driving down the road with two girls in it. On first viewing the indicator that this is a flashback (the age of the music playing on the car stereo) is far too subtle. The driver of the car stops to look at a map and the other girl looks across some fields, then, in the blink of an eye sees an entire house disappear, she goes to investigate and is grabbed on the ankle by a scary old man. The mystery set-up in the pre-credits sequence should have been the basis for the entire episode; but later on it's disappointingly revealed to be totally irrelevant. Explained away by a very quick solution from Jonathan. Not good.
After the credits we move to the present, this wasn't clear at the time. The girl from the car, now an adult (again, impossible to know on first viewing) is seen in bed having a nightmare, she wakes up and looks out the window, only to get a glare from an unknown woman (Sasha Behar) talking to an unknown man (Paul McGann) in the garden. Then we skip time again to the next morning and this woman, after getting an introduction to her new job (as cleaner of the large 'Green Lanterns' house where this episode plays out), is treated to being the foil for some exposition. This is the second flashback and sets up another murder mystery... In the late 1880's an Egyptian woman working at Green Lanterns puts a curse on her former lover and predicts his death down to the exact time. This mystery, while slightly more relevant to the plot than the last, is a major let down. The explanation seems highly unlikely and scientifically impossible. Plus it leads Jonathan all the way to being questioned in a court of law where he uncharacteristically bases his conclusions on wild guesses. To be fair Jonathan admits as much in the next scene. But for the purposes of the show it breaks with the formula we have come to expect, and not in a good way.
The last mystery is the modern day one. In full view of witnesses, Emily (the new employee of Green Lanterns) is accused of pushing the woman of the house out of a window, killing her on some spiked railings below. She lives just long enough to point the finger. Jonathan and Joey believe this to be a setup and go about trying to prove it. The explanation for this mystery comes out in the end and is mechanically fine; it makes far more sense than the previous mysteries in the episode. Not wanting to spoil anything (you might want to stop here if you've not seen it yet, light spoilers ahead), it's the motive for this setup and subsequent murder where I was left confused and very disappointed. The motive links to the episode title in the most spurious and bizarre way. Then upon discovering this motive, Jonathan and Joey basically decide to let the murderers off the hook. They then withhold this information from the police, leave a woman in jail for a crime she didn't commit and allow another woman's faked death to go un-revealed. All of which are ludicrous plot-holes I do not expect to find in a show which has always been as tightly plotted as Jonathan Creek.
So, in the end it has plus points, the Creek 'tone' is still there, but the final act left me very disappointed. I'd like nothing more than for Renwick to come up with another episode in 12-18 months, but now I won't be as excited for it as I was for this one. Maybe if he cut it down to an hour and concentrated on a single mystery to drive things forward (rather than a messy one and two 'wet-squib' mysteries) he's find it much easier to come up with new puzzles for Jonathan to solve.