Criminal: Season Two Review
There is always something enthralling about watching an interrogation scene in a procedural. Some shows use them as a means to throw out plot exposition in order to keep the plot going (CSI, Law and Order). Others turn them into scenes of high art that are the best part of watching them (Homicide: Life on the Street, Line of Duty).
A fascinating little experiment from last year, Netflix's Criminal took a police interrogation format and applied it to several countries, with the UK, Germany, Spain and France being the setting for some incredibly tense confrontations that functioned as brilliant bottle episodes/contained plays that felt like you had wandered into the brilliant final episode of an already expansive serial that had been running for a few episodes (you can check out our season one review here).
For its second year, the streaming service has seemingly opted to only bring back the UK version, this time running for four episodes. On the surface, they make for brilliantly enthralling viewing. The regular cast headed by Katherine Kelly, Lee Inglesby, Rochenda Sandall and Shubham Saraf play the type of characters you could imagine headlining some heavily promoted ITV cop drama, although, in the case of Criminal, their lives are on the periphery rather than driving the stories, with every episode confined to the interrogation room, the corridor outside the room, and the other side of the two-way mirror.
With each episode running for a little over forty-five minutes, Criminal never outstays its welcome, and with each instalment centred around a different case and character, it has the pleasing feeling of being the closest that Netflix has come to producing an episodic procedural.
Like Line of Duty, the series makes the one-on-one mind games between cop and suspect into something of an art form, but where Jed Mercurio's series is an expansive serial and uses those interrogations as a means to release a lot of the tension that builds up in his storytelling, George Kay and Jim Field Smith's writing and direction takes the end of an investigation as a jumping-off point and lets the suspense escalate from there.
For its second season, the series once again turns towards several guest actors who have nerd credibility in the pop-cultural sphere and unleashes them into something considerably darker and nastier. The first season made great use of David Tennant and Haley Atwell; season two turns to Kit Harrington and The Big Bang Theory's Kunal Nayyar to churn the stomach of the audience.
Nayyar's appearance as a jailed murderer with information on a high profile case is a particularly brilliant suspense builder that actually spends some time on the other side of the mirror before going to town with a second-half that throws in one or two unexpected twists. It should also ensure a potentially bright future for the one time Big Bang star, who swaps the nerdy characteristics of Raj for something much more intense, chilling and unforgettable.
Each episode is so well constructed that it's almost hard to pick one as the best, but the one that will undoubtedly invoke much conversation and discussion is the second episode featuring Harrington. Centred around a rape allegation by one of his co-workers, the episode opens with Harrington's character delivering a one-take monologue pretty much straight to the camera that provokes much hatred and disdain for his character right away.
This being Criminal, a twist is always around the corner and the episode throws considerable doubt not on the words of Harington's character, but on the woman making the allegations, who is kept off-screen with the exception of a photograph.
The series is one drenched in storytelling complexities. The following episode featuring Sharon Horgan (brilliantly turning that Irish comedic charm of hers into something much more chilling) as an online vigilante targeting child abusers has its own 'gotcha' moment where one of the paedophiles she has gone after turns out to be genuinely innocent and been unknowingly used by a co-worker who used his computer to target underage victims.
When Criminal pulls off this sort of storytelling as it does with the season's first, third and fourth episode, it does so brilliantly; the season premiere this year also has a standout story involving Sophie Okonedo as a housewife who might know more about the murders her husband is in jail for committing than she lets on. With the Harington episode, as compulsively watchable as it is, complete with a superb performance that is a million miles away from Jon Snow, it's hard to know what to make of the episode's stance that sometimes women who accuse men might be faking the allegations.
The episode is topped and tailed by two brilliant monologues from the Game of Thrones star, the first of which is confident and full of bravado, the second a more desperate plea over wanting to know what the police will do to help him rebuild his life. The episode offers no easy answers. The possibility of the allegation being false is raised but never given a concrete resolution, and while our lead characters can't pursue the allegations as a result, there is nothing to say that the rape never happened either.
The episode is wanting to deal with a whole set of complex material here for sure, but it's hard to decipher whether or not the episode manages to truly make it land. What is easy to tell is how divisive an episode it will be. It threatens to give the impression of an otherwise talented bunch of writers falling into exploring a trope and idea that is otherwise typical to be coming from a male perspective.
Despite that, the season as a whole is another well put together run of episodes that leaves you wanting more, not just in terms of what this show does brilliantly, but in how well put together a procedural format can be with the Netflix model. While there is no tangible link to the episodes other than the format and the regular cast, it's every bit as thrilling as the many serials on the streaming service and fingers crossed it will get a third season.