Morse and Lewis investigate the death of Jackie Thorn who was found bound and stabbed in her flat. The murder is a carbon copy of one that occurred 27 days previously and they assume both were committed by the same man. The team is joined by Sgt. Siobhan Maitland, a expert in crimes against women. In the course of the investigation, they find that both women had purchased their cars from the same dealer and Morse becomes convinced that the owner, Jeremy Boynton, is the culprit. When they find a third assault victim who survived an attack some 5 years previously, Morse is more convinced than ever. The only thing now is that Morse needs evidence, provided he has the right man of course. Written by
David Ryall, who plays Derek Whitaker, the head of the driving school next-door to Jeremy Boynton's motor dealership, later appeared in the 'Lewis' episode 'Life Born of Fire'. He is Inspector Lewis' next-door allotment gardener. See more »
Like Morse's Jaguar, a fancy series breaks down in smoke
Inspector Morse (IM) can usually be relied on for 105 minutes of entertaining suspense and appealing Oxford scenery. At times, it also doubles as compelling drama, in such a way that supports the mystery instead of subtracting from it. Nonetheless, as with "Prime Suspect" and "Cracker", underneath IM's literary, respectable trappings and reputation there's a good deal of crime melodrama -- rather amusing in this setting of universities and culture. Still, the series usually aims beyond the alternately lame and ludicrous approach of "Driven to Distraction" (DtD) -- nor does it usually make troubling contentions about ethics and civil liberties. It's one thing to make your lead a flawed character who makes bad mistakes. It's another to turn him into an outright lawbreaker in Season 4.
The mystery is about a serial killer who ties up women with tape, then stabs them with a butcher knife. This is a premise that might tempt filmmakers to stay in psycho-monster horror movie territory, and sadly DtD obliges. It resorts to the most clichéd, cheap, and fear-mongering sort of film-making, led by a boatload of stalking scenes. They sound all the usual scary-movie notes -- sinister gloved figure follows young single women in a car at night and spies on them in their homes, while the lyrics "Why won't you behave" playing on jazz tapes supposedly raise the creepiness and ironic insight.
It ties into the most asinine scene I've yet to see in IM, truly just the stuff of second-rate slasher cheapies that has no place in this series. A character's calm companion suddenly morphs into a misogynist monster, ranting about "whores", "tarts" and more obscene female references before reaching for the Psycho knife and attacking the other person! How it ends looks like a spoof.
Funny to think this was written by Anthony Minghella, best known for making "serious" films like "The English Patient," "Cold Mountain," and "Iris."
If the stalking scenes recall "Dirty Harry," they're not the only ones that do. What's also dismaying about DtD is the broadside it launches against due process and the rule of law. That's what it does, try as it may to entertain a voice of protest in Sgt. Lewis.
Morse finds a chance to pore through suspect Jeremy Boynton's private belongings, and thinks it may give him some actual evidence on Boynton beyond his own personal certainty. This would be illegal since he has no warrant. Morse's sidekick Lewis recognizes this as illegal, a violation of someone's rights; he refuses to help. A vacillating cop follows him out, but Sgt. Maitland, whom DtD has established as smart, honest, and nice, enthusiastically supports Morse, citing concern that the rule of law helps people like Boynton but not the murder victims (as if it's either/or!).
"Dirty Harry" may go further by depicting civil rights fans as naive elitists, but DtD never takes its "hero" characters Morse & Maitland to task for what they do. It acts as if the real problem is more like an honest judgment error, not their abuse of police power and violation of people's rights. It puts a cozy touch on the violation by making it a bonding moment for M&M as they pull an all-nighter and share their interest in classical music. Despite Lewis's objection, he doesn't report the transgression, and keeps working with them, inviting us to assume we've only experienced a difference in opinion, not detectives committing abuses that really ought to get them thrown off the force. M&M face no consequences, and the series moves on as if this was just a minor mistake for its title character.
An ongoing series shouldn't compromise its "hero" to this degree if it wants to keep him someone to root for. What we at least needed was M&M fully owning up to their offenses. Most of all we needed an affirmation of the rule of law. That DtD's police heroes trash it to pursue their self-righteous agenda, and that the film's POV essentially acquiesces, is a sad low for IM.
It's easy for a thriller film to complain about the rule of law protecting obnoxious, offensive, possibly guilty people like Boynton. But the rule of law protects *you* too. Not least of all because, someday, a corrupt or lazy authority might think *you're* no better than Boynton, on account of what your politics are, where you go to worship, what you do in your bedroom, or maybe just because the authority doesn't like you. The rule of law stands between such people and your privacy. If they do commit abuses, the rule of law is a key tool in helping you establish the justice you are due.
DtD and its two M detectives cater to authoritarianism, a path made easier by the fear-mongering melodrama about a misogynist serial killer. Some people are only too glad to invoke such fears so that they may violate innocents' civil liberties. Before you know it, "violate rights, and come up with a rationale later" becomes a disturbing norm.
DtD was especially ironic for me, because I watched it after the episode "Second Time Around," an excellent drama that's quite honest about how a self-righteous authority's turn to illegality can create grave injustice. If you've seen it, recall the Morse line that goes like, "It's his certainty that troubles me," and contrast with what Morse does in DtD.
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