At a reunion at all female college Lady Matilda's,Poppy Toynton,bossy housemate of principal Diana Ellerby,is murdered.Years earlier Lewis had visited the same college when fifteen-year old Chloe Brooks,visiting her student sister Ruth,had been attacked,supposably by Ruth's American boyfriend Jud Havelock,who disappeared. Chloe went into a coma from which she has only recently recovered but has little recall of that night's events. Lewis visits Ali McLennan,a retired colleague who worked on the Havelock case but she has no leads for him. Then she too is murdered and Lewis discovers that she was blackmailing Poppy for killing Jud. Poppy was also responsible for a hate campaign against several of her former student contemporaries,whose lives suffered as a result. Most of them were present on the night of Jud's disappearance,which Hathaway,tracking down the costumes for the party for that night and using Poppy's video evidence,reconstructs,nailing the killer and their motives. Written by
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In some versions (eg the one on Amazon video) but not in the original ITV broadcast in the UK, Laura Linney introduces the episode. See more »
In a night-time crane shot of the college just after the opening titles, a dark patch can be seen against the slightly lighter sky, where one of the crane-mounted filming lights has been airbrushed out. See more »
The plot references the Dorothy L Sayers story 'Gaudy Night', which was described as the first feminist mystery novel. Sayers' novel features a 1930s women's college in which the staff and students struggle against prejudice and the prevailing patriarchal presumption that education is wasted on women who, left to their own devices, merely stew together in hormonally-driven perversities.
Like the Sayers novel, the plot revolves around the proceedings at a women's college 'Gaudy Night'. But in Sayers' novel a female detective is invited to investigate because the college members fear that that no man could be trusted to bring an open mind to the situation, but would instead exploit it merely as a vehicle to discredit scholarly women.
The 'Lewis' version does exactly that. It features a women's college in 2010 in which the members have developed a twisted interdependence fraught with jealousy and rivalry, particularly over a seductive but amoral male student. This results in illogical acts of violence where motives are inexplicably conflicted, such as concern for the welfare of a vulnerable girl resulting in a brutal attack on her life. A blackmailer mistakes the identity of a murderer but is paid off anyway (why?) and (we are left to assume) killed by someone who seems to have no motive. One girl is slain apparently for no reason at all. A most violent act of self-destruction takes place without the female victim appearing to experience any pain whatsoever. The implicit understanding that the central female characters aren't fully human but, despite their powerful intellects, merely driven by the most overwhelmingly illogical emotion throughout their lifetimes, must suffice to answer every weakness in plotting.
The weakness of the plot is only balanced by the strength of its attacks on feminism. In this story 'feminism' is simply another word for women whose denial of their sexual frustration is expressed in man-hating. The plot is only credible if you can believe that women of great intellect, left to organise themselves, must, individually and as a group, be hypocritically overwhelmed by sexual frustrations and fall prey to the most clichéd and antediluvian of stereotypes, without any redeeming hint of reason or self-awareness.
Unusually for a series that revels in its literary and cultural references, the relevance of Sayers' work to the plot structure isn't mentioned at any point. I can think of no other instance in which a Lewis plot has so closely mirrored an existing and popular literary work without the detectives showing off their erudition by mentioning it. One would imagine that at least one of the female academics should have noticed it. The writers' attack is covert.
It seems so sad to me that the all-male creators of a clever series that is great fun overall should so intently and directly overwrite Sayers' ground-breaking attempt to show the internal reality of women's struggle to sustain with dignity in a male-dominated environment. They make it difficult to avoid the conclusion that the most intelligent of men, left alone to organise themselves, can, when dealing with the subject of women, be driven to acts of senseless and damaging illogicality, and fall prey to the most clichéd and antediluvian of stereotypes, without any redeeming hint of reason or self-awareness. It's not a conclusion anyone in their right mind would be happy to arrive at. But this particular group has gone out of its way to flaunt it. You may not be a fan of Sayers' work. But at least her detective had the nous to see the obvious when it was in front of her.
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