Not much needs to be said of Trial & Retribution - Set 6, a two-disc set of the British policier's final four of 22 complete stories, and specifically the final two-parter from Series 11 (2008) and all of Series 12 (2009).
Created by Prime Suspect's Lynda La Plante, Trial & Retribution began extremely well. Originally starring David Hayman and Kate Buffery, the program premiered in 1997 as a one-off television film divided into two 100-minute parts. The series further explored La Plante's interests in realistic, even clinical murder investigations (chiefly) while also examining, also realistically, the relationships and frequent conflict between men and women working together on the investigation, as well as their general inability to leave work at the office. The 200-minute total running time also allowed for a more leisurely pace. The long, methodical, and maddeningly slow progress of intensely emotional crimes and their aftermath was palpably felt.
But La Plante painted herself into a corner when she made Hayman's and Buffery's characters, DCI Mike Walker and DI Pat North, a problem-plagued (and unlikely) couple as well as workplace collaborators. The character conflict was never really solved and after one especially outrageous episode (conveniently forgotten about in one episode here) Buffery left the series and was replaced by Victoria Smurfit as DCI Róisín Connor. The series got better for a while but then the format changed several times: two 100-minute halves became two 70-minute episodes and, finally, two 45-minute parts. What had been groundbreaking and innovative when it began now looked like every other cop show. By the end only the performances of Smurfit and especially Hayman kept it even moderately interesting. Three of the last four stories are especially weak, though the very last one is a bit better. It wasn't planned as a final episode but there have been no new Trial & Retributions since, and La Plante's company has since focused on a new, significantly worse policier, Above Suspicion.
"Tracks," the final episode of Series 11, is just okay. In a chalk pit used as a traffic-avoiding shortcut, the mutilated body of a young woman is discovered, along with the tracks of several vehicles. Clues lead the team to suspect Andy Harper, the pampered son of gangster Ray Harper. Andy and friend Darren, also in the car that evening, admit to getting their car stuck in the pit but deny ever seeing the girl. CCTV and other evidence suggests otherwise. This formula episode is nothing special, with a surprise revelation audiences should see coming long before the big reveal.
"Siren" is a hard-to-swallow drug trafficking story with a murder or two tossed in for good measure, and a teleplay that requires Mike and Róisín to make some pretty inobservant errors in order to keep the plot moving. Again there's a twist that's pretty obvious almost from the start. "Ghost Train" is even worse, a ridiculous circus story (!) involving a Ferris wheel fall, a dead body on the ghost train and, most absurd of all, DS "Satch" Satchell's (Dorian Lough) fortune-telling aunt (Jane Lapotaire). It's almost like an episode of Diagnosis: Murder.
Lough rather amazingly stuck with the series from beginning to end, despite an almost comically underdeveloped character that had exactly two expressions: 1) working-class world-weariness, and 2) passive annoyance, usually expressed by overemphatic eyeball rolling. I'd assumed Lough was an actor of limited range, but the very last Trial & Retribution, "Shooter," not only finally gives his character something else to do and Lough the opportunity to act, it's also one of the most entertaining episodes of the last several years.
A notorious crime family Mike has been trying to nail for decades is clearly responsible for the murder of a jewelry store manager. A gay ex-con turns informer but he's shot dead in front of Satch, leaving the hapless detective sergeant the only means to send the family to prison. Despite genre clichés it's a fun final episode.
Smurfit and Hayman are very good in their roles, Mike the chain-smoking workaholic (he bites off the filters before lighting up) oblivious to niceties and the needs of his co-workers, and Connor the extremely ruthless, almost sadistic cop ready to trample on people's feelings and even willing to bend the rules to land a conviction.
Video & Audio
The four two-part stories are presented across two single-sided, dual-layered discs, with each show sporting an excellent and apparently unaltered 16:9 enhanced widescreen transfer. The Dolby Digital stereo, English only and accompanied by optional SDH English subtitles, is state of the art.
Supplements include several self-serving behind-the-scenes promo featurettes.
As noted last time, it's sad to see Trial & Retribution devolve from way above average to something so truly ordinary and, at times, highly predictable and clichéd. Still very watchable much of the time for its stars, it's nevertheless a far cry from what it once was. Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.