More Welsh depression, murder, perversion, and hopelessness, thank god. Acorn Media has released A Mind to Kill: Series 3, a 4-disc, 8-episode collection encompassing episodes that originally aired from 1998 to 2001 in the U.K.. Starring the grim, world-weary Philip Madoc as Detective Chief Inspector Noel Bain, A Mind to Kill: Series 3 continues to plumb the depths of moral turpitude and sudden, shocking violence in modern-day Wales in this gritty continuation of a police procedural that stays solid here despite some bumps in the series' construction. No real extras to speak of here, but the content is first-rate for lovers of U.K. television and police thrillers.
Mid-South Wales, the late 1990s. Tired, worn-out Detective Chief Inspector Noel Bain (Philip Madoc) has returned from a well-earn sabbatical to find himself yet again summoned to homicide cases where the absolute depths of human behavior are routinely on display. A widower for many years now, Bain enjoys a prickly relationship with his headstrong, emotionally fragile daughter, Hannah (Ffion Wilkins), who has suddenly, without warning, dropped out of university. The closest thing Bain has to a girlfriend is old friend and professional colleague, pathologist Professor Margaret Edwards (Sharon Morgan), who continues to eye Bain warily after their last, disastrous attempt at a more serious relationship. New colleagues at work include boorish Sergeant Tom Swann (Ieuan Rhys), steady Deputy Constable Meic Challis, and Detective Sergeant Leila Hamoudi (Sara McGaughey).
I've written twice now about A Mind to Kill, so I'm not going to trod over the same ground again and again about the series in general. Suffice it to say, the dour, dark, downbeat, thoroughly depressing A Mind to Kill is fast-becoming one of my favorite U.K. television imports (in the detective genre), for precisely the opposite reasons that I love the sunny, perverse, hilarious Midsomer Murders. When I want to escape into fantasies of quaint, hidden English country villages populated by murderous eccentrics lined up to do intricate mayhem on each other, I cruise over to Midsomer County and hang out with Barnaby/Jones. But when I want my worst fears about humanity confirmed, with absolutely no hope for personal redemption held out, or even the slightest chance that anything in society will get better...I switch on DCI Bain and submerge myself into a grand, deep Welsh funk..
I must say that I was a little disappointed that the producers and writers didn't explore Bain's descent into criminal behavior that marked the final episode of Series 2 (Bain uncovers the drunk driver who killed his wife, and comes this close to murdering him). That was a potentially fascinating turn of events for the detective who openly acknowledges that he can't really solve any of society's problems, even if he does correctly serve the purpose of justice. What better way to explore that ironic futility than to have Bain "turn bad," if you will. However, no further mention is made of those events; Bain returns in episode 1, Shadow Falls, presumably from some sort of official leave, and everything is different. Now, Bain is a roving investigator, without his former colleagues, without his high-tech MIR bus (both victims of budget cuts), and notably, without, apparently, a superior officer. We never seen Bevin again, nor do we see Bain dealing with a higher-ranking officer; the thematic element of Bain fighting against the very police force he works for, is gone.
Also gone, apparently, in the first episode, Shadow Falls, is a willingness to let the viewer observe Bain and make up his own mind about where he stands. Instead, we're given a morose Bain who bluntly spells out his problems: he feels like an anachronism, a dinosaur, a sentiment that bothers visiting daughter Hannah, who wants her father to remain vital and necessary. What bothered me about that scene was the blatantness of it; of course we already know Bain is an anachronism. We don't need it telegraphed to us so coarsely. Indeed, throughout this third season, while the murder plots remain suitably murky and tough to figure out, we're not presented with a Bain who "grows" too terribly much, or who presents a new character complexity we have to puzzle over. As for his daughter Hannah, the producers, perhaps in a bind on how to keep her involved with Bain when he's out roving about, suddenly put her in the police academy, and fast-track her through graduation (there isn't one scene where we see her training) until she's working with Bain, actively becoming involved in all his cases to the point where several times she's almost a victim. This kind of woman-in-peril shtick is fairly obvious, as well, and a little surprising from such a smart show at A Mind to Kill, but it is fun to see the grumpy Bain trade barbs with his equally grouchy daughter, so I suppose the police cadet angle was as good as they could get if they were going to have her stick with him (further cementing this relationship, the producers have Bain deskbound from a stabbing, so he settles down to one precinct...where Hannah is stationed, conveniently).
Shadow Falls, despite the awkward re-positioning of Bain and Hannah, is an excellent opener for the series ("season"). Telling a twisted, truly sick tale of sexual blackmail and murder, the story revolves around a young man who has fallen to his death over a secluded waterfall. Was it a suicide, or was it murder? Hannah convinces Bain not to write it off as a simple suicide, and he soon finds out the victim's younger, handicapped brother, who also died at the falls, is at the center of the latest death. A nasty, sad tale that plumbs uncomfortable depths (a character is blackmailing both men and women for sex, ruining marriages in the process, for sick revenge), Shadow Falls ends with a suitably ironic final image that "solves" the ultimate mystery for just the viewers alone...while Bain admits that no one will ever really know. Box is an equally graphic, sick tale of a serial killer born a woman, but denied her sexual identity by a horrific father (the killer spent most of his childhood locked up in a wooden cage). It's a little silly to have Hannah, magically graduating from a police academy we never saw, so conveniently involved in the bloody finale, as well as having Noel stabbed inadvertently, but the suspense is good, and the direction is quite interesting, with quirky shots and odd editing rhythms that convey the killer's psychosis well. The Little House in the Forest is the first lead case for new supporting player DS Leila Hamoudi, played by Sara McGaughey. Worried that Bain, returned from his hospital leave, wants to wheedle his way into leading her case, she discovers the fair-minded DCI genuinely wants to help her. As well, we start to see the budding relationship between Bain and Margaret blossom again, this time as friends only, when they move in together for each other's company...but not their beds (yet). It's another grimy story involving two equally disagreeable subplots―a former pedophile and child murderer suspected of a new killing, and a secret prostitution ring with local young girls used as hookers―resolved in a completely satisfying way: that is, in A Mind to Kill world, the young girl's death is as senseless as the prostitution ring, aided by the victim's father, no less, is sordid and soul-destroying (Bain has a good final scene when he discovers he was wrong all along about the former child killer living in the woods).
Sound Bites, The Inner Life of Strangers, and Engineer are rather routine (for A Mind to Kill, at least) outings here. Sound Bites is deflated by the story's unbalanced approach to the conservative lead character's crimes (too preachy and self-righteous in its indignation of this cartoonish character), while both The Inner Life of Strangers and Engineer are surprisingly familiar, even clichéd treatments of standard mystery stories (an obsessed fan and his pop star prey; a scheming father and mother, bent on revenge against the insensitive doctor who killed their daughter). Colour Blind is a far more interesting take on two aspects of racism, seen through sexual politics. A young, charismatic Pakistani man, terrified of letting his proud father know he's gay, becomes mixed up with a skinhead-loving (literally) professor who spouts racial tolerance, but who really eggs on discord...in order to supply his own bed with male lovers. It's a nicely dense mystery, with some uncomfortable thoughts on sex and race in England...but why did they have Hannah inexplicably hit on newcomer DI Frankie Butt (Elen Bowman)...and then drop that bombshell altogether, never mentioning it again? That's a pretty important step in the character's development, but this scene comes out of nowhere, and it goes right back to nowhere because it's never mentioned again. The final episode, Blood and Water, isn't too terribly original, either, with its standard story of one good brother/one bad brother made palatable by one of them being a cop. Frankly, it's more interesting for the side story on Bain's growing relationship with Margaret. The scripters are too terribly clear on exactly why Bain won't sleep with Margaret (something about them staying friends, I think), but Margaret becomes more aggressive, and guessing by the open final shot, Bain is finally accepting her offer. We'll have to see in the next series.
Here are the eight episodes of the four-disc set, A Mind to Kill: Series 3, as described on their on-screen episode menus:
The Little House in the Forest
The Inner Life of Strangers
Blood and Water
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.