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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Prime Suspect 4
Prime Suspect 4
HBO // R // April 20, 2004
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Gil Jawetz | posted May 23, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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Conventional wisdom states that when a creator leaves an ongoing production the quality must slide. I'd always read that once Lynda La Plante stopped working on the Prime Suspect series (after parts one, two and three, which I reviewed previously) that they dropped from their status as some of the finest police procedurals on TV.

It's hard to live up to the outstanding level of quality in those first releases, but Prime Suspect 4 really is far better than I'd expected. Granted, Helen Mirren, as the tough-as-nails Jane Tennison, is amazing as usual, but the storytelling is still sharp and the suspense still had me on the edge of my seat.

That's not to say that there aren't any changes from the mournful third episode. Part four splits from the past in two significant ways. Fist, it doesn't follow one story from beginning to end. Rather, it's split into three roughly two hour episodes, each one with it's own crime investigation but with an overall emotional progression (The beauty of the Tennison character is watching her harden in some ways and soften in others over the course of all the Prime Suspects). The other change is less blatant: PS4 does seem to allow Hollywood-style coincidences and suspense to play key roles. Whereas the criminals and solutions may have been mundane and realistic at times in the earlier installments here there are chases and accidents. And sometimes things work out in a weirdly overly-fitting way, like when one character reveals that he'd been through the same abuse as a child as a victim has.

But don't think that this is some cheesy cop show. PS4 is just as hard-edged as the earlier installments, especially in depicting the eternal uphill struggle Tennison faces. Over the course of the series she's risen in the ranks while her level of disgust at the police force has increased as well. At the start of this episode she's become a superintendent of detectives, putting her in charge of a broad range of policing. But she's not satisfied with being an overseer and quickly finds herself back in the squad-room commanding yet another group of distrustful male detectives. In the first of the three segments, "The Lost Child," a young woman is found in a pool of blood but still alive. Her daughter, however, is missing. The investigation indicates that she may have been kidnaped by a child molester. During the course of the investigation Tennison consults Patrick Schofield (Stuart Wilson), a psychiatrist with expertise in abuse cases. He warns against following this path but his warnings fall on deaf ears.

The second segment, "Inner Circles," explores England's delicate class structure as an upper-crust country club manager is murdered in a way that seems to indicate auto-erotic asphyxiation. The investigation leads to working-class housing projects and police corruption. As always, the police force is shown to be seriously flawed, with the local cops Tennison tries to wrangle disobeying her orders and often acting irresponsibly. This episode also gives Tennison a chance to explore an interesting side of her struggle. In her command is Detective Cromwell (Sophie Stanton) a willful female detective whom Tennison warns not to expect any special treatment due to her gender. Moments like this really get at why she's such a great character. She's tough but she's also human, able to fall into the same traps as anyone else.

The final episode, "The Scent of Darkness," refers back to the very first Prime Suspect as someone seems to be mimicking the brutal murders of George Marlow. While Tennison and her few supporters insist that they're looking for a copy-cat, everyone else wants to believe that she got it wrong the first time and put an innocent man away. Tennison is taken off the case but continues her investigation on her own.

Even though these are separate stories there is a sense of continuity that ties them together. Several characters appear or are mentioned throughout. Tennison drags the put-upon Detective Haskons (Richard Hawley) through all three assignments when he proves to be a rare trustworthy comrade. And Dr. Schofield reappears in a surprising way. Also, the way the Marlow case is referenced in the third segment is interesting. A book proclaiming Marlow's innocence and painting Tennison as a ball-breaking bitch has been published and plays a key role in the investigation into the new murders.

But even more important is the continuing path of the main character. Tennison, who quit smoking in an earlier Prime Suspect, drinks more and more throughout these stressful investigations. And she picks up smoking again in a subtle but powerful moment similar to William Munny's first drink in Unforgiven. As PS4 progresses she slips further and further out of control of her own life, losing the distance between personal and professional. It's thanks to the endlessly inventive Helen Mirren that this often-filmed character feels new and invigorated even as she grows more hassled and weary.

VIDEO:
This full-frame presentation is thankfully better than the previous releases. While still grainy and dull compared to most other modern releases it is leagues better than the others, particularly the smeary third part.

AUDIO:
The Dolby Surround audio is also improved. For the first time in a Prime Suspect DVD I didn't curse the fact that no subtitles are included. Accents are still heavy but I never felt like they were indecipherable.

EXTRAS:
None, of course.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
While somewhat maligned as the beginning of the end for this great series, Prime Suspect 4 is in fact an excellent collection of shorter stories (although each is still feature length) that still feature the amazing character of Jane Tennison. Helen Mirren is her usual bad-ass self. Fans of this series should not skip this one.

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