Bodysnatchers in ‘Whitechapel’ (S04E03)

Previously on Whitechapel: Episode 2.

This episode, penned by Steve Pemberton himself, has upped the ante in several aspects: each team member’s personal demons are coming on strong, the friction between them increases, and this case just bumped the upper end of the creepy scale.

As it turns out, other people can hear Mansell’s phone, too — at least, Kent and Riley do. The changes that are happening to the team are plainly visible in their sense of humour, too: the things that used to make for gentle, familial ribbing are now fair game for petty practical jokes and mockery behind one’s back.

Mansell, you complete and utter wanker, playing with someone’s feelings like that and risking bringing your fellow detective into disrepute isn’t bloody funny. It’s going to cause poor Ed and Riley so much embarrassment, I’m going to hide behind the sofa because I’ll have empathy coming out of my ears by the time this is cleared up. What’s brought this on in Ed is clear: he’d never think of having designs on married women if he weren’t getting a little familiar with the mould and the Provocateur down there in his archives. The presence setting up in the station is affecting them all.

Kent’s face is taking on even more demonic features as he’s struggling with his anger, this time it’s not so much distortion as another popular trope in, especially modern, Gothic Fiction: the skeleton. Associated with the grim reaper, the overlay of the bones onto Kent’s face mark him as a harbinger of something straight from the other shore of the Styx. Speaking of the other shore: this is the first time that I’ve heard another member of the team say anything, not to mention truly derisive, about Kent’s obvious-as-the-Himalaya crush on Chandler. Apart from Miles’ well-meaning remark last series (that Kent would cry more than anyone at Chandler’s funeral), not an actual word’s been lost about it (though the camera shows it clearly enough), and now poor Kent’s got a target painted on his back for being an ambitious, eager puppy.

Meanwhile, Miles is struggling with facing the loss of respect more and more, and not just from the team, but from Chandler, too. Joe, as Miles said, is under an enormous amount of pressure — both from the outside and from within his own head — and it’s getting to him so much that he is falling back on presumptions that add insult to injury. He and Miles know each other very well, and he knows that there are things to Miles’ personality and knowledge that don’t fit into the simple template of a gruff Sergeant with an accent two notches less posh than what Chandler is speaking. It’s a gulf from way back in Series 1 opening up all over again, at least halted by Chandler’s realisation of his own stupidity and apology. Still, Miles is wondering if he’s still got it, and the hallucinations don’t help.

All of this is brilliantly encapsulated in the opening scene: in a celebration that is heartwarming to begin with, the team going out with Joe for his birthday, his facial expressions speak volumes. He has learnt to feel at ease with these people, and they have learnt how he works, know how to work around it and heed his needs. Sure, Mansell is a slob, but he’d usually have better sense, what with Chandler’s difficulties with dirt. Ed usually knows better than to invade Joe’s space like that; and either Kent or Miles would have normally kept the cook from lobbing a stupid dumpling at the DI’s head. What starts out fun is becoming a really bad night for Chandler, topped off by a fortune cookie, of all things, about failure being the chance to do better next time. Just what he needed. It’s like the members of the team are each losing their sense of self, their anchor, a sense of what grounds them in reality, revealing parts of themselves they’d rather no-one see, if they were in their right minds.

The case, in the meantime: Steve, what were you thinking? Ripped off faces, strips of skin flayed off people’s backs… each of the people that the killer attacks must have committed a crime in some way or other, from the obvious ex-member of the Russian mafia to the owner of a mechanic shop. There are distinct connections emerging, so whose trail is the killer following? Again, it must have something to do with the displacement of identity, losing face, donning a guise as a madman would a mask — or a new face. The face is the most expressive region of the human body, the majority of body language and non-verbal communication comes via the muscles of our eyes and mouth; to lose it means to lose one’s identity, one’s connection with the world. Not only are the victims dead, they’re dehumanised and isolated. This is going to be good one.

P.S.: I totally called that Abigail Perkins was the real Sebastian Marlowe.

Next: Episode 4.