Scott & Bailey: Series 4, Episode 1 (Superficial).

Lesley Sharp, Amelia Bullmore, and Suranne Jones

Previously on Scott & Bailey: Series 3, Episode 8.

Last week, Scott & Bailey have returned to ITV for their fourth series. Written by Amelia Bullmore, who plays DCI Gill Murray, the series premiere chucks us right into exciting and good things.

The relationship between Janet and Rachel had some obvious and serious strain put on it in Series 3, and you may recall that I wasn’t entirely happy with how the show was handling some of that stuff. After watching this episode, however, I’m happy to report that things have improved, that the pacing and the writing are as balanced and clever as ever, and that there is change and excitement in the air without threatening to up-end everything again.

As Rachel and Janet have both taken their Sergeant’s exams in front of the board, they’re set for promotions — question is, where? What could have been played for endless rivalry and another rift between them, there is just one simple scene and two lines of dialogue. Rachel admits that, if she gets promoted, she wants Rob’s job (since he’s on the fast-track, he will be leaving Syndicate 9 in short order for a job in history child abuse cases) at their station, to stay on. Janet agrees that, if she gets the promotion and the choice, she will want the same thing. And that’s it.

Of course there’s going to be competition, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Two people, two friends, have ambition and goals and stuff they want, and they can overlap without calling everything into question. This is a competition between two friends who happen to be women, and it’s not played — as on other shows it would be — as a competition between two women, like,  because of how difficult it is to be a female cop or anything. In fact, almost all the other coppers in the Syndicate are men, and they’re nothing but supportive and happy for them.

The trouble only starts when Gill is told to choose between Rachel and Janet — an order she very much resents and doesn’t entirely know what to do about. The thing is, choosing Janet makes sense. But then Janet bows out because of the emotional repercussions of her separation from her husband that her daughters are still feeling. She doesn’t decide not to go through with it at all, just now now. So I do believe that she is disappointed, but that she feels that it’s the best for her family, which is the most valid choice that fits with Janet’s characterisation. Rachel acknowledges that Janet would have been — should have been — the first choice, even though there is a strong case for both of them to be Sergeant. Why Gill initially chose the way she did, we can only guess, although she does explain some of it to Janet. It’s the best way the show could have gone to just let the audience root for whomever they were rooting for — or, perhaps, remain neutral. It is Rachel now, but with the cold case coming back to the surface, and Rob potentially staying on for a bit longer… what if it takes long enough for Janet to feel more secure in her home life? What if we end up in the same place we were in at the beginning of the episode, only with both Janet and Rachel ready and willing to do it? It’ll be a terrible position for Gill to be in, as it is already a terrible position for Janet, knowing that she was the first choice and now Rachel believing that she was.

As the relationship between Janet and Rachel seems more secure now, and they’re both making conscious efforts to work with each other and be friends, I think they’re fully capable of getting through it even if/when the secrets come out, but it’s not going to be easy. But as long as we don’t have to witness another implosion like in Series 3, I’m happy.

Other than Janet’s daughters, there’ve been no clues on either her or Rachel’s home lives so far. Sean seems to be entirely out of the picture, her brother’s still in prison, and there’s been no peep out of her mum. Janet, at least, seems to be going speed-dating next week — oh dear.

Another thing that’s really important: Gill’s dealing with being abducted in the series finale last year. She has Mitch check, every night, the boot and the back seat of her car, and although she seems to be the same Gill, the same confident boss of Syndicate 9, her way of asking Janet and Rachel into her office separately and making the decision the way she did shows that she may be suffering from a prolonged or perhaps delayed reaction to her ordeal. I’m bringing up Rachel and Janet in that context because, to me, there would have been another possibility: Gill bringing them both into her office and telling them, point blank, that the choice is between them. Of course, this is pure speculation, but I feel like, a year ago, that’s what Gill might have done.

Next on Scott & Bailey: Episode 2.

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