Prime Suspect: Tennison ends with a bang and a whimper. But the bang was big enough to wonder what a Season 2 might have been.
Gibbs: Looks like Tennison was right.
Bradfield: I should congratulate her. Is she in Comms?
Morgan: Oh no, she's in church sir.
The original format for this series Prime Suspect: Tennison was six one-hour episodes, which aired on ITV over a month and a half. As such, it is important to remember that tonight's two hour finale was originally two parts, divided at the bank robbery line. Once again, I am ever so thankful that PBS decided to run these two installments as one, because otherwise I might not have made it to the end of the series.
The first half of tonight's episode highlighted just about everything wrong with this iteration of Prime Suspect so far. The most interesting part of the episode is the Bentley bank heist, led by fantastic performances by Alun Armstrong (as patriarch Clifford) and Ruth Sheen (as his wife Renee). Sheen's fear for her softer son David, her plea that when everything goes wrong, he's the one that's allowed to survive, is a beautiful scene. But as I suspected last week, once the Bentley's bank caper became the focus down at the station, the show became Prime Suspect: Bradfield.
We don't even care about Julie-Anne Collins anymore. Bradfield has written it off as "done by Oz", even though Tennison mutters that the answer "feels wrong." He's not even bothering to wrap it up, he's so intent on getting Clifford Bentley himself -- a fact everyone in the station takes pains to point out, in case we missed it the first three times.
Meanwhile, Jane isn't even there. She's at her sister's wedding, looking uncomfortable in 1973 bridesmaid fashion. It's comical: here the show is, rushing towards the denouement, and the lead isn't even involved with the central plot. She's hanging around sighing that her "eligible bachelor" isn't there, and holding flowers awkwardly. The show once again has to find an excuse to put Jane back at the station, improbably having her call in during the middle of her sister's reception. And then, even more improbably, she gets told over the phone about the stakeout, in order to give her a reason to get back in time to be involved in the action.
If I hadn't been so incredibly irritated by how this played out, I might have caught on faster to why Tennison, once she does get in on the stakeout, is stuck in a van away from the action again. I assumed (rightly) that at some point she would have cause to leave said van, and track David back to the Bentley's storage unit. This way, she would see him franctically rummaging (yet again), and search it herself. I also was correct about her finding something (Julie-Anne's necklace), suggesting our original crime was committed by one of the Bentleys, and not Oz.
What I didn't clue into was why it was very important to have her nowhere near the bank at the end of the hour, until the glorious moment when John Bentley, in his haste, dropped with blowtorch right onto the tank of oxygen and left it there.
Tennison: Help me! Press on his chest, I'll get an ambulance.... COWARD!
It's amazing what a little explosion can do for a series. From the moment that bank went boom with Bradfield at ground zero inside the vault, the entire show shifted on its axis. Stefanie Martini gave her first real gutwrenching performance, as it slowly dawns why the rest of the team won't let her inside the bank. For the first time, we have stakes in the fates of other characters, as Morgan is carted away and Gibbs is temporarily deafened. And of course, someone, anyone (well Sarge actually) finally says the words we all knew were coming: "It's his wife and kids."*
*Of course it's his wife and kids! This is 1973. Women got married young in the 50s and 60s -- and they married young men. A DI in his early 30s in 1973 has most likely been married for at LEAST a decade, and his "family man" status contributed to the reason for his rise. That no one, not even Morgan who's supposed to be "keeping her out of trouble", never bothered to say anything suggests none of these coworkers respected her in the slightest.
Wife and kids aside, the removal of Bradfield clears the field for Tennison. Despite the now acting-DI Gibbs being an actual eligible bachelor, no one bats an eye when he takes Tennison along to track down the Bentleys. After all, he's taking her because she's proved her loyalty. Gibbs as the senior partner in their pairing makes it far easier to put Tennison in the position to call in for back up, and solve the mysteries as well, since it's established his idiot hotheaded behavior is going to cause him to walk into situations where people knock said head out cold.
We also get our first moment where this Tennison acts like the Tennison of old. (Or future, as the case may be.) The moment when she screams "COWARD" at Clifford as he runs away to leave his son to bleed to death was Martini channelling Mirren. She gets all the answers to our original mystery. Julie-Anne was killed because David told her about the heist, and John freaked out that this "big mouth junkie" would spill it. Since John did himself in inside the bank vault, there's no satisfaction in learning this, just a lot of tragedy to go around. That, too, is a hallmark of the original series.
Renee: Can't trust men to get anything right.
As our series wraps up, Bentley rots in jail, alone on visiting day, having lost both his sons. Renee lives out her life safe in her estate flat, the true survivor of the family. And Tennison is ready to move on from all of this.
Morgan returns, the newest CID in the office. DS Gibbs is going to be the next DI. Now that there's no eyebrows sitting around to be raised, the Sergeant is all too happy to put in a good word for her to get on the CID track. Tennison is, after all, one of the team. There's no question if someone comes asking about Bentley's injuries that the Sarge never laid a hand on him.
Perhaps this rearrangement of the office, with Tennison having (hopefully) learned her lesson about sleeping with superiors, could have lead to a decent second season. Tennison partnered with Gibbs could have been something to watch. But author of the original Prime Suspect series Lynda La Plante was so unhappy with this first series of the prequel that she refused to work on a second. Besides, ratings were subpar, so ITV has decided not to attempt another. I'm almost sorry not to learn what comes next ...that is, if the production could be trusted to remember Tennison was the title character.