Watching the detective: DCI Jane Tennison

41888639DELI’m not much of a TV watcher. I haven’t watched actual TV at home since the early nineties, when the writing of Lynda La Plante‘s Prime Suspect, starring Helen Mirren, was taken over by someone else. In La Plante’s stories of good versus evil (Prime Suspect 1-3) good triumphed despite (nearly) insurmountable odds, mostly because of DCI Jane Tennison’s intelligence, tenacity, courage, and deviousness. She was definitely flawed — driven and insensitive and unforgiving — but she was a flawed hera, who was not afraid to confront power and privilege to catch the bad guys, or to look evil in the face and stare it down.

But La Plante’s world (and the characters she created) was handed off to some other writer (or writers; I never looked them up), and her dark vision of good against evil with the protagonist as a lonely force for good gave way to an even darker vision, where good and evil were ambiguous and the detective could no longer tell the difference between them (although I could; which made me distrust Tennison’s brains and intuition for the first time). Ambiguity can make for a strong, staring-into-the-dark-all-night drama (if you want insomnia, see Gone Baby Gone), but not when you sense the author manipulating every scene, so that story and characters become just so much grist for the mill, grinding out a statement about the brutality and pointlessness of life.


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