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Black Work: Episode 2 Review

Episode one of Black Work ended with Policewoman Jo Gillespie (Sheridan Smith) tracking minor criminal Michael Parry – the chief suspect in the murder of her husband Ryan – to a remote cottage. Episode two begins with Jo giving chase – despite a head wound and mild concussion.

The case appears quickly resolved when a gun is discovered in Parry’s possessions matching the calibre of the fatal bullet. Jo is convinced there was no gun present when she searched the cottage. When it emerges that the house actually belonged to her husband, and that he had purchased it in cash using his undercover identity, suspicion grows that conduct of the deceased officer may not have been beyond reproach.

Could he have been dirty? Could there be a posthumous ‘fitting up’ underway? If Ryan was engaged in nefarious activities, were his superior officers aware or complicit? While Jo continues to defend Ryan’s honour and his children’s image of him, she privately entertains some of the questions being murmured among the ranks. This culminates in a home visit from the Chief Constable (Geraldine James) in which she tells Jo she cannot give a eulogy at his funeral service because it would be seen as a message that she had full confidence in him.

The plot thickens until a wooden spoon could be stood straight in it. At Ryan’s funeral, his first wife spots his former boss Tom Piper (Phillip Davis). Jo believes he may be the mysterious ‘handler’. When she confronts him, there is a definite undercurrent of threat to his advice that she should abandon her investigation. In continuing, Jo is not only jeopardizing her career but may be in physical danger.

Matt Charman’s three-part thriller moved further away from a police procedural, developing in pleasingly melodramatic fashion. Jo’s investigation is as much about discovering the stranger she was married to as it is about who murdered him and why.

Efficiently and unobtrusively directed by Michael Samuels, Black Work is very much a performance and writing led piece. Sheridan Smith continues to impress in the lead role, the carefully composed mask that she presents to the world as a uniformed police officer – by necessity impassive, detached and neutral – cracking at the edges under a growing shadow of suspicion and paranoia. Her drive to understand these events is also motivated by guilt over a failing marriage. The discovery that this domestic alienation was not something personal between them, but an external imposition due to the duplicity of undercover work, has come far too late.

Ending on another major plot twist that further explodes Jo’s understanding of the situation and her late husband, there is a lot of work to do on the third and final part to tie things together neatly. Excellently paced, the series moves too fast for minor plot contrivances to be overly annoying but Charman has a lot of balls in the air (I haven’t even mentioned Parry’s missing girlfriend) and it will take skill and razor sharp editing to catch them all without any hitting the floor.

Director: Michael Samuels

Writer: Matt Charman

Cast: Sheridan Smith, Sharon Duce, Geraldine James, Douglas Henshall, Phillip Davis, Matthew McNulty, Kenny Doughty

Review by Stuart Barr.

What did you think of Black Work episode 2? Let us know in the comments below!

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