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Black Work: Episode 3 Review

The final episode of Matt Charman’s Black Work brought noir elements of the story to the fore. Dark currents flowing through the bright and modern Leeds police HQ led downstream to bodies discarded in the bleak post industrial wastes on the edge of town.

The case of Ryan Gillespie’s murder appears closed when the chief suspect dies in custody. Soon after, the discovery of missing 17-year-old Sian Glover’s body reinforces a narrative in which she was murdered by Ryan’s killer who then either committed suicide or was killed by a criminal gang.

Drained and paranoid, Jo Gillespie takes refuge in a remote cottage that was one of many secrets her husband kept. She finally consummates the long gestating relationship with DC Jack Clark (Matthew McNulty). This brief respite from her own investigation is put to an end by the discovery of a child’s toy and the realisation Ryan had been using the cottage as a new home for his undercover lover and child.

Convinced the real villains must be inside the force, Jo seeks out Ryan’s former undercover handler Tom Piper (Phillip Davis). A clandestine meeting on a boat reveals that Piper is just as paranoid and frightened as Jo. Further clues point the finger up the chain of command as far as the Chief Constable Jarecki (Geraldine James). The CC is involved in a political battle for control of the department with DCS Hepburn (Douglas Henshall) who led the undercover operation.

Black Work episode 3

Black Work occasionally stumbled by packing in so many plot revelations that some of the secondary characters and relationships faded into the background. The point of view was almost entirely that of Sheridan Smith’s Jo, and so it never focused entirely on details outside of her immediate presence. For example, I was never entirely clear on the details of Clark’s home life that led him to pursue a relationship with a married colleague. This narrow focus robbed some plot developments of impact.

The concluding episode also suffered from what I call ‘Scooby Doo syndrome’ – too many scenes of characters explaining past events rather than these being shown to the audience. Sometimes this felt a little too much like a running recap and more dynamic staging on the part of director Michael Samuels might have kept things at a boil rather than a low simmer.

Black Work will be remembered for the terrific and committed performance from Sheridan Smith, her carefully applied makeup giving her face an almost porcelain doll appearance that did not hide the growing panic of a mother fearing for her family, and the lingering guilt of a wife over her failing marriage.

Ultimately, even if Black Work is unlikely to be a part of the A-list of British TV crime dramas – a roll call that includes series one of ITV’s Broadchurch and the BBC’s Happy Valley – it was still a solid first division contender.

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.

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