The title of BBC One’s new serial killer drama for Monday nights might, at first glance, suggest something a little outdated – but this new six-part series is very much a modern offering. Taking its cue from the recent raft of TV Scandi Noirs, Rellik might not feel like the freshest show on television, but it’s certainly no relic of the past.
From the collective pen of Harry and Jack Williams, creators of the Beeb’s runaway 2014 success The Missing, this new crime show focuses on the hunt for a twisted serial murderer known as ‘The Acid Murderer’. The interesting thing, though? The tale is told entirely in reverse. Which is where the title’s real meaning comes into play. ‘Rellik’ being ‘Killer’ backwards (of course!).
The idea is neat, and while we’ve seen dramatic devices like this used in films before – think Christopher Nolan’s Memento or Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible – a reverse narrative is a pretty novel idea on the small screen. It certainly makes for an intriguing gimmick in this maiden episode. Whether the prospect of backwards storytelling becomes hard work over the course of six episodes though, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Our opening scene sees the case’s lead detective cornering the man responsible for the spate of brutal murders and the standoff ends with the suspect being shot dead. Now, some of you may be thinking, ‘well, where’s the fun in that?!’ But, as we later learn, there’s much more than meets the eye about the case. So much more.
Rellik may take its chronology inspiration from Memento, but in tone and style there’s more than a little bit of David Fincher’s archetypal serial killer thriller Se7en about it. Plus its opening titles and theme music are so similar you can almost hear the chatterings of a thousand copyright lawyers.
But that’s enough of the homages; let’s look at the thing itself. The big draw here? The acting talent of Northern Irish thesp Richard Dormer. He’s a TV heavyweight, with a CV boasting the likes of Game of Thrones and Fortitude. He plays DCI Gabriel Markham, a Met detective whose interest in the case is – as is so often the case – personal. The killer, who uses acid to burn off his victim’s faces, distinguishing features and fingerprints, threw some of the corrosive liquid into our hero’s face early on in the case, disfiguring him quite severely.
Assisting Markham in his quest to hunt down the man responsible is his partner DI Elaine Shepard, played by Quarry actress Jodi Balfour. The two are winding down an affair in the opening episode, so we’ll get to see how the grizzled misery bagged his bright, young and pretty partner. And why he thought it was a good idea, given that he has a wife and teenage daughter at home. Albeit quite unhappy ones.
This opening episode zips back in time quite a few times, but does so via stylish little montage packages, so – as long as you’re paying attention – you shouldn’t lose the plot. Don’t get bogged down in the unusual chronological set-up, though. Rellik is still a crime drama as you’d know it. But one, we suspect, that will come to try to explore the idea of why people are like they are. A philosophical monologue from Markham early on about how a man cleaning windscreens in traffic came by his fate suggests as much.
All in all, it’s an intriguing start. Rellik episode 1 has all the ingredients to make for a fine crime drama, all framed around an interesting concept. Its story may be told in reverse, but there doesn’t seem to be anything backwards about this relentlessly grim and grisly new drama.
What did you make of Rellik episode 1? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Still catching up on Rellik episode 2? Read Steve’s review of episode 1 here.
In most jobs, if you turn up with so much as a minor case of the sniffles, you get sent home. In the case of Rellik’s DCI Gabriel Markham though, not even severe facial injuries and obvious, debilitating mental health issues are enough to see him at home with his feet up in front of Homes Under the Hammer.
Seriously, though. Richard Dormer’s obsessed police detective shouldn’t be allowed at work. His manic state really doesn’t make for a very professional attitude. Although, admittedly, Rellik wouldn’t be hugely entertaining were its ‘obsessed police detective’ to just kick back on the sofa drinking tea all day. As it is, he’s feverishly tearing around London, breaking all sorts of rules in pursuit of the serial killer responsible for the death of seven people. Who also happens to be the person who threw acid in his face not all that long ago.
It’s fair to say that Markham is not in a good place during the second instalment of BBC One’s newest crime thriller. When he’s not being warned by his boss, he’s thumping desks and shouting. When he’s not watching his office building burn, he’s discussing divorce options with his wife and admitting to contemplating suicide to his therapist. And that’s all before he storms a suspect’s flat without a warrant in the middle of the night, kidnaps her, drives 100mph down the wrong side of the road, screeches to a halt, screams at her and then kicks her out right there on a dual carriageway in her bare feet. Talk about stress in the workplace…
Well, we say ‘and that’s all before…’ But really? It’s more after. But technically ‘before’. Confused? Well, quite. Rellik’s constantly shifting timeline requires you to pay fairly strict attention. The backwards storytelling is audacious, stylish and smart. But for more casual viewers, it’s no doubt slightly alienating. Scenes make sense and motivations are often fairly clear, but leaps of faith still need to be taken with the plot and patience has to be shown by the viewer. Some may find the chronology arrogant or presumptuous, but so long as Rellik can continue to back it up and ultimately rewards the audience’s trust in the end, it’s fine by us.
We got some much-needed backstory on Markham’s partner and lover, DI Elaine Shepherd (Jodi Balfour) this week. She attended the funeral of her father, a man she seemingly hated so much that she sold his rare E-Type Jaguar for a tenth of its value. But only after playing her old man’s least favourite song (the dreary ‘You’re the Best Thing’ by The Style Council) during the service. He can’t have been nice.
Tiny little back stories involving the various members of Markham’s team and their romantic goings-on continued this week and remain a little stilted – mostly because they’re so rushed. They add very little to the overarching story and only really serve to make an otherwise classy drama feel just a tad soapy. Which is a bit of a shame.
What doesn’t feel soapy is the performance of Harlots actress Rosalind Eleazar as Christine Levison, Markham’s main suspect and someone with very similar scars to him. Her down-to-earth performance is grounding and she gets to deliver some flippant and funny lines – the only rays of light in what’s otherwise a pretty darn dark hour of television.
Another common complaint of ‘dark’ thrillers like this is the dark palette of colours that tend to go with them. While atmospheric, it can often be a little depressing and dreary. But it’s so far, so good with Harry and Jack Williams’ thriller here. It’s gloomy and moody, but steers clear of being a mass of swirling dark hues that leave you straining your eyes at the corner of your living room for sixty minutes.
We won’t spoil the ending for anyone yet to catch up with Rellik episode 2, but there’s a revelation at the climax that seems to point to who the killer really is. Now, surely, that has to be a red herring at this stage… But you never know, do you?
What did you make of Rellik episode 2? Who have you got your eye on as a potential suspect? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
WARNING: spoilers for Rellik episode 3 below. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 2 here.
It’s been a case of ‘so far, so confusing’ for a lot of people settling down to watch BBC One’s grim and Gothic Monday night serial killer thriller Rellik these past two weeks. Its story-told-in-reverse schtick certainly seems to have divided its audience. Some think it ingenious; others consider it needlessly choppy and oblique. But where the first two episodes really required patience and trust from viewers, now – at the midway point – each plot thread is being fleshed out and things are finally starting to fall into place. At least to some degree, anyway.
Rellik episode 3 focuses less on the murder investigation itself and more on two very personal stories connected to it. The first concerning our battle-scarred antihero’s daughter and the second involving an even more complicated father/daughter relationship. One thread takes us to the scene of a drug-addled sexual assault-in waiting at a debauched rave, the other to the scene of a brutal incest-tinged murder and dismemberment.
See? We told you it was grim, didn’t we?
Upset by the details of her father’s affair with Elaine, Hannah Markham decides to do what all good teenage daughters of police detectives in TV crime dramas do and rebel. And, like her old man, it seems that Hannah doesn’t do things by halves. Her rebellion sees her hooking up with her wrong-side-of-the-tracks pal, getting drunk, doing drugs and almost having sex with two strangers at an illegal rave…
Luckily for everyone involved, her dad takes the evening off hunting down The Acid Killer to track her down and get her home safely. And, lucky for DI Markham, his partner (in more ways than one) Elaine is there to actually do the real police work, freeing him up to kick in doors, shout at people and repeatedly punch men in the face. Gabriel’s looking at a divorce because of an unwise workplace affair and keeps getting the runaround by the crazed serial murderer who threw acid in his face, disfiguring him for life. This was the last thing he needed. Kids, eh?
Still, paternal relationships get weirder than the Markham’s – just ask Patrick and Sally Barker. Glimpsed briefly in previous episodes, we learn that the smarmy city boy in the Harry Palmer specs and his oddly young and innocent-looking girlfriend are, in fact, father and daughter. Or – as he points out – stepfather and stepdaughter.
We’ll refrain from being too spoiler-heavy here for those of you yet to catch up with the third instalment of Rellik. But, suffice to say, it doesn’t end well for Mother Dearest when she comes between the pair. What happens next explains how Patrick Barker becomes entwined in the case.
In our review of episode 2, we mentioned how perhaps the one failing of Rellik was the rather annoyingly shallow exploration of the office affairs of Markham’s team. And it only gets worse this week. The two mini-subplots suggested upon so far are ignored here. Instead, we’re treated to the start of another story involving some prank-based bullying that gets a little out of hand. Will this thread tie up nicely? Or float about in the air like the others? And does anyone really care?
The darkness, the tone, the near-constant rain. The miserable police detectives chasing a sick killer intent on playing games with them. The choppy titles and disturbing score. The echoes of David Fincher’s serial killer classic Se7en are even more evident than before. In fact, don’t be surprised if the series’ final scene (or should that be first scene?) sees Gabriel opening a head-sized box somewhere in the desert.
So that’s three hours of the six in and we’re no closer to finding the real culprit (come on, who really thinks Stephen Mills is the killer?!). But then, we’re only midway through the series. There are no doubt stacks of twists and turns to come. Each as grim as the last, if not grimmer.
Did we mention that Rellik is grim…?
Did you tune in for Rellik episode 3? Are you keeping up with Gabriel and his search for the killer? Who do you think is truly responsible for the murders? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
WARNING: spoilers below for Rellik episode 4. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 3 here.
As we enter the second half of Jack and Harry Williams’ gritty and noirish BBC One serial killer drama Rellik, we’re still pretty clueless about exactly how our ‘hero’ DI Gabriel Markham came to receive the horrific facial burns that we’re so used to seeing him grimace through. But, finally, this week’s instalment shows us exactly what happened on that fateful night. Although, like everyone else, we the viewers are still very much in the dark as to the perpetrator’s true identity.
We know from last week that The Acid Killer is not the sneering and bespectacled city boy Patrick Barker. And we’re pretty sure that it’s not Christine Levison – unless we’ve misjudged things and it is… We still think there’s a certain fishy dead-eyedness to Elaine, who we find out has a killer for a father here in the fourth episode. But then she genuinely seems to love Gabriel. Markham’s boss DS Benton (played by Thor and Rome actor Ray Stevenson) isn’t a nice guy, either. But he hardly strikes us as a stone cold killer. Which leaves, unless we’re yet to meet another suspect, Paterson Joseph’s twisted psychiatrist, Dr Isaac Taylor. Someone who, by the final scene, certainly appears to be our (new) main suspect.
We finally find out just what it is that’s been making Gabriel resent his spouse quite so much of late too. In his prone state in hospital, drifting in and out of consciousness, he hears his wife Lisa (played with icy coolness by Danish actress Lærke Winther Andersen) admit a surprising secret about the paternity of their daughter. And it’s something he really didn’t want to hear.
Perhaps the most shocking thing we saw in episode 4 though was the sight of Markham actually SMILING. Of course, we have to go back in time a few jumps to see it. But he definitely did. Crazy, right? Not long before his attack, he’s looking in a mirror and talking to his family. And, 210-odd minutes into Rellik’s run, Richard Dormer’s character finally cracks us a grin. And why not? After all, at this point, he’s yet to have a pint of hydrochloric acid thrown into his face…
Given patience and watched with attention, Rellik is a rewarding watch – but its most interesting aspect is still its biggest flaw. The time thing. It can be tricky to keep up and put events in the correct order and follow where things are going exactly, or where they’ve been. Is this the programme’s fault, though? Arguably not.
Had it been binge-watched on DVD or greedily gobbled up on iPlayer, we suspect that more people might have enjoyed Rellik. But with six episodes spaced out across six weeks? The BBC have made it annoyingly inaccessible to a lot of viewers. The complicated chronology is a heavy thing to dip in and out of so many times while following the drip-fed plot. We think it’s been well worth sticking with, but we understand why quite so many people have given up on the show. Our advice, though? Ram through them all on a Sunday afternoon or two soon on catch-up.
We remain very much on board on a weekly basis though and we’re super keen to see whether Isaac really is responsible. Or, might we just have sussed out DI Elaine Shepard?
Did you tune in for Rellik episode 4? Do you agree with us about Rellik being a better binge option? And who’s your call for the killer? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
WARNING: spoilers below for Rellik episode 5. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 4 here.
Have you ever sat on a train next to a braying group of drunken idiots, late at night? Loudly recounting the tale of their boisterous, Jägerbomb-fuelled evening? They’re awful people and you pretty much hate them all and everything about them, but you just can’t help but listen to them. You’ve even unplugged your headphones. Soon enough, you’re completely drawn in. The anecdotes are expletive-filled and stomach-churningly offensive, but you’re hooked. Time flies by and you realise your stop is coming up. You’re going to miss the end of the story. God knows you’d hate to actually have to meet or deal with any of these people one to one, but somehow they’ve immersed you into their unsettling and rather disgusting world. You’re repelled, but you can’t get enough.
Well, Rellik is kind of like that.
Bereft of redeeming characters, devoid of light moments and relentlessly grim in subject matter, it is – to put it mildly – not a very cheery watch. Yet somehow you can’t look away. We’re a full five hours into the backwards-told Acid Killer investigation now and even with the reverse chronology meaning the body count actually drops with each passing week, things are getting no less disturbing. If anything, somehow, Rellik is even seedier and more horrible than ever.
We started the series at the end of the story. Lead detective DI Gabriel Markham, severely burned and obsessed with tracking down his attacker, is a gruff and monosyllabic lunatic, running around in near-constant agony, smashing things up. As the episodes have gone on and we’ve slipped further and further back in time, we’ve started to see the man before his attack. And it’s not a pretty picture that’s painted. In fact, by episode 5, we’re left with a pretty clear image. Markham is a nasty, lying, selfish, guilt-free, nihilistic, drug-using narcissist. And that’s not a good combination of character traits for anyone, let alone a police officer in charge of a large-scale murder investigation.
He might not be Prince Charming, but Gabe’s certainly got a way with the ladies. We discover this week that Elaine isn’t the only colleague of his to have fallen for his rather hard-to-spot charms. He makes a regular habit of seducing the new female recruits. And, as with Elaine, he’s not above telling them that he loves them. When he doesn’t. This time though, those three little words come back to bite him later on. Potentially in a pretty big way.
The plot thickened with Dr Isaac Taylor this week, although his phone conversations with the first victim, his partner Dr Jonas Borner, seem to put his name in the clear. New (or is that old?) suspect Richard Bell is put in and out of the frame very briefly as well. So the big reveal at the end – which we won’t spoil for anyone yet to watch this episode – very much seems to put the spotlight on someone in particular. Someone very close to home. We’ll just say this – if you’ve been following our reviews so far, we might well have guessed who the Acid Killer is a few weeks back… But then again there is another hour left. There are no doubt more twists to come.
The early word is this: episode 6 is even uglier and more shocking and disturbing than the sixty minutes we just watched… So, y’know. Fair warning and all that.
Next week’s instalment is the final stop on the Rellik train. Part of us is glad that this grisly series will stop creeping further into our brains with its blood-soaked tentacles. But at the same time, we’re going to miss it once we alight. It’s not been an easy watch and we’d struggle to recommend it to more casual fans of crime drama. But if you like your fiction blacker than black, then we can’t speak highly enough of this grim, grim, grim serial killer thriller.
Did you tune in for Rellik episode 5? Did you see the big twist coming? What did you make of that reveal at the end? And how do you see the last episode playing out? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…
WARNING: spoilers below for Rellik episode 6. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 5 here.
Rellik, it turns out, is all about the concepts of fate, self-determination and how the past shapes us as people. It may have confused some viewers and put off many with its backwards storytelling, but ultimately this very grown up and smart thriller has proved a triumph. Not just as entertainment, but as a bit of a thought provoker. Its themes force you to ponder why exactly people do the things they do. Perhaps the biggest question Rellik poses its viewers is this – ‘Can the scars of the past ever truly heal?’
That’s a heavy way to start this round-up and review of the sixth and final episode of Harry and Jack Williams’ jet black crime drama, we know. But then it’s been a pretty heavy series. This is no Murder, She Wrote-style fluffery. In fact, we’re fairly certain that we’ve never seen a BBC crimer this dark or disturbing before. And we watched every single second of The Fall…
If you recall the final scene of episode 5, you’ll no doubt remember the grand unveiling. The Acid Killer has been DI Elaine Shepard from the very beginning. Assigned to work on the case with her boss and lover DCI Gabriel Markham, it turns out that she’d been manipulating suspects, evidence and the entire investigation all along. All while conducting an illicit affair, dealing with the death of her murderer father and talking to the ghost of her mother on a daily basis. She’s certainly a lady that likes to keep busy.
This closing instalment really drives home the series’ main message of just how much the past can affect people’s psychology. We open the final episode with a flashback from Elaine’s youth. It’s been alluded to before, but we see the devastatingly traumatic incident which was to set her on a path to violence in later life. The murder of her mother, by her father, right in front of her. In a playground (which is, you’ll remember, where she would leave her victims as The Acid Killer).
We’re then treated to a visually stunning montage of the past five episodes in reverse, taking us right back through the whole case, but with the killer’s identity now no longer a mystery. Back up to speed and in the modern day, the action kicks off with Elaine being forced to steal a vital piece of evidence to keep the team from discovering that she’s responsible for the killings. But it doesn’t take long for Gabriel to work it all out and track her down.
In order to figure out where Elaine has holed up, he has to revisit some fairly nasty memories of his own. Some two decades ago, he and his then-partner Benton responded to a 999 call made by a patient at a psychiatric hospital known as The Salvia Unit. A 10-year-old girl called Helena Paredis had called in an assault. On arrival, Markham finds another patient raping the young girl. A scuffle ensues and Markham accidentally kills the man. Helena Paredis, we later find out, grows up to be Elaine Shepard (it’s an anagram, y’see…).
It all ends in flames, somewhat ironically for the severely-burned Gabriel Markham. But this time around, he’s able to impact the situation a little more and he escapes the huge fire. Holding his partner/former lover/perpetrator in his arms, she’ll have to face justice for the murders, which also now include that of a certain Dr Isaac Taylor, for his work in covering up her abuse all those years ago.
We end with Gabriel waking up – once more – in hospital, covered in burns. We cut to a dreamlike shot of him looking in the mirror, apparently free from disfigurement. Will his scars ever really heal? And how about Elaine’s/Helena’s…?
It’s been quite a journey over these past six weeks. What started as a little bit of a gimmicky show pony of a series with unlikeable characters and a slightly distracting plot device quickly turned into an absorbing character drama. Sure, it wasn’t perfect. Most subplots fell flat or tailed away and the relentless darkness could prove hard work at times. But by the end? It was hugely gripping and quite brilliantly stylish and thoughtful. We’ll miss it.
What did you think of Rellik episode 6? How did you find the series? Smart and original? Or too complicated and depressing? Let us know in the comments below…