One of the qualities that separates the good from mediocre TV drama is the ability to subvert your expectations of where you think the series is going. Earlier this year I applauded Line of Duty when it went in a completely different direction to where I expected it to and now Doctor Foster has done the same. Judging from the first two episodes of the second series, I expected the drama to focus on the ongoing war between Gemma and Simon (Suranne Jones and Bertie Carvel) as the latter tried to oust the former from their home town of Parminster. I already expected the final episode to be an explosive showdown with one of them ultimately exiting Parminster for good however by the end of the third instalment it appeared as if this had already happened.
Another element of the plot that has been bubbling under the surface has been the emotional turmoil that Tom (Tom Taylor) has suffered at the hands of his warring parents. After last week’s conclusion which saw Tom hauled into the headteacher’s office after he attacked his friend Max (Frank Kauer). The need to get to the bottom of her son’s problems, lead Gemma to make a momentary truce with Simon so they can present a united front. The episode drew me in when the Foster family had dinner together. where Tom tells his parents that Max had provoked him which led to them fighting. Although this dinner scene was well-written I wasn’t a fan of what came after as Simon and Gemma had sex, something we later learned that Tom heard. Initially planning to film the event, Gemma got caught up in the moment and this to me felt like another far-fetched plot point that we got so many of last week. The rather serene dinner scene was followed by another round in the game between Gemma and Simon as it was revealed he’d e-mailed the school and suggested that Tom be moved to a boarding school nearer to his house.
However, both the episode and the series changed tack when a video emerged of Tom violently lashing out towards both Max and Isobel (Hope Lloyd) at Simon’s community cafe. The game-playing between Simon and Gemma subsided as their true colours were revealed in relation to Tom’s well-being. Simon seemingly only cared about his reputation as he bemoaned the fact his son’s outburst occurred at his workplace and later threw him out of his new home after Kate (Jodie Comer) didn’t want Tom around their young daughter. Meanwhile, Gemma made it her mission to understand Tom’s new demeanour and learned that at Simon’s housewarming party her son acted aggressively towards Isobel whilst they were being intimate. After Simon threw him out, Gemma resolved to always be there for her son and agreed that they should leave Parminster behind for pastures new. Whilst Simon has effectively won in his game to oust Gemma from the community it appears that he’s lost in some respects as he has son who’ll never speak to him again.
I felt there was a lot to like about this episode, the best of the series so far, most notably the acting which was top notch throughout. I particularly enjoyed the performance given by young Tom Taylor who effectively communicated his character’s emotional trauma whilst saying very little. As we’ve watched what he had to go through in series one, we understand why he’s so emotionally vulnerable as he had to suffer through his parents’ messy separation. Furthermore, I liked how Tom’s actions were attributed to his drunkeness which link back to the fact that Gemma didn’t want him drinking at the party. Another performer who I felt shone in this episode was Victoria Hamilton who, as neighbour Anna, was the one person who could tell Gemma exactly what she thought of her. Her performance in the scene following Gemma’s liaison with Simon and later whilst they discussed Tom’s actions were both excellent to the extent where I wondered why Hamilton’s talents hadn’t been better utilised up to this point. I personally would’ve like to have seen more interactions between Anna and Tom especially seeing as the latter describing the former as the only person he could really talk to.
Suranne Jones was brilliant this episode and I feel that series creator Mike Bartlett finally let us regain some of the sympathy that I’d personally lost for Gemma during the past two episodes. Prioritising her need to be there for Tom over point-scoring with Simon made me warm to her once again as she revealed herself to be his mother first and foremost. There were some other scenes where Jones excelled including the one in which Isobel revealed what had happened between her and Tom at the party. Jones brilliantly portrayed a woman who on one hand was desperate to find out where her son was and on the other hand disgusted by what he’d done to his friend. I feel that Gemma wanting to stay in Parminster to act as Ros’s (Thusitha Jayasundera) bridesmaid was another decision that made me warm to her even more especially given how her colleague had treated her in the past.
Although I enjoyed this episode there were a couple of small complaints I had that stopped it from being perfect. I feel that Jodie Comer has been ill-served by her role in series two as her character has effectively become sidelined at home whilst Simon is out playing his various games. After that brilliant speech at the wedding, I was expecting more from Comer and Kate however she has offered very little up to this point. Another character that has been underused since he arrived is Gemma’s potential new beau James (Prasanna Puwanarajah), who has seemingly left the picture already after learning of what his new lover got up to with her ex-husband. It’s a shame as the relationship between Gemma and James could’ve been interesting but it appears that he was mainly used as a plot device so she could have someone to show up with at Simon’s party in episode one.
However, I’ve second guessed Bartlett in the past and been wrong about the progression of the show so maybe James will play a bigger role going forward. What I do know is that for the first time this series I’m excited to see where Doctor Foster will go next as I genuinely have no idea what Gemma and Tom will do outside of Parminster. This was a brilliant episode as it was expertly-paced and wonderfully acted especially by Tom Taylor and Victoria Hamilton. Know I’m just hoping that Bartlett builds on the brilliant work he did on this episode and carries it on through the final two episodes of this series.
Doctor Foster Continues Tuesday at 9.00pm on BBC One.