Empathy, BBC1

by | Aug 4, 2007 | All, Reviews

Did we like it?

An unconvincing, all-too-convenient plotline made enjoyable by some convincing performances and a theme mined so deep from the quarry of sci-fi ideas that you can positively see the sweat gleaming on its heavily muscled and overworked arms.

What was good about it?

Stephen Moyer did a great job as fresh-out-of-prison Jimmy Collins who discovers he has a talent for seeing the deepest, darkest secrets of anyone he comes into contact with. Moyer’s triumph came in conveying, well, the empathy of what it would be like to possess such an ability as he crumpled into spasms of anguish when viewing some of the more unpleasant visions such as the two murders, the first of which he was initially suspected of perpetrating.

• Even better was Moyer’s affinity for switching between primal rage and tenderness best exposed in his running battles with the cynical Will Benson (the equally good Mark Womack), who was eventually won over when Collins communicated the thoughts of Benson’s comatose son to him.

• Just as rewarding was the relationship between Collins and his estranged daughter Amy, who he had cut himself off from after his wife was threatened by a fellow con (whom Collins subsequently killed to protect them). Their first meeting was a catalogue of jittery smirks and nervous shrugs which showed just how far apart they had drifted, but Amy’s forthright determination to be reconciled with her father soon saw them becoming much closer. And where sentimental domesticity can often be a meandering distraction in thrillers, here it was essential to introduce and familiarise the protagonist to the audience.

• The moment when a frustrated Collins reels off a perfect description of the first murder victim and what she was wearing to a sceptical Benson and Jo Cavanagh (Heather Peace).

• The little Lost/Heroes-esque twist at the climax that suggested Collins could also see into the future.

What was bad about it?

• The fortunes of Collins’ oscillating wallet. He emerges from prison in smart clothes as if he’s got an appointment at London Fashion Week (which was probably true as he was to have half his brain removed at the end), moves into a flat which looked so dirty rats carrying the Black Death would have looked for somewhere more salubrious, and pops up to Manchester on the train, never a cheap trip, for a funeral of “the only decent bloke” in his prison (who had helped Collins arrange the slaying he committed) and books into a B&B while talking on a snazzy mobile phone. Sometimes he seemed to be well-heeled while at other times he was as poor as a rotten sole with empty pockets fished out of the canal by an inquisitive tramp.

• He also used the phrase “I’m good”, which is a more virulent and damaging disease than any strain of foot & mouth could ever dream of being as “I’m good” is the stock response to of people who would bite a pair of smart cufflinks from a corpse to impress their wine bar pals.

• The welcome eccentric storyline was occasionally hampered by an infestation of dramatic clichés such as the B&B owner’s red finger nailed hand clasped firmly about a bottle of wine was an obvious precursor for sex. As was the use of the killer’s glance when the camera remains on a minor character for a suspicious split second too long to implant them in the viewer’s memory so they’ll recognise them when they’re unmasked as the killer. While the plinky-plonky piano and unbearably awkward conversation between Collins and Cavanagh was hinting at an inevitable romance.

• For the most part, the dialogue was industrious and effective, but around the mid-point it seemed to have slipped out of the grind for a liquid lunch and for about five minutes acted like a drunk staggering along the seafront forever in danger of falling into the crashing waves of psychobabble doggerel as Collins tried to get his head round his telepathic powers. “I see things, Jack, there’s got to be a reason,” he wailed to his best friend. “I think the visions are a punishment, but also a chance to redeem myself.”

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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