An enthralling thriller that was in turns innovative and derivative, and captivating and sporadically dull.
What was good about it?
• While evidently borrowing much from US series such as CSI, an original streak ran through Kiss of Death like the copious Dulux washes of blood that were spread-eagled on beaches, walls, plastic sheets, parcels, hands, freezers, kitchen surfaces; in fact, it was a shock to enter a scene that hadn’t been smeared with crimson.
• The originality, and the hook that set it apart from its peers such as CSI and Messiah (although the first time the villain spoke he sounded like Ken Stott), was the flickering perspective on the narrative. We may start off with Kay Rousseau’s (Louise Lombard) intuitive, at times preachy, police inspector who was heading the investigation. Through her we’d be guided towards all the classic detective clues, almost a generalisation, of deduction, theory, piecing clues together.
• Then the perspective would switch to, say, George Austen (Lyndsey Marshal) who would scoop up the evidence and handle it carefully before thoroughly analysing it back at the police lab, or Matt Costello (Danny Dyer) who had an eye for picking out clues at crime scenes.
• All of this should have provided a more complete picture of the investigation, but, and this is a credit to the writing and direction, it only served to make it all appear more fractured, a dislocation that was mirrored in the team who didn’t really seem to like one another – it was riven with professional jealousies, lust, insubordination and distrust – and oddly made us contemplate just how different detective stories are from the likes of Sherlock Holmes, when one man would do all the work, aided only by a dumb stooge to enlighten the audience.
• That’s not to say the notion of a dumb stooge has become redundant, it was very apparent in Kiss of Death, too. Whenever one character would become the brain of the story, the rest would fan out to become limbs, pushing the narrative forwards by asking stupid questions or acting on the erudite suggestions.
• Another feature novel to detective dramas was the widespread use of back stories to flesh out the cast. This was obviously inspired by Lost (right down to some characters even having identical names – Rousseau and Austen, and even Miles), but unlike the expansive Lost, trying to squeeze convincing tales into a single hour-and-a-half wasn’t wholly successful.
• However, where it did score points was in ensuring that the introduced back stories didn’t sit idly on the shelf once they’d been revealed. Rousseau had been convicted and then cleared of murdering her baby daughter and used the experience to almost make the killer Bovery revere her as she meticulously detailed the feelings she had before her daughter died (without ever making it clear whether she was really guilty or not).
• Meanwhile, Austen’s alcoholism was used against her by Bovery in revenge as he thought she had fabricated evidence to help fit him up for a series of rapes some years before. This made the sceptical Rousseau question Austen’s competence as first her hair was found on the watch of the first victim and then her fingerprint on a bottle in the victims’ kitchen, when he had thieved both from her home.
• The final twist of the impetuous Jude visiting Bovery’s home after Costello ignored her evidence, and then being murdered. This was only shown after the case had been solved and the original kidnap victim saved, and instead of a theme tune there was the muffled sound of Jude being killed. This seemed a rather pointless death, unless Kiss of Death is commissioned to a series and Costello needs something to feel guilty about to rival his peers.
• An impressive cast illuminated by lead performances of Danny Dyer and Louise Lombard. It’s pleasing to see the talented Dyer stretch out into something more than an Essex geezer, as in one scene he brilliantly transferred his anger, after Rousseau chastised him, onto Jude, something which ultimately cost her life.
• Meanwhile, Lombard’s depth matches her beauty, even if she isn’t as pretty as in House of Eliott. Although this has far more to do with that mystifying feminine caprice of forsaking natural short, dark hair for amorphous, dyed flaxen locks than the ravages of time.
What was bad about it?
• A legacy from CSI is the almost cerebrum-snapping concentration on forensic evidence. Initially it can be quite engaging, but after a while one corpse being chopped up in a laboratory looks pretty much like another one.
• After the unknown victims were traditionally Christened ‘John Doe’ and ‘Jane Doe’, their real names were revealed to actually be ‘John’ and ‘Jane’.
• The postman with no sense of smell who delivered a rotting, decapitated head to Rousseau’s home.
• You lost much sympathy for the late ‘John Doe’ and the terrorised ‘Jane Doe’, as they swayed and sashayed on their wedding night to some insufferable MOR gloop in the vein of Simply Red, Jack Johnson or David Gray.
• Bovery seemed to have learned much of his forensic-foiling techniques from watching shows such as Kiss of Death as his background as an army corporal didn’t suggest much expertise.