In both series of The Missing, writers Jack and Harry Williams played around with the structure of the narrative by jumping between different time periods to make us change our perceptions of characters and events. However, for one of their two new dramas, the Williams brothers have taken things a step forward by playing with the narrative form by telling an entire story in reverse. Rellik (Killer spelt backwards for those who had cottoned on) begins with the capture of a serial killer, who has been attacking his victims with acid, before gradually flashing back throughout the investigation as we the audience learn the truth.
As this is a story told in reverse, the opening sequence of Rellik was quite a jarring watch but I personally quite enjoyed it. It introduced us to the investigation’s lead investigator DCI Gabriel Markham (Richard Dormer); who himself had been a victim of an acid attack during his time on the case. It was clear from this opening sequence that Rellik wasn’t going to hold your hand through the plot. It’s a show that demands your attention. The Williams brothers introduced the plot in a clever way by showing that the murderer had been caught and killed by the police in a news report. Despite what should be good news, Markham was instead skulking around 24-hour garages looking for booze and later arriving at a gravestone that bore the name of Edith Gray. We would later go on to discover the identity of Edith Gray and her connection to the man who the police identified as the killer; Steven Mills (Michael Shaffer).
One of the joys of Rellik was the way we learnt how the relationships between certain characters.
The reverse nature of the narrative meant that revelations came thick and fast especially when it came to the relationship between Gabriel and his lover/colleague DI Elaine Shepard (Jodi Balfour). The first interaction between the pair sees them getting intimate in a car after Mills has been killed and therefore are given the impression that they are an in a relationship. Then we see Gabriel give Elaine a key, which at the time I presumed was to his house as he wanted to make their relationship more serious. However, it transpired that the key was actually to her place and this earlier scene was Gabriel ending his relationship with Elaine. The final revelation came early in the episode when we discovered that Gabriel was married to the seemingly lovely Lisa (Lark Winther) and has a rather mouthy sixteen-year-old daughter Hannah (Shannon Tarbett). It’s in the introduction of Gabriel’s family that we learn that it was Lisa’s wish for her husband to end his affair even though, as we know from the beginning of the episode, it appears like it’s far from over.
The main storyline focuses on whether Steven Mills was in fact the killer the police had been looking for. The main piece of evidence linking Mills to the murders was that his fingerprints were found at the crime scene of the latest killing. However, scenes later in the episode shows that Mills, who suffers from schizophrenia, was being directed by somebody else who seemingly wanted to frame him for the crimes. Furthermore, we learnt that Gabriel previously thought he’d found the serial killer in Christine Levinson (Rosalind Eleazar) who he still suspected as she was unaccounted for during the latest murder. Another key suspect appears to be the mysterious Patrick Barker (Paul Rhys); who is seen boarding a plane whilst the police are closing in on Mills and it’s strongly suggested that he may be the man orchestrating the whole plot.
Like The Missing before it, Rellik is a drama that rewards focus as small hints to what happened in the past are left during every scene. Whilst the structure helps it stand out from the slew of police procedurals, I also found it jarring to try and keep track of all the characters that the Williams introduced never mind their connections to the case. I feel that Rellik will feel much more of a rewarding watch once all the episodes have aired and the pieces are slotted into place. Due to this theory, I wonder if it would’ve worked better on a Netflix-esque streaming service where viewers would have the option to watch the whole story in one go if they so wished. The BBC could even do what they did with the recent series of Top of the Lake and make all episodes available after the opener has aired on TV. That being said, I’m in no doubt it will garner excellent ratings on a weekly basis but I feel that, due to the narrative structure, this may be one drama that would work better if viewers could binge on it.
Although I’m not sure what to make of the story from this episode alone, Rellik already has some strong elements that hooked me from the beginning. Sam Miller’s direction is brilliant as he helps us navigate through the narrative structure by focusing on several visual clues right from the off. Furthermore, I really liked the way in which the action started to rewind ahead of another flashback as it provided a useful frame of reference and was a lot more effective than just a subtitle telling us how far in the future we’ve travelled back. The mood is enhanced further by Clark’s stark score which was one of the most memorable elements of those opening scenes and also provided a jarring accompaniment to this episode’s denouement. However, possibly my favourite thing about the entire episode was Richard Dormer’s performance as the physically and mentally scarred Gabriel Markham. Gabriel could easily have been another cliched, damaged detective but Dormer was able to make him feel three-dimensional, a skill that was aided by the writers slowly revealing him to be a somewhat happily married family man. Dormer’s has a natural screen charisma which makes you want to follow Gabriel even if you don’t always want to sympathise with him after several revelations about his character are revealed. Dormer is ably supported by the likes of Jodi Balfour and Paterson Joseph; the latter of whom playing a psychiatrist with OCD who has links to several of the case’s main suspects.
I feel that it’s success will ultimately be on how satisfying the final reveal is and whether the focus the drama requires will be rewarded with a fantastic conclusion. What I can say early on in is that Rellik has a fantastic central performance, brilliant direction and a memorable score. Whilst the story was confusing at times, I also found the plot structure incredibly clever and feel that as the series progress I’ll be able to get to know the characters a little more in order to sympathise with them. Although the Williams’ brothers’ other drama airing tonight; ITV’s Liar, may be the easier watch, I feel Rellik may be the more memorable of the pair and I feel the first episode has done it’s job as I already can’t wait to see what happens in next week’s instalment.
Rellik Continues Monday at 9.00pm on BBC1