Chris Lang’s gritty new crime drama Dark Heart premiered last week, and it caused quite a stir online, with some viewers claiming that they’d already seen the show several years earlier. They were, of course, referring to the pilot that aired on ITV Encore back in 2016, which went down a treat and was subsequently ordered to series. The one-off episode was later trimmed down and edited to make up the first two episodes. If you were one of the disgruntled viewers, then you’ll be pleased to know that the third and fourth episodes are entirely new creations (they were filmed earlier this year), and centre around a completely different murder investigation.
In the first of Chris Lang’s new stories DI Will Wagstaffe (Tom Riley) — who’s still as badass as ever — and DC Josie Chancellor (Anjli Mohindra) investigate the murder of a young nurse (Andreea Paduraru), who asphyxiates as a result of ingesting a deadly calabar bean. Wagstaffe and his team connect some of the dots, which leads them to doctor Nick Kyriacou (Memet Ali Alabora). The seasoned detective takes no prisoners, which is proving to be one of his most attractive qualities, and Tom Riley’s delivery of the character’s more humorous lines is exquisite. Before long, the doctor dies in the exact same fashion as the nurse, which confirms that there are powerful forces at work here, but that doesn’t bother our broody detective.
I mentioned last week how Dark Heart’s strength lies in its protagonist and that is once again evident throughout these two instalments. Will is a tortured soul, which I’m aware is very much a cop drama cliché, but Lang’s characterisation of the character — not to mention Riley’s superb performance — makes him so much more than the cliched cop we’ve seen countless times before. Sure, he broods a lot, and fights for what’s right and all of that, but deep down Wagstaffe is still that young boy who was left traumatised by the death of his parents. The murder investigation is enthralling and all, but it’s Wagstaffe that makes Dark Heart compelling viewing. A particular highlight of the two episodes is the plot thread focusing on him defending his family. We learn a lot about the character via his close relationship with Harry (Jason Teague), which is one of the greatest things the show has to offer. But it’s the reckless (albeit badass) way in which he disposes of Paulo (Edward Akrout) that shows just how far he’s willing to go to protect the people he loves. Swoon.
The truth about his parents’ death is presumably being kept for the final two instalments, but I am getting the sense that there’s more to this than even our hero knows about — something that’s cleverly implied by writers Lang and Ben Harris through the use of subtext.
Like the pro that he is, Wagstaffe doesn’t allow his own struggles to interfere with the job, and after he and Josie track down missing man Adam Miller (Luke Westlake), they discover that the two murders are linked to an underground organ transplant operation. How? Because Adam’s down one kidney, and it was Kyriacou (the doctor they initially suspected) who performed the operation on him. The nurse, Sofie cared for Adam following the procedure, hence why she was killed. Wagstaffe works out that it’sAlgea (Hara Yannas), the young barmaid at Bar Alexus, that’s been behind the whole thing, but she evades custody before he can apprehend her.
This week’s episodes are every bit as good as the previous two — in fact, in many ways, they’re superior. For one, it’s significantly less grisly, and there’s next to no violence this time around, which proves to be a wise move, as there is simply no need for it. The one thing that stood out for me about Dark Heart last week was its atmospheric presentation, and that’s still very much present in these two instalments – albeit with a slightly different colour palette. The browns are toned down, being replaced by an icy cold blue tint, which goes hand-in-hand with the narrative. It’s an incredibly attractive show and one that I find myself thinking about quite often during the week. Dark Heart has been a revelation for me, and it’s undoubtedly my TV highlight of the week right now. I’m finding it hard to look away. Mind you, with Lang’s unprecedented writing skills driving this story forward, can you really blame me?
Contributed by Stephen Patterson
Dark Heart continues on both Wednesday and Thursday on ITV at 9pm.