ITV’s noir thriller Marcella returned to screens for a second series this week, and it’s every bit as disturbing as the first. The eight-part second series picks up several years later and, as we expected, problems continue to arise for our troubled heroine, DS Marcella Backland (Anna Friel). From the creator of Scandinavian series The Bridge, Marcella essentially borrows the same winning formula as Nordic noir show, but with a British setting and a British lead. Despite receiving critical acclaim, audiences were somewhat divided over Marcella when it premiered two years ago. As great as the Hans Rosenfeldt series was, it suffered from cop clichés, discrepancies in the narrative and the odd bit of clucky dialogue. But was a bad show? Not at all. In fact, I found it rather engaging. A pretty complex story and a wonderful performance from Anna Friel made Marcella unmissable TV the first time around. But will Series 2 live up to that mantle?
The answer, so far, is yes. The best way to describe the opening episode of Series 2 is that it is quintessentially Marcella. Rosenfeldt wastes no time in setting up his second season narrative and viewers are thrown in at the deep end as the first shot features Marcella attempting to jump from a rooftop. But before we even get a moment to even digest what we’re seeing, the narrative flashes back to twelve days earlier to get us caught up to speed. Perhaps the opening was a little cliché, but we’ve come to expect cliché in the world of Marcella and, in this instance, it certainly worked. I found myself desperately wanting to know what led to our central character wanting to take her own life. Of course, we still have yet to discover this, which means future episodes are definitely on my agenda.
When it comes to troubled TV detectives, none are more disturbed than Marcella Backland. Despite being a larger than life character, Friel’s nuanced performance grounds the Marcella character and makes her somewhat extraordinary actions seem ordinary. It’s only after the credits roll you’re questioning the detective’s behaviour and choices but — much like we were with Suranne Jones in Doctor Foster — when watching the show we’re a hundred percent behind Marcella. Furthermore, like the best TV protagonists, Marcella is no angel. While we initially perceived her as a hero, it becomes more and more evident as time goes on that she could well be the villain of this piece, and this is once again explored in the second series. There’ll be plenty of opportunities to watch Friel’s character lose her cool, as Marcella’s blackouts have once again returned to torment her. On that note, the blackout thing was my main problem with Series 1. The idea of the character blacking out is great provided that, at some point, we get an account of what she did during that time. But this wasn’t always the case. As a result, a lot what happened on the night of Grace Gibson’s murder was still left unexplained by the end of the first series. I’m hoping that, with the return of the blackouts, Marcella’s behaviour during these time lapses will be shown or, in the very least, discussed.
In terms of Marcella’s day job, things are just as unnerving as they were before. This time around, our protagonist and her team are investigating the murder of a young boy named Leo Priestly, whose body was discovered in a wall cavity. However, Leo isn’t just a random murder victim —the boy was friends with Marcella’s son, Edward (Asher Flowers). While I would argue that it’s perhaps a tad convenient to have Marcella emotionally connected to the murder victim yet again, I think the point that Rosenfeldt is trying to make is that Marcella’s problems arise when her job collides with her personal life. Speaking of her personal life, I did struggle with the fact Marcella’s ex Jason (Nicholas Pinnock) is once again engaged to another woman. Why? Because he doesn’t appear to have learned from his mistakes. Additionally, Jason is still bitter towards Marcella on matters that concern their children, which does little to make us like the character (but perhaps that’s Rosenfeldt’s intention). I’m worried that the show is retracing some of its Series 1 arcs at the expense of new material.
As we’ve come to expect from Rosenfeldt’s work, Marcella is only one character in a complex and somewhat convoluted story. It’s hard to know how all of the separate arcs will collide, but so far, the writer has me asking all the right questions. I just hope we get the answers at the right time and not too many episodes too late. With Marcella on the case, it should be sooner rather than later though, right? Let’s hope so.
Problems aside, Series 2 of Marcella is off to a strong — albeit familiar — start. The episode concludes with an unstable Marcella bawling her eyes out in her home as the nearby laptop’s webcam initiates. But who is watching her? Again, a little clichéd for a cop show, but I think Marcella just about gets away with it. While we’re all working out who this mysterious webcam watcher is and how they tie to the show’s central narrative, my money is on DI Tim Williamson (Jamie Bamber). If we remember back to Series 1, Tim was a bit overprotective of Marcella and, considering the two have rekindled a romance this season, perhaps the character wants to make sure that Jason is out of her life once and for all. But I’m probably wrong. After all, this is Marcella we’re talking about: anything — and I literally mean anything — is possible.
British drama as a whole hasn’t been very strong this year and a lot of that has to do with slow-burn narratives. Thankfully, Marcella doesn’t fall victim to this. Much like Series 1, viewers find themselves right in the centre of the drama from the very beginning, and the action never stops until the credits roll up the screen. Marcella is by no means the best police drama on TV, but it’s by no means the worst either. It’s a show full of drama, conflict and corruption, and it’s led by one of the most unhinged protagonists in recent memory. Rosenfeldt throws everything but the kitchen sink into Marcella (actually, I’m pretty sure the kitchen sink is in there too) and viewers aren’t ever given the opportunity to get bored. At the end of the day, television was made to entertain and, I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly entertained by Marcella.
Contributed by Stephen Patterson
Marcella Continues Monday at 9.00pm on ITV.