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Dark Heart, episode two review: Enjoyably miserable but not entirely successful

The second part of Chris Lang's ITV drama sees the plot crashes through the sky-light with a vengeance

Ed Power
Thursday 01 November 2018 23:02 GMT
Episode two of 'Dark Heart'
Episode two of 'Dark Heart' (Rex Features)

So it was the copper with the cough, in the torture dungeon, with the chainsaw… Or, at least, it would have been were it not for DI Will Wagstaffe (Tom Riley) mooching to the rescue in an agreeably grimy second episode of Dark Heart (ITV).

If the opening hour of the latest crime drama from Chris Lang (Unforgotten/Innocent) was all about mood, part two is where the plot crashes through the sky-light with a vengeance. Wagstaffe’s strategy of huffing around London looking hugely peeved pays off as he connects the dots between the various paedophiles targeted by a mysterious and unusually sadistic vigilante.

They’ve all been allowed walk free when their victims’s families suddenly, mystifyingly, withdraw their cooperation with the prosecutors. The twist is that this is in service of a revenge plot cooked up by Wagstaffe’s old boss Bob Jessop (Christopher Fulford) and the perpetually sniffly DS Rick Johnson (Tom Brooke), whose own child had suffered sexual abuse.

Dark Heart – initially aired as a TV movie in 2016 – is enjoyably miserable but not entirely successful in its attempts to transpose a noir sensibility to midweek on ITV. The carefully conjured gloom is shattered as Wagstaffe cheekily pops round to the home of one of the victim-conspirators and finds incriminating evidence on a computer. He sprints out the back just as the family are entering via the front in what is surely British drama’s silliest set-piece since Bodyguard sent Richard Madden slouching around London in a stained blanket.

The giggle-o-meter is further ratcheted with a love scene between Wagstaffe and on/off squeeze Sylvie (Miranda Raison) shot in the style of an Eighties instant coffee commercial. Wagstaffe rips off his tie like a stressed worker at the start of a long weekend, Sylvie looks vaguely vexed, as if she’s just remembered an unpaid gas bill. Afterwards, they hug and are sad. It’s as if the ghost of Fifty Shades of Grey has sprung from the wardrobe with a sheet over its head.

Happily, the aura of overwhelming grimness quickly reasserts itself. Over wine with Sylvie, Wagstaffe suddenly pieces together the conspiracy and leaps into action. And not a moment too soon as nice ‘n wheezy DS Johnson is about to introduce his latest target to the business end of a chainsaw.

With a terminal cancer diagnosis (hence the coughing) and a family tragedy of his own, Johnson has both nothing to lose and a burning personal grudge to vent. All this time he’s been in cahoots with Jessop, who elsewhere demonstrates quick wits by temporarily knocking Wagstaffe out using his front door.

None the less the killer is caught and the conspiracy unravelled and we’re presumably on to a new adventure next week. As is standard with these capers, Wagstaffe’s personal life remains a huge smoking mess, however. He has potentially reconnected with Sylvie. But he has to bite his lip as his sister Juliette (Charlotte Riley) announces her engagement to her nasty/potentially abusive boyfriend (whom Wagstaffe earlier treats to a sneaky mugging).

One thread that is allowed to drop concerns the horrible fate of Wagstaffe’s parents, killed 16 years previously. Lang will presumably have the opportunity to delve into this unsolved mystery in the remaining four episodes. He has proved that he can pull off grisly as well as he does supremely gritty. The hope now must be that Dark Heart rises above its pulpy tendencies and, much like Wagstaffe springing on his future brother-in-law in that underpass, catches us genuinely unawares.

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