9 October 2015 | z-a-pliskin
"This is it. This is what it felt like. Now you understand."
Let's start with what's flawed with the show. It takes some liberties with the truth and with the rules we're used to in real life situations similar to those depicted in the drama itself. But doesn't all fiction? I look at it more as being so strongly told from the points of views of the lead characters that they are unreliable narrators, remembering things differently from how they may have played out. The fourth episode is a little slow/uneven with the pacing and has a few superfluous scenes, although it does build the characterisation up. The overall plot relies a little too much on convenience, i.e. everyone knows everyone else either as neighbours or old friends/colleagues, but it's so tightly written I can't see another way that would have worked without weakening the story.
This is a serious drama with the odd hint of black comedy. I found all the breaks from reality served the plot rather than detracting from it, which is important. The script is very strong - barely a wasted word, not overflowing with exposition as often seems to be the case these days, which allows plenty of breathing room through which the characters and audience can reflect on what has happened. Even the minor characters get enough screen time and backstory to be believable rather than being underwritten footnotes, a hard trick to pull off.
The subject matter is handled with maturity, even when the characters may act with poor judgement or display immaturity themselves. In the way it portrays the differences in genders it spares neither, showing the strengths and weaknesses of both, what we're all capable of, what we're afraid of if we lose the foundations on which our lives are built. The maturity of age, the carelessness of youth, those caught in the middle of an uncomfortable situation who know they should speak out but just can't because they'd hate to be the bearer of life-changing bad news - it's all here.
Throughout it all the performances are almost uniformly excellent, with particular praise directed towards Suranne Jones. For a character like Gemma Foster you need an actress that can say a lot with only expressions when there isn't dialogue (show, don't tell) and she can do this with an expert level of skill. What she holds back is almost as impressive as what she says and how she says it. Finding herself on the receiving end of infidelity turns her into something she hadn't expected - a detective, a possible reference to her role in Scott & Bailey. She cleverly puts all the clues together, bides her time, does more than a few ethically questionable/devious things in the process and puts her husband where she was emotionally with her actions, a little more each episode. There's the sense that deep down beneath her somewhat smug and condescending exterior and seemingly impulsive actions she cares about those in her life, making decisions for them that they might not have been strong enough to make on their own. She becomes cold and calculating only because she has to, so I'd say she is sympathetic even when she's being morally ambiguous. Her first priority is the motherly instinct to support her son, and in this she succeeds even though first she must step back and consider the dangers of a work/life balance that focuses too heavily on work.
In conclusion, a few critiques aside, I would say this is one of the best drama series the BBC has commissioned in years. It takes a long, hard look at the consequences of couples trapped in flawed relationships, and which actions they take to keep it all together or end it entirely. There's guilt, passion, denial, painful retribution, webs of deceit and lies. Everything you'd expect when dealing with a multi-faceted matter such as infidelity. It's a grown-up study of what happens when marriages become stale and people cheat which happens to make compelling viewing.
Thoroughly recommended. 8/10