Monday, October 20, 2014

Inspector Lewis:“Beyond Good and Evil” (BBC/PBS, 2014)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2014 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Charles and I watched the next (and last) of this year’s three episodes of the Inspector Lewis mini-series from the BBC, aired on KPBS, and this was by far the best of the shows we’d seen: “Beyond Good and Evil,” which judging from the title was going to have something to do with Nietzsche. The central character this time was Graham Lawrie (Alec Newman) — the last name was pronounced “Lorry,” like the British word for “truck” — who 11 years previously was convicted of three brutal murders of police officers, who were entrapped by responding to emergency calls (in Britain the code is 999 instead of 911), whereupon their killer ambushed them and hit them in the back of the head with a special sort of hammer Lawrie used in his work. Only a scandal involving cross-contamination of DNA samples from the crime scenes, and the discovery in police files of a statement from an alibi witness for Lawrie for one of the killings leads an appeals court to vacate Lawrie’s conviction and set him free. Meanwhile, another police officer is killed using exactly the same M.O. on the night before Lawrie’s appeal is to be heard, and while he’s still in custody one of the series regulars, detective sergeant Lizzie Maddox (Angela Griffin), is assaulted in the boiler room at Oxford University after also having been lured there by an emergency call. The case threatens Inspector Robert Lewis’s (Kevin Whately) standing with the police force since he investigated it originally and is still convinced of Lawrie’s guilt. He’s convinced a copycat is committing the current killings in an attempt to exonerate him, while his former partner James Hathaway (the odd-looking but still hot Laurence Fox) is at least entertaining the possibility that both the 2001 killings and the new ones were committed by the same person and that Lawrie is indeed innocent.

The Nietzschean connection comes in through a professor who teaches a class on him at Oxford and who turns out to have been the Gay lover of the first cop killed back in 2001; and the star student in his Nietszchean discussion group, a cute young twink who wears a T-shirt reading “Amor Fati” (it literally means “the love of fate”  and Nietzsche scholar Friedrick Ulfers calls it “one of Nietzsche's most overt, and perhaps his best known, assertions of affirmation for life”), whom a middle-aged woman psychiatrist who’s been studying Lawrie since he was convicted and put in a mental hospital for the criminally insane suspects is Lawrie’s “beta,” a psychopath-in-training who essentially harnesses his own will to an “alpha” like Lawrie and lets him take him over (sort of like Leopold to Loeb in a real-life murder case inspired by Nietzsche — that was the one in which defense attorney Clarence Darrow argued in court that Nietzsche’s philosophy drove insane everyone who believed in it, starting with Nietzsche himself); indeed, Charles noted the parallels between this plot and Alfred Hitchcock’s Leopold-and-Loeb-inspired film Rope. It turns out, though, that the real “beta” is an unassuming-looking woman who works as a bookbinder at Oxford (and who made Lawrie a hand-bound copy of Beyond Good and Evil in which he concealed psychotropic medications he was supposed to be taking, but was instead bartering to his Black security guard, a would-be athlete who was on steroids) and for all the police knew was only the head of the citizens’ group seeking Lawrie’s exoneration. In fact she was dating him at the time of the 2001 murders and was actually a participant in them — she would make the 999 calls to lure the cop victims and he would kill them — and, of course, she committed the new murders herself to aid in his exoneration, then killed the newly freed Lawrie after he rejected her following his release. It was a legitimate surprise (a lot of British whodunits are considerably more obvious than this one!) and a neat capstone to a quite charming and well done mystery in that oddly decorous British style — though the Inspector Lewis stories are sufficiently of, as well as in, the present to include social media and cell phones (or “mobiles,” as the Brits call them — interesting that American and British English still generate these odd deviations of vocabulary!), stylistically they’re very much a part of the tradition of Agatha Christie and her imitators.