Law & Order UK: 701 “Tracks” Review
Reviewed by David Selby
“I find suicide hard enough to understand, but taking other people with you? That’s unforgivable.” – James Steel
I encourage crime/courtroom dramas that explore the definition of what exactly a crime really is. Shaking up the definition of crime – say, by inventing a new kind of offense (take Sherlock’s A Study in Pink; exploring the complications of ‘serial suicide’ – sadly, we never saw a proper court case). The first episode in this series of Law and Order UK, as well as successful constructing new dimensions to the protagonists, managed the above – and effortlessly.
From the beginning, Sam Casey is portrayed as impulsive, guilt-ridden and anguished. Whilst it’s undeniably easy to pity him as he watches a young boy die before his eyes, his personal feelings towards the case could be considered as borderline excessive. Ronnie Brooks reminds him of his own recollections: “I was only in the job four weeks, and they put me on response. I was the first one on the scene. Car crash. Three kids, all gone. I couldn’t sleep for three months”. Brooks is conversely prudent: he makes decisions based on his own personal experiences (and, sometimes even mistakes) in the police-force.
The opening scene is immensely powerful. Law and Order UK once again forms a relatable, albeit temporary bond between the victim and the audience. In this instance, a little boy is playing with a toy car, and his mother is observing contentedly. The boy knocks over a man’s files. The man is lenient and the mother apologises profusely. These are, if you like stock characters: a clumsy but principally harmless infant and his careless mother, and a commuter, sitting back, not looking for trouble. Shortly after the crash, we see the body of the mother being zipped up in a body-bag. This destroys the childlike innocence we felt at the start of the episode – allowing us, in some way, to stand alongside Casey in his sentiments.
Even outside the courtroom, there are some fascinating dynamics. Adam James’ supercilious nonchalance as Michael Gennis rubs off delightfully on Paul Nicholls’ rancorous fortitude. Indeed, Gennis could be used as an example for how the first half of the episode utilises time: having little time to establish a mystery, but still leaving the audience speculating for the half-hour there is.
The courtroom-drama aspect of the opener was unusually memorable. The court-case focused around an absorbing predicament: was Finn Tyler – who drove a car into the side of a moving train – guilty of murder – or did he have a recognisable mental health disorder?
Georgia Taylor made her debut as Kate Barker, the perceptive Junior Crown Prosecutor chosen to replace Alesha (Freeman Agyeman). Kate Barker pursued her case with an admirable, albeit frustrating flair and natural ability to press evidence out of even the opposing prosecutor. I’m convinced already of her abilities as both an actress and a character.
The themes in this episode were obvious, but nonetheless influential. The case’s ideas were centred on egocentrism and attention-seeking; scorning those who harm others out of their own problems (“That’s not diminished responsibility. It’s cowardice!”). Essentially, as Henry Sharpe pointed out, this was a passion case. An attempt to avenge the boy from Casey (that cliff-hanger was terrifically executed, and quite chilling), a struggle to fight a case standing alone from Barker, and an ireful persecuting at the ridiculous possibility that the murderer could get off scot-free from Steel. The subtle shots of the families, wiping tears from their eyes, emphasised the personal layer to this case. Moreover, it was one of those rare occasions where the audience shared this changing fervidness.