Waking the Dead: Series 6, Episodes 7 and 8: Mask of Sanity
Written by Laurence Davey and Declan Croghan; Directed by David Thacker
James Jenson (Nicholas Beveney) is released from the secure psychiatric unit in which he has spent the last 20 years. Prior to being incarcerated, he was the prime suspect in the murders of three men connected to the children’s home in which he grew up, but was deemed unfit to stand trial. On the day of his release, however, the widow of one of his victims receives a package containing the wallets belonging to each of the three dead men. Boyd reopens the investigation and, in the process, digs up a veritable hornet’s nest in the form of a catalogue of abuse surrounding the children’s home, of which James was but one of many victims. Were the murdered men the perpetrators of this abuse and were their killings acts of revenge carried out by their victims, or is there more to the case than meets the eye?
Mask of Sanity is far from the worst episode of Waking the Dead, but it is an incredibly derivative one. The theme of the institutionalied abuse of children was already handled with far more panache, and indeed by the same director, in the Series 3 episode Breaking Glass. Here, we have an unusually generic tale that essentially plods from plot point to plot point, and not always particularly convincingly, offering up a portrait of cruelty that somehow manages to be both quite harrowing and utterly mundane at the same time. None of the various characters paraded before us, or their tortuous web of relationships, are particularly interesting, and the unravelling of the mystery itself is played out in such a way as to leave this episode virtually indistinguishable from that of any other halfway competent detective drama.
I should probably also mention that, in this episode, Boyd’s behaviour towards the rest of his team, particularly Grace, becomes utterly despicable. In the early years, Boyd’s temper was like an ever-present fuse just waiting to be lit, and his flare-ups were generally interesting to watch. Here, however, there’s no rhyme or reason to the way he treats his colleagues or his suspects, repeatedly undermining Grace in incredibly demeaning ways and, early on, deliberately goading a clearly frightened and mentally deficient suspect into committing an act of violence. This sort of behaviour has gone beyond ever being charming and now just seems mean-spirited.
Oh yeah, and, with this episode, my dad, who is suffering through this project with me, commented: “Is it just me or are they [i.e. the writers] trying to make Spence look as stupid as possible?” I think he may be right. By this stage, the character has all but stopped ceased to function as an actual person and is now relegated to merely being the dim-witted, bumbling plod who constantly loses suspects he’s supposed to be tailing or gets himself beaten up by thugs when he blunders into their path.
Holby connections: until recently, Richard Dillane (Ricardo Rivelli) had a recurring role in Casualty as orthopaedic consultant Sean Anderson.