Waking the Dead: Series 6, Episodes 11 and 12: Yahrzeit
Written by Declan Croghan; Directed by Tim Fywell
We finally come to the final episode of Series 6. It’s been a long trawl, and at times has felt like a chore, but at least we get a half-decent episode to finish off the season. This one finally brings to a head the “Mel’s bracelet” plot that has been simmering in the background throughout the series, and it does an interesting job of finally bringing Boyd to properly acknowledge her death, while as the same time concocting an interesting tale around the murder of a young girl in a London backstreet in 1945. We kick off with a ceremonial Nazi dagger being delivered in a package addressed to Mel at CCHQ, with the plot thickening when it is discovered to have originated from a derelict house once occupied by the Dusniaks, a family of Polish-Jewish refugees who settled there at around the time of the young girl’s death. The dagger is discovered to be the murder weapon, and as a result Boyd launches an investigation into the Dusniaks, unearthing a whole lot of secrets that certain members of the family would prefer to remain hidden.
I’ve been racking my brains trying to figure out why it is that this episode works better then the rest of series, and the best explanation I can really come up with is that it presents us with a tangible idea. Most of the cases this series have been rather oblique, exhibiting a strange ethereality and dealing with vague ideas, more often than not focusing more on trippy hallucinations and flashbacks and less on deduction. Yahrzeit’s story is not only a concrete one but a deeply emotive one, using the backdrop of Josef Mengele’s experiments on children under the Third Reich and spinning a complicated web involving subterfuge identity theft. The puzzle at the heart of the episode isn’t particularly hard to work out, though. Once an elderly man in the throes of dementia who is supposedly a Polish Jew starts wittering away in German and calling his grandson by the wrong name it’s pretty obvious what’s going on, and this is only compounded when his daughter begins waxing lyrical about her life in Panama and attempts to spirit him away there, before admitting defeat and providing him with a cyanide pill when the police start asking awkward questions. Still, the plot is at least well-concocted, and, as is often the case with Waking the Dead mysteries, the fun lies in trying to work out the specifics of who did what to who and why rather than the broad whodunit.
Not that I’d class this as a particularly “fun” episode. Indeed, given the subject matter, it’s understandably bleak, albeit ending on a note of optimism that I must say feels a tad forced. Much of this has less to do with the central mystery itself and is more concerned with Sarah (Michelle Forbes), a mysterious American woman who enters the picture as a nuisance and ends up canoodling with Boyd in front of an uproariously unconvincing blue-screen New York backdrop. Sarah is in fact a Mossad agent, and was communicating with Mel just prior to her death. To go into specifics would be to give the game away, and would probably be rather boring to read, but it’s not spoiling too much to reveal that, despite Mossad being illegal in the UK, Boyd allows her to swan around with the rest of the team, make key decisions as regards the investigation and generally act like a snotty bitch. Michelle is a rather loathsome character, and it’s a little too much to swallow that the thoroughly dictatorial Boyd would tolerate her, let alone enter into a relationship with her. (I also have trouble processing the image of her and Mel being friends, but there you go.)
Incidentally, in this episode, we are told that Mel was attempting to trace her Jewish roots prior to her death. Given that Mel was almost certainly not Jewish by birth (as revealed in the Series 4 episode Fugue States, she was born Mary Price and adopted as a baby), I’m not entirely convinced by the use of the word “roots”, but then again, I suppose you can argue that it fits with the “you are who you choose to be” message that the writer clumsily shoehorns into Boyd’s dialogue towards the end. Personally, I’m more content to see this as nothing more than a continuity gaffe, albeit a minor one compared to the clunker the writers drop in the next series in the form of Boyd’s son.
“Yahrzeit”, by the way, is a Hebrew word, meaning the anniversary of a relative, commemorated by the lighting of a candle for the deceased and the reciting of religious text. Thematically, it’s a very appropriate title for the episode.