In last night’s Sleepyhead, a smug doctor scoffs at DI Tom Thorne’s serve-and-protect mission. ”That allows you to act like a prick?” the doctor asks. If you didn’t infer the answer from last night’s installment, Scaredy Cat answers the question tonight. Yes, it does. Once again, David Morrissey is winsomely prickly as Mark Billingham’s DI Thorne.
In Thorne: Scaredy Cat, our hero is every bit the avenging angel that he was in Sleepyhead. Like many rogue cops and hardboiled mavericks before him, DI Tom Thorne is dismissive of police regulations, his superiors and even most rules of polite conduct. But he’s driven to find the bad guys. Fortunately for London, Thorne is assigned the most perplexing cases—villains a more polite detective might not be able to track down.
In Scaredy Cat, the police are once again baffled by a serial killer—or, Thorne suspects, by two. Pairs of murders are being perpetrated with the same murder weapons, but one is savage and the other more precise and clinical. Thorne is sure the pairs of murders are connected.
Part of what follows is predictable. Thorne is overbearing, takes risks, is second-guessed by his superiors but eventually solves the case. But the genius of Scaredy Cat, like Sleepyhead last night, lies in the psychological curveballs that the show throws at viewers. This episode seems to tip its hand early, but Scaredy Cat adroitly serves up red herrings while slowly aspects of the eventual conclusion.
Sandra Oh is a good addition to the cast as DS Sara Chen. As with Thorne, the sometimes grisly job seems to weigh on Chen. Thorne copes by being a prick. Chen needs cocaine and spontaneous sex. While we see the self-destructiveness Chen is now in, she isn’t a very developed character, and we don’t know why she’s using cocaine in the first place. It would be nice to see more of Aidan Gillen (Tommy Carcetti in The Wire) as medical examiner Phil Hendricks—Thorne’s sounding board and the only character who cal tell him off.
Taken together, both Sleepyhead and Scaredy Cat rely on the continuing effects of childhood trauma as an explanation for serial killings down the line. Not being familiar with the Mark Billingham novels upon which the Thorne series are based, I can’t say whether this is unique to the first two, or recurs throughout the series. But the themes—dysfunctional identity, childhood flashbacks, broken relationships, compulsion to kill—remind me of a more violent (and perhaps less Freudian) Ross Macdonald.
But watch Thorne: Sleepyhead and Thorne: Scaredy Cat, and judge for yourself. These are excellent procedurals-cum-thrillers. David Morrissey’s downbeat magnetism will draw you in, and the piercing suspense will keep you watching.