Welcome to Parminster, lair of bourgeois iniquity and immense wine glasses, for a second series of the superbly captivating domestic thriller.
The last time we saw Gemma Foster (Suranne Jones), she was recovering from her husband Simon’s affair with young Kate (Bertie Carvel and Jodie Comer) and getting her life back on track. Or so we thought.
The Gemma we meet here is called into question by the news of Simon and Kate’s return from London with their daughter Amélie. And it becomes evident at the end of the first episode that Simon, rather than learning from his mistakes, is emboldened to add more because he wants to take their son, Tom, and effectively wipe Gemma out of the picture altogether.
The show opens with close-ups of a paper guillotine; a nice touch considering the emasculation that we expected five episodes in the first series. Gemma’s driving force then was to see Simon suffer the consequences of his actions. Now that he’s back, richer, with a beautiful young wife and child and a determination to take more than his fair share, his sense of injustice is multiplied.
I feel both enraged for her and strained beyond words at the prospect of another series about a woman enslaved to her own bitterness. I want her to win, damn it. And intelligent writer Mike Bartlett knows how to keep us going.
The red envelopes given to all the characters in the opening scenes (a nice way to reintroduce them) contain an invitation to Simon and Kate’s homecoming party. Does it really make sense to have a party in a glass house that is completely at right angles to each other considering what happened last one?
But first, Gemma’s ill-advised spying. Raise your hands if you shout “No! When the camera lingered on the half-open patio door of Simon’s new home, then came back to Gemma looking at her. I am both deeply depressed by his renewed obsession with revenge and the joyful rubbing of my hands.
When Simon arrives, he asks rather cruelly and unnecessarily: “Are you thinking of me?” Two years later, this couple are still desperate to elevate each other. Despite his claims that he just wants to get on with his life, he can’t help but pull Gemma’s strings and she can’t help but dance. Isn’t love terrible?
Things at work are not helped by a hostile new partner in GP practice that I couldn’t initially locate, then I realized it was Sherlock’s evil sister Eurus, this chameleon actress Sian Brooke. Her only crime so far is passive assault, but she is definitely one to watch out for.
When Gemma sends young Tom to his father’s party and goes on a date, it’s an obvious attempt to bite the bullet and get through the pain. But she lasts a few minutes before declaring the date a mistake and co-opting James (who later turned out to be Tom’s teacher – the small towns, who would live there?) To go to the party with her.
The first sting comes when all the friends who promised not to attend are at the party, drinking wine in the fairy-lit garden and toasting to the two poisons. Kate slides around her show house in a long white dress and Simon puffs it on while Gemma is bubbling.
When she finally confronts him in his bedroom (after browsing through the bedside drawers), their face-to-face constantly falters on the verge of a hateful shag. She could feel his erection as they held each other down. She knows she has power over him and he admits it, while telling her to move on.
Their malicious games are all great fun, but the collateral damage is down, Gewürztraminer gets hammered and tries to get along with his teenage girlfriend. Poor Tom.
Remembering that she brought hapless James to this psychodrama, she calmly explains to him that Simon ruined her life and that she won’t be watching while everyone else celebrates their happiness. At this point, James should be running but doesn’t.
That’s the only thing wrong with this opener. With such a nightmarish first date in the company of this vengeful wolf, he asks to see her again. Talk about chasing a sparkling ball of flame and asking for a hug. Is he hit that quickly, or will we find out that he has damage himself?
All the broken people. The next day, Simon arrives to start the war in earnest. Whatever he said to Tom, it worked and the two leave a distraught, almost breathless Gemma alone with her jars of chemicals. “There’s only one way for me to get out of here now and it’s in a coffin,” Simon scolds her before leaving with the person she loves. Don’t tease us, Mike Bartlett.
As Simon and his family sit around the dinner table, a happy new unit, Gemma dissolves her wedding ring in acid and lights a cigarette as she watches it sparkle.
What just happened? Will it be a woman driven mad by rejection and betrayal doing something she regrets? From the way Simon acted, she would have the right to kill him and we know she can dissolve a corpse if she gets enough acid.
This series promises to be as explosive, gripping and toxic as the first. I’m so into it.
I love the tiny but affirmative slam of her car door in hers as she leaves the new home. It’s the little things she knows that will piss him off.
Kate’s quick decision to hide Gemma’s gift from Simon suggests that she doesn’t fully trust her new husband, either. Will the two women unite against him?
Those tense, plaintive strings are back on the soundtrack, playing like Gemma’s inner turmoil. I imagine two modern dancers in his skull, struggling in baggy pants, holding their heads.
She felt their lubricant! At least she stopped before sniffing Edge of Darkness’s dildo.