This is a Law & Order: UK review I really didn’t want to write, because as a fan, it’s an episode that I didn’t want to face. It’s not so much the conclusion of a story as it feels like a forty-odd minute long counseling session – and one that’s needed.
Picking up where “Deal” left off, “Survivor’s Guilt” gives us a quick answer to our burning question: Matt Devlin is dead. Jamie Bamber isn’t present for a frame of it, but Matt’s felt the whole way through. I’d expect nothing less as we – head writer Emilia di Girolamo and the audience as a collective – are paying our respects to a beloved character and, by extension, to an actor who gave years of his best efforts to us. We want him to be around in some measure, if only because we’re still trying to let go.
His replacement – and the guy charged with investigating his death – is Sam Casey (Paul Nicholls), who claims he doesn’t need Ronnie’s help on the case. That’s okay, because Ronnie doesn’t care for him much, either. Casey seems adept enough at his job and slightly abrasive, although we don’t get to know him very well in this episode. We don’t want to get to know him yet, or have him and Ronnie get along right off the bat. That would be shoving Matt out of the picture far too quickly. No, Ronnie is speaking for all of us in this episode; as he grieves for his partner and begins to try and move forward, so do we.
This is Bradley Walsh’s episode without question. The audience can’t be in the LOUK world, but Ronnie is, and he’s speaking and feeling for all of us. It’s up to him to express our hurt and anger, to comfort Matt’s sister, and even to take care of his cat. Walsh does an admirable job of taking all that on his shoulders. Ronnie’s world-weariness and inner struggle are so well conveyed without an ounce of melodrama. It’s hard for me to look at Walsh and realize this is a guy who’s also done comedy and hosted game shows; to me, he just fits perfectly into the skin of a lifetime copper.
So, too, does Dame Harriet Walter, whose DI Natalie Chandler gets her own moment to grieve. These are two veteran actors who give two of their best performances when we need them most. And Dominic Rowan finally finds his fire when we really need Thorne to nail someone to the wall.
To really grasp the strength of “Survivor’s Guilt,” you have to look at it with a writer’s eye. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Emilia for some time now, and I know that she’s not just the person running the show, she’s also a fan of it. After sending off Matt in the best way we could have asked for, she’s written a conclusion for the audience, not necessarily for the efficiency of the show. It’s not about introducing the new guy. One could argue it’s not even about the whodunit of resolving Matt’s murder. No, the episode is written so it allows the characters and the audience to have their space and time to cope with the loss of a loved one. I have so much respect for Emilia for penning an episode that recognizes and serves the emotional wounds of the audience, allowing us to stay in place instead of trying to push us forward.
“You know how many people are crying over Matt Devlin?” Ronnie asks Mark Ellis early on.
I’m one of them. And I’m glad that I had this chance to grieve for a great character as brought to life by an outstanding actor. Matt Devlin, we will miss you. Let’s hope we make you proud from here on out.
(c)2011 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. All rights reserved.