UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

No Mercy for Messiah

Nigh on three years after its initial debut on BBC Television, the two part mini series Messiah made an appearance to a mass American audience, starting off with Part I on July 26, and concluding with Part II on August 2. BBC America, the same network that has brought us uncouth Colonials such feats of dry British wit as Are You Being Served? and The Office, was the natural host for this latest export from Mother England. As some may know, the BBC is home to many creative, original, and downright awesome programming, as well as a few police dramas that make Law and Order look like a game of patty-cake on the village green. That’s the upside of a socialist government: state-sponsored television with lax fundings–that and the whole helping-the-less-fortunate thing. But for every good idea, there are at least five more that are rubbish. Unfortunately, Messiah is one of those rubbish concepts. Adapted for TV by Elizabeth Mickery from the Boris Starling novel, Messiah is a murder mystery set in contemporary London about a flatfoot, Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Red Metcalfe (played wonderfully by Ken Stott, of The Vice fame), investigating a string of gruesome and highly creative slayings that, as we discover at the end of Part I’s 80-minute stretch, are a schizoid’s attempt to recreate the deaths of the twelve apostles, most of who experienced rather painful ends. In case you can’t see where this is going, the killer believes he is the second coming of Christ, etc, etc.

Metcalfe has his own personal troubles to contend with, like his sexy deaf-mute wife (played by Michelle Forbes), and his wayward brother (Kieran O’Brien) just out from a stint in prison for accidentally killing some girl during a drunken New Year’s grope-fest a few years earlier. But, let’s not forget DCI Metcalfe’s inability to drive during downpours, for reasons having something to do with confusing slow-motion flashback sequences of a soccer ball in the rain.

Part I is not a waste of time, until you see Part II and realize that you waited one week for a “startling” conclusion that turns out to be crap. We learn that the killer is a fellow copper working closely with DCI Metcalfe, one Jez Clifton (played by Jamie Draven), who had been the victim of a hit-and-run as a child, which seriously befuddled his thinking, and led young Jez to the conclusion that he must have died and come back to life: just like Jesus. So he decided that he was Jesus, and that he should kill twelve people. But get this: the kicker is that the driver of the car that struck Jez was none other than DCI Metcalfe himself!

Sound good? Well, it would have if all this information had not been revealed in, literally, the last 10 minutes of the finale. No clues, no hints, no anything to suggest the killer’s identity until the very end–except for those brief slow-motion shots of DCI Metcalfe driving in the rain. The whole thing is analogous to any episode of the tour de force BBC series Wire In the Blood, about psychology professor Dr. Tony Hill (played flawlessly by Robson Green), who uses his understanding of abnormal psychology to help police catch serial killers. Messiah is almost no different than Wire In the Blood, aside from the absence of Robson Green, good screenwriting, and it’s only slightly longer than Wire’s usual running time of two hours.

Usually, mysteries have these little things called “clues” (say it with me, kids: C-L-U-E-S, clues) that allow a glimpse at the truth, but still leave breathing-room for the unexpected: that’s what they in the biz call “suspense.” All the clues in Messiah are red herrings, having little or no relevance to the screenplay’s actual conclusion. In fact the only thing the clues do properly is keep the audience in the dark until the final minutes of the mini-series. Good mystery writing will engross the audience or reader by taking them along with the investigation, learning things as the detective(s) or investigator(s) do, allowing them to form their own opinions and theories, and get swept up in the story. Messiah’s concept is actually quite brilliant, but the execution is not. Had the hints and clues been less obscure, it would have all “clicked” and the audience would have felt as though all that pondering and time spent on edge-of-seat actually had a purpose. But, the clues were obscure, and at the end nothing really “clicked”, just went “kerplop”–kerplop in a bad way. If you want to see a well-made crime drama with a good amount of blood, then don’t waste time with any reruns or encores of Messiah. Just watch any episode of Wire In the Blood. If you, in your own quasi-masochistic manner, want to be disappointed, then watch Messiah.