From Cracker and Prime Suspect to Silent Witness and Scott & Bailey, British television has arguably been responsible for best crime dramas ever to make it to the small screen. Now it looks like The Tunnel is set to join its illustrious schedule.
Where American crime serials tend to concentrate on special effects (CSI) and action scenes (Special Victims Unit) to hook their audience, British productions focus on subtler but reliable methods – the development of complex, endearing characters and the construction of realistic, multi-layered plots that seldom wrap up inside an hour. The Tunnel majors in both.
This ten-part series is an adaptation of a Danish/Swedish series from 2011. It begins with the discovery of a body in the cross-channel tunnel at the exact midpoint between France and the United Kingdom. As it turns out there are actually two bodies, the top half of a French politician and the bottom half of a British prostitute. Consequently French detective Elise Wassermann (Clémence Poésy) is forced to work with her English counterpart Karl Roebuck (Stephen Dillane) to unravel the mystery. But as the evidence – or lack of it – accumulates, it becomes clear this is not some horrific prank but the work of a serial killer who is just getting started. His horrible madness has a method. Nicknamed the ‘Truth Terrorist’, he is masterminding murders that highlight the carelessness of the police and the immorality of the governments they serve. In short he is a criminal sitting in judgment on the justice system.
The Tunnel is grimly accurate in its detail, adopting a similar approach to the human body like Silent Witness, reducing the victims to collection of flesh and blood clues. However there’s none of the deliberate revulsion that seems accompany programs like CSI. Instead the film quality production and novel-like depth of the plot more than makes up for the disturbing doses of reality. On the surface Poésy and Dillane make an obvious pairing – Wassermann is a workaholic with a detachment that borders on Aspergers, while Roebuck is folksy, far less clinical and more adept at social insights. But once they learn to work together, they make a formidable opposition for the killer they’re tracking down. And as novel as its setting might be, this is where The Tunnel unites with the morality of most procedural dramas.
The philosophy that undergirds most cop-and-killer shows is that good and evil exist in a fine state of balance. The world is far grimmer than we might otherwise imagine, but thankfully the judicial forces are far cleverer too. Somewhere an evil genius is always awaiting an opportunity to overturn the peace of a normal life, and they’ll get away with it if the forces of good waver for a moment. Who wins in the end depends largely on the ultimate viewpoint of the scriptwriter. Though this balance makes for great drama, it is as fictional as the crimes that emerge from The Tunnel.
Years of journalism have convinced me that evil masterminds are actually very thin on the ground. In fact most criminals are too stupid or too deranged to create anything as complex as the murderous plots of the Truth Terrorist. To be fair the police don’t claim to be geniuses either. A good friend of mine who has decades of law enforcement behind him says it’s actually centuries of procedure that help police the most. But we like to believe in a balanced moral universe because it suits our view of the world – and that, only because we haven’t seen this world’s final episode.
The Bible assures us that evil no more threatens good than a mosquito threatens an elephant. Crimes seem to go unrecognized or unsolved simply because we are in the middle of history’s ‘series’. God is collecting His evidence with the meticulous care of a Hercule Poirot, but with none of the Belgian detectives flaws:
“For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”
– and that execution of that judgment will have the finality of a Harry Callahan.
Watch The Tunnel, enjoy the drama and be ready for the horrible things the ‘Truth Terrorist’ might perpetrate – but don’t give in to the fiction. Good has already won the day at the cross. Evil is only making its voice heard while it’s being led away.
Release Date: Sundays, 9:30 PM