Prime Suspect 7: The Final Act
by Del Harvey
Available from Acorn Media.
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In Prime Suspect 7, Detective Superintendent Jane Tennison faces the most difficult challenges of her professional career and personal life when her father is hospitalized with terminal cancer while she descends deeper and deeper into depression and alcoholism. As if that weren’t enough, she faces imminent retirement and finds a surprising ally and mentor in the guise of an old enemy.
For nearly two decades we have enjoyed the fatally flawed yet brutally determined female detective so masterfully embodied by Helen Mirren and now, finally, the series comes to a close. Ms. Mirren’s film career has been brightened by an Oscar and many other wonderful roles which have only served to expand her popularity. Perhaps it is time to put the endlessly struggling Jane Tennison character to rest, but in spite of this entry being one of the finest in the series, I don’t believe any of us wish she were leaving forever.
The Prime Suspect series has been not only one of the most popular of PBS’ great Mystery! series, but also one of the finest police procedurals in the history television, and its coming to an end also signals the passing of one of the strongest female roles in television history.
From the series’ beginning, the program has been about quality, providing the audience with multi-layered characters caught up in some of life’s more startling mishaps. The commonality throughout has been that the series’ leader, Jane Tennison, has remained complex, enigmatic, and doggedly determined. Her efforts to not only enter but excel in a male-dominated segment of government, often conveying the same heroic qualities of the very men who fought against her mere existence, made her vulnerable and sympathetic in our eyes. For her efforts, Ms. Mirren won an Emmy for Best Actress and the series has won three for Best Mini-Series.
In Tennison’s long history of facing rejection from her fellow officers as well as her superiors, perhaps her most vicious adversary was the officer who sabotaged her every move in the very first episode, Bill Otley. Otley, portrayed by veteran actor Tom Bell, refused to accept Tennison as replacement for his dear friend and former boss, and so tried very hard to interfere with her progress at every turn. But that was in the first episode, where Otley’s negative attitude towards a female boss was representative of most male coppers. In the seventh entry in the series, Jane attends her first AA meeting and stumbles upon Bill in the audience. He surprises her by inviting her to coffee and proceeding to admit his gross error in judgment and apologizing for his horrible actions and terrible attitude. Jane is visibly touched by this heartfelt admission, and Bill Otley comes full circle, emerging as Jane’s one true friend and even a mentor as she fights to overcome her drinking problem.
In Prime Suspect 7, Jane Tennison needs all the friends she can get. Unfortunately, she’s never had very many. Her hard-driving ambition has seen to that, and her one friend throughout the series has always been the bottle. And in “The Final Act,” she hits it hard when her father winds up in hospital with terminal cancer, too weak to go to any specialists, too tired to do anything but lie in bed and wait to die. He’s okay with it; it’s Jane who cannot accept it. What’s worse, her boss is reminding her daily about her impending retirement. And then she gets it; another case to help distract her from the reality of daily routine.
The case: a 14-year-old girl is missing and her parents are hysterical. Tennison cannot recall getting the call the night before from one of her detectives, even though there is a record of his call and he claims having held a long conversation with her. This is her first self-realization as to how far her drinking is dragging her down. The girl, declared a model student by all, turns out not to have been as innocent as she appeared. There are a few dubious boyfriends, an overly protective father, and the girl’s best friend, Penny, whom Jane not only takes an obvious shine to, but who is obviously withholding something. But there’s more; the girl’s father becomes a suspect when it turns out he gave a two hour time difference in his whereabouts. However, he is soon exonerated and their focus turns to one of the boyfriends, who has a history of violence against women, and the headmaster of the school. And, as Tennison forces her way through the twists and turns of the case, she’s deals with her father dying, her impending retirement, and a motherly feeling towards the young Penny; who in Jane’s mind, at least, symbolizes the child she never had.
Ultimately, Prime Suspect 7 is an endearing farewell to one of the best and strongest female characters ever to appear on television. Full of melancholy, the emotionally charged “Final Act” is truly one of the best episodes in the series, which remains true to the sensibilities of the Tennison character right through to the final fade out. Prime Suspect 7 is a high quality program and a superb addition to your DVD library.
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly. He teaches screenwriting, makes and reviews films in Chicago.
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