The most interesting thing about The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco is that despite having a reasonably solid cast, everyone involves seems content to act like the whole thing’s a parody. But nothing else about the show suggests that’s the case, least of all “Charlotte’s Web”, which commences a new murder-mystery after last week’s episode did away with the first one.
The scene is a lonely country road, where a couple’s blaring headlights slice across a corpse. In a six-hours-earlier flashback scene, we meet the dead woman. Her name is Charlotte (Jordana Largy), the dissatisfied wife of Howard (Paul McGillion), an inordinately tidy bespectacled introvert who immediately becomes the prime suspect in what the local police are predictably describing as an open-and-shut hit-and-run.
The introductions take place at a swanky party attended by Iris (Crystal Balint) and Hailey (Chanelle Peloso), at the request of their former wartime colleague, Lydia (Jessica Harmon). You can imagine what that’s like. “Charlotte’s Web” maintains The Bletchley Circle’s usual high standard of social commentary, which is to say that people say flagrantly racist and sexist things and the main characters frown. On Mexicans: “Well… you try getting them to understand.” How biting. An attempt is at least made to display the well-meaning casual prejudice of those woefully out-of-touch social climbers, such as when Iris is asked if she knows a good housekeeper, but if this show’s writing was any more on-the-nose it would need to apply for a boxing license.
Needless to say the dastardly men of the police department won’t look any deeper into Charlotte’s death, despite multiple eyewitnesses having seen her husband manhandle her at the party, and having been aware that she planned to leave him. I’m not surprised that a show about an all-female ring of super-smart amateur sleuths goes out of its way to vilify men, but I wish they’d do it more creatively. As things stand, the stupidity of the male characters feels less a critique of gender than an endorsement of terrible screenwriting.
In lieu of official support, Iris and Hailey turn, of course, to Millie (Rachael Stirling) and Jean (Julie Graham), between whom a slight rift is occurring, as the former would like to remain in San Francisco and build a new life there. It’s riveting stuff, but in the meantime, you’ll be thoroughly unsurprised to learn that Charlotte left a ledger full of codes behind that would benefit from the attention of two expat cryptographers. Along with everything else, “Charlotte’s Web” also maintains The Bletchley Circle’s penchant for ludicrous contrivance.