Strangers Episode 2 continued to pale in comparison to BBC One’s Bodyguard, offering plenty of intrigue but very little sense.
Strangers, I’m sorry to say, isn’t very good. Well, I’m not sorry, but you know what I mean. Perhaps if it didn’t air on the night after BBC One’s stellar Bodyguard it’d fare slightly better, but then again the chances are slim; Strangers Episode 2 was poorly written, unconvincingly performed, and offered very little besides contrivance and the odd bit of stupidity.
If you missed last week’s premiere, here’s the skinny: John Simm plays a bedraggled everyman by the name of Jonah Mulray who finally plucked up the courage to conquer his fear of flying when he was summoned to Hong Kong to identify the body of his wife, Megan (Dervla Kirwan), who had been mangled in a car wreck and possibly shot to death afterwards. When he got there he was promptly given the bureaucratic run-around by the shifty coppers, smacked around in his hotel room, and discovered to his dismay that Megan had been married to David Chen (Anthony Wong), a former Hong Kong policeman, for almost twenty years. Oh, and they also had a rebellious teenage daughter called Lau (Katie Leung) who speaks with perfect English diction, for some reason.
Strangers Episode 2 finds Jonah still in Hong Kong, determined to get to the bottom of his wife’s death and secret life. I must concede that I don’t give a shit about this man, which is a shame, really, as the show kind of banks on the fact I will. But he’s stupid, abrasive, and just generally incompetent; Lau put it best when she incredulously asked, “What did she ever see in you?” Bit harsh, maybe, but I can see where she was coming from.
To be honest, I don’t really know why Jonah would be here – why would the consulate call him when Megan was legally married to a citizen? Still, I’m willing to overlook some details if we need them to make the plot happen; the question is whether the plot happening is actually a good thing or not. Jonah took the voicemail – which he was peculiarly able to rewind at will – to the police, who brazenly deleted the gunshot from the recording and lost his wife’s body, sneering smugly all the while. It doesn’t strike me as being particularly convincing.
That voicemail also contained a coded reference to a disused restaurant above which Megan had a secret apartment. You might think that’s intriguing, and I suppose it is, in its way, but the “code” was so laughably obvious that any local would have figured it out – including the deeply suspicious, openly corrupt police force who had a forensic expert go through the message. Perhaps they missed that bit.
Either way, this is somehow connected to the looming elections for Hong Kong’s new Chief Executive, which is in turn connected to Emilia Fox as Sally Porter, who works at the British Consulate and whose hotel-manager fiancé, Ben (Christian Contreras), had been leaking her confidential documents to a tubby reporter (Anthony Hayes) in an attempt to blackmail one of the candidates. Ben turns up dead by the end of Strangers Episode 2, but it’s difficult to care. I didn’t really like him anyway.
That’s the problem, I suppose. I don’t like much of anything Strangers has to offer, and the more I try and put a finger on why, the more I realise that most of the issues are simple matters of writing and plotting that are just inexcusably amateurish. There are some things to enjoy, granted. The Hong Kong setting was put to good use in Strangers Episode 2, with the camera taking in smoky mah-jong dens, the hustle and bustle of the markets, and the lamp-lit extravagance of the teeming harbour. But most of the characters and plot elements feel wasteful. There’s nothing to be said about relationships, or bigamy, or how a woman could conceivably live two completely separate lives while seemingly valuing both quite equally. There’s just a lot of stuff in its place; dead bodies and missing bodies and blackmail and corruption and activism and politics. None of it is really cohering, and it’s a shame. Maybe next week.