Netflix’s Criminal U.K. (Season 2) Review: Back and better than ever
*This Review Does Contain Spoilers*
While it’s not in the full international force that it had when Netflix introduced its own crime procedural show, Criminal makes a triumphant return with its U.K. division with some thrilling new stories and familiar faces.
When I first checked out Criminal: U.K. last year, which is something everyone should go check out, one of the things that made me instantly love it was its unique formula. Rather than hook you with horrific imagery or action-packed rundowns, Criminal is much more dialogue driven and never leaves the interrogation room to constantly build up the tension as suspects begin to unravel and hidden clues come to fruition. It’s a formula and concept that’s really effective in creating a slow-burning tension that allows for character relationships, major changes in thought, and sudden turns in the case to make a sudden impact. It’s the kind of crime show that delivers the same kinds of thrills and chills Criminal Minds or CSI but doesn’t need graphic violence or action-packed chases to do so. The dialogue keeps you hooked on every word and every new detail that makes its way out causes immense ripples in all your thinking and changes everything.
With season two, there’s definitely a “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” mentality that’s used as nothing really changes much with this formula, but it manages to keep things incredibly fresh through its characters and stories. Seeing most of the team return is an absolute treat and it’s nice that some of the story threads within them are fleshed out more here. There’s still some romantic tension between Tony (Lee Ingleby) and Hobbs (Katherine Kelly) that adds an element of mystery with how the first season ended, Kyle (Shubham Saraf) and Vanessa (Rochenda Sandall) are still making their own marks on the team, and this season even continues Hugo’s (Mark Stanley) arc continue and could be exciting continue in a future season. Personally, it’s a little odd to see Paul Ottager (Nicholas Pinnock) be MIA this time since I can’t recall him leaving the team or like retiring at the end of season one, but I could be wrong. However, there’s a small replacement for him in the form of a new detective named Reiss (Aymen Hamdouchi) who doesn’t get a whole lot of time to make a strong impression since he’s only in two episodes, but is a solid addition nevertheless.
Seeing these characters back in action is made even better with the strong selection of cases and possible suspects for the team to interact with. Another great aspect about the Criminal series is that it touches on crimes that aren’t just simply finding a murderer before they get to their next victim. They touch on relevant themes within its cases and create thought-provoking, character-driven narratives that really suck you in. Things like rape, making deals with suspects for information, and even dealing vigilante entities make this season even more compelling than the first and the way that these narratives are constructed and play out make them even more thrilling to watch. Even the solicters play a more vocal role this season as we see them interact with suspects more and create some compelling emotions about the case. I will say that the series does take a big risk with how it handles its rape case in the second episode as it rides the line of victimizing its possible rape suspect.
In the episode “Alex,” the team is trying to uncover whether or not it’s titular suspect actually raped one of his co-workers, but new information and Alex’s (Kit Harrington) arrogant behavior complicates the situation leaving things unanswered. Thus, having gone through the wringer, Alex is left looking for answers from the team after things are left on a middling note and it’s a great moment that doesn’t find the team “winning.” It’s a strong showing of the greater consequences of an inconclusive result and how both parties can suffer from their being no clear-cut truth to the situation.
For the Alex’s co-worker, with their being no clear guilty verdict, she’s forced to not be able to find true closure as her possible attacker walks free and possibly even faces scrutiny from those that doubt her. As for Alex, he acknowledges how having no clear innocent verdict will likely cause issues for his relationships and reputation as this is something that will never leave him and stop those that think he’s guilty from harassing him when he might not be guilty at all. Hell, the case could even get dropped altogether and both parties could never fully heal from the hurt this kind of case brings. Perhaps getting to know the personality and perspective of Alex’s co-worker maybe could’ve fleshed out every angle a little better since just having his makes the end sequence of him berating the team feel like it’s trying to make him come out like the victim – which maybe he is and maybe he isn’t. However, it’s this inconclusiveness that makes this episode feel real as there’s never always going to be a clear truth in these kinds of situations and how your initial instincts of a situation or person might not be right.
Season two also adds in so many storytelling details that give each new piece of information acquired and every twist and turn a deeper impact. There’s a great moment where Kyle asks Vanessa why she isn’t pulling something up into the interrogation room and she says that Tony to her to wait until he cracks open his seltzer water can. It’s moments like this that create this lasting sense of anticipation and makes you hang off of every action and word. Watching Criminal is basically like becoming a dialogue sleuth as it’s hard not to find yourself grasping onto every detail and piecing things together as the truth becomes more fleshed out. Even then, the series continues to find new directions to go and new ways to create shocking conclusions that feel satisfying and make you anxious to get to the next case.
There’re even more recognizable guest stars going against our protagonist team of detectives that give amazing performances. Harrington easily gives my favorite guest performance of the season as he makes Alex a total rollercoaster of emotions. One second, you easily want to peg his arrogant ass as guilty, but the next his desperation and seemingly genuine fear makes you question everything you’re thinking about him. It’s this kind of ambiguity that makes the episode so strong and his line delivery mixed with all of the emotion he brings really makes his presence necessary for this episode to be as good as it is. Not to mention, he absolutely kills the opening monologue.
Sharon Hogan also delivers a strong performance as the leader of a vigilante group that lures sexual predators. Her cockiness towards the detectives, even calling them by their first names, makes you instantly interested in her character because she’s so unique and I really like how her story carries the same kind of consequences about not finding the full truth of something as Alex’s episode. The most surprising performance though, easily comes from Big Bang Theory alum Kunal Nayyar as he plays a killer trying to make a deal with information about a cold case in order to reduce his sentence. There’s just this calculated and controlling nature to him that completely catches you off guard and Nayyar creates this thrilling cat and mouse game with his performance that amps up the thrills every step of the way.
Criminal: U.K. comes back better than ever with a welcomed return to the concept and style that made the first season so spectacular with some fleshed out storytelling, thrilling new cases, and incredible guest performance that, dare I say, are as award worthy as ever – especially from Harrington. It further proves the incredible potential that this series has to bring viewers into chilling interrogations to solve cases from all around the world.
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