‘Criminal’ is Netflix’s experiment to tell a bunch of stories from four different perspectives. The UK version stars talent-mines like David Tennant and Hayley Atwell, and focuses on a team of police officers who interrogate various suspects to solve the crimes. Every episode packs a different story and gives us a wide set of characters. How they behave during the interrogation, what is their body language, what words they use while describing the victims and other details, and what it takes to break them down become the bullet-points for the audience to weigh their innocence against their guilt.
We witness the process from the perspective of the cops and are as much skeptical about the suspects as they are. We realise that a game of poker is being played here, where both the cops and the person in question will fabricate anything to get their way. If you haven’t yet seen the series, head over to Netflix.
‘Criminal: UK’ begins with a horrific case and a suspect whose graph of innocence goes up and down with time. We are introduced to Dr Edgar Fallon in the interrogation, and his very first words are “No Comment”. As the cops fire him with all the information they have against him, they struggle to get one useful word out of him. For almost half of the episode, Fallon refuses to say anything beyond what he has been advised by his lawyer. “No Comment”. It is not just him being tight-lipped, he also maintains a stoic posture. His hands don’t fidget, his legs don’t tremble with nervousness, his eyes don’t betray his emotions and his face is like a mask, keeping all of his secrets safe. From the way the cops lay out the whole story in front of us, it looks like they have it all figured out and the only thing they need to cement their win is Fallon’s confession. However, he refuses to budge.
After realising that the current scheme is not working on the suspect, the boss, Natalie Hobbs, decides to stir things up by sending in another cop. They have some personal history and her decision is met with some unrest, but we soon find out why it was for the best. Hugo is replaced by Ottager who instantly displays an intimidating exterior. Tony makes up a story about his daughter (similar tropes are used by the cops a number of times), and slowly and steadily, they begin to chip away at him. Finally, Ottager tells Fallon about how his hard exterior will not be perceived favourably by the jury. That’s when we see something in Fallon’s eyes. He picks up the pen that was kept there just to signal the moment he begins to melt. They succeed and he begins to talk.
All the while he had been quiet and the cops had been describing his relationship with the victim and what he had done to her, the audience hates Fallon for being such a horrendous man. Feeling no remorse from his side, we do want him to break and go to prison. But as soon as he begins to talk, a completely different side is opened up. Owing to David Tennant’s exceptional acting skills, we see a stark difference in Fallon’s demeanour. He sheds off the mould and appears truly vulnerable. Now we begin to question the cops. This man doesn’t seem like a bad guy. He is already traumatised by his daughter’s death and the cops are not making his life any easier right now. Our impression of Fallon takes a complete U-turn for as long as he takes centre stage. And this was his trick all along.
When the cops had been throwing facts at him, under the guise of “no comment”, he had been working on his story. He had been planning to turn the facts into his favour and support the story he had already built for himself. The vulnerability that he exhibits is a charade and the mask he had taken off goes right back up when Hugo focuses on new details. Through Fallon, we see a calm and calculating culprit who knows the importance of keeping quiet and adapting. He is manipulative and very convincing, which is why even the cops begin to consider his story. The moment they start talking about the boot of his car, he goes back to “no comment”. In the end, we realise what a sociopath Edgar Fallon is.
Did he murder his stepdaughter? Yes. Not only that, but he had also been raping her all this time and from his “quick fuse” we can deduce that there was also physical abuse. Killing her might have been a spur of the moment decision, but he knew exactly how to handle the situation. He had the presence of mind to stage a fight and make it look like it was the coach with whom she had sexual relations. Had Hugo not focused on the very small detail about the hexagons on the victim’s plaster, Fallon could have easily walked off. And with the acting prowess he displayed in the interrogation room, he would have continued to fool everyone.
Stacey and Jay’s Predicament
While Edgar Fallon shows us a cold-blooded murderer manipulating the interrogation in his favour, in the next two episodes, we meet people who are forced to make a difficult decision to protect the ones they love. Fallon had been quiet through half of the interview, so, watching Stacey talk it out was a completely different turn of events. The most important thing the cops want in the interrogation is to make the suspect talk. The more words they let out, the easier it is for the interrogator to drive the conversation. Stacey came on a bit strong, but at least she was talking. It doesn’t take much time for Hobbs to break her down. Stacey shrugs off them in the beginning, but as soon as they mention the witnesses, she confesses. She had been in control at the beginning of the interrogation, but slowly, as the cops begin to strip down the details, she begins to bite her nails and jiggles her leg, showing her increased agitation. This is how the cops know they are getting to her, and soon enough, their efforts yield. However, Hobbs begins to wonder if there is more to the story. They bring back Stacey, and it turns out that she is actually innocent. It was her sister who had poisoned the man. Stacey decided to take the blame to keep her sister safe.
Similarly, in Jay’s case, we meet a man who didn’t know what he was getting into when he took a certain job. Before he is brought in, we see the cops preparing for the interrogation. This indicates that this case is more urgent and dangerous. They want to break the suspect as soon as possible, and maybe even feel a bit wary of him. When Jay enters the scene, we can see why the cops had been acting so. He has a tall, strong build, and he chooses to talk to them without a lawyer. This either means that he knows they can’t get him to talk or that he is innocent.
The situation is that Jay had been driving a truck full of illegal immigrants and the moment it was flagged, he abandoned it somewhere. Now, the cops need to know where the truck is and in what state those people are. By the end of it, we figure out that Jay is not a bad person. He had no idea what was in the truck, but that doesn’t not make him complicit in illegal smuggling. He didn’t give up the location because he didn’t want anyone to know that it was he who talked. He didn’t want to put his family in danger.
Both Jay and Stacey try to keep a harsh exterior. They try to clear up their situation, telling their story of what happened and why they had to do what they did. Both Jay and Fallon are driven by self-preservation, but their crimes and true motives draw a clear line between them. One is a psychopath, the other a victim of his circumstances.
The only thing that remains constant in all the cases is the smart manoeuvring by the cops. They go in prepared, knowing what cards to play and what information to keep secret. They almost fall for Fallon’s lies but are saved just in time. They fall harder for Stacey’s story, but Hobbs’ instinct saves them. They seem to have struck a dead-end with Jay, but Hugo’s personal story helps them break the ice with him. In all the cases, we watch them improvise; trying to figure out a maze that could open anywhere, without the guarantee of the right way out. They have to rely on their intuition as much as they draw from their training, and have to be very cautious of what they speak and what they do.
All in all, ‘Criminal: UK’ presents compelling stories with a strong set of characters. Confined to two rooms, the scenes make us claustrophobic. We want to get it over with as much as the cops do, and the palpable tension doesn’t make it any easier. The show starts off strong, and does falter a bit towards the end, but manages to keep itself afloat through all the ups and downs. It might not be ideally binge-able due to its edginess, but that doesn’t stop us from enjoying it.