REVIEW: The Escape Artist Episode 2 - The View From The Other Side

The second episode of The Escape Artist, created by David Wolstencroft, opens with a devastated Will (David Tennant) left as the grieving single parent of a traumatised young boy following the horrific murder of wife Kate. 

Not only has Will’s domestic world been torn apart but so has his professional life. As the chief witness in the new murder case against Liam Foyle, played with skin-crawling stillness by Toby Kebbell, Will is effectively locked out of his chambers and is forced, not only to stand and watch the machinations of his profession, but also to reflect upon the motives and scruples of those involved. It’s a frustrating time for him, and is also frustrating for his colleagues who know full well that their finest legal mind is out of bounds.

“If I have to stay home one more day, I swear I’m going to kill somebody,” Will complains to QC Richard Mayfield (Anton Lesser) who is heading up the case against the killer. It’s this frustration that leads him to play a dangerous game, with the assistance of Danny Monk (Stephen Wight) to bring Mayfield’s second, Trevor Harris (Tony Gardner) up to speed.

Will has reason to fear the collapse of the case against Foyle. His main rival in chambers, Maggie Gardner (Sophie Okonedo), has been engaged to defend Foyle and she is hungry to prove herself as equal to, if not better than Will. Never mind that she knew the victim socially. She scans the murder scene images, shots that show Kate as a bloodied, staring corpse – in stark contrast to the happy, vibrant video clips that Will and Jamie watch curled on a bed together – and sees the case as just work, as something that will be good for her. The worst of it is that Will understands her hunger as, in her position, he would have done the same, indeed he has done so, already allowing the almost certainly guilty Foyle to walk free.

Yet even Maggie is not immune to the creepy Foyle, and is repulsed by his handshake upon his release. He clearly has little respect for her either, from the way she walks him through their plea to the way she takes her tea. Foyle's presence dominates the episode. He hunts Will’s son Jamie on the journey home from school and manipulates the vulnerable and compliant Eileen Morris (Monica Dolan) who nervously concedes to his demands. He is even a significant presence in a key scene where he does not actually appear as he apparently stalks Maggie to her stylish, large-windowed ground floor flat. Even the very idea of the unseen Foyle having access to that private world leaves both Maggie and the audience feeling shaken and vulnerable in true chiller fashion. Foyle seems almost invulnerable, as he now understands that evidence and even actual guilt are far less important in this legal game than the ability of the legal team to find the tricks, loopholes and cheats necessary to secure the win.

For Will, circumstances are spiralling out of control. Jamie cannot recognise the killer. He even fails to spot him next to him on the bus. He won’t talk about events of that night. Will is the sole witness and Maggie is happy to exploit other circumstances that might make his testimony doubtful. It seems as if Foyle again will walk away from another killing, and with what consequences for the Burtons? Even when Jamie does finally talk and damning evidence is found at the cottage, Maggie is still nonplussed and eager to discredit her former adversary.

But while Will tries to regain the upper hand against Foyle he also is responsible for protecting his son and trying to rebuild their shattered lives. There are poignant and emotional scenes between Will and Jamie, with young actor Gus Barry giving a mature performance that avoids being cloying or precocious. He is perfectly believable as a youngster trying to make sense of the terrible things that happen to good people. However, David Tennant nails the performance again, sweeping between raw grief and emotion – the moment when he discovers that he was to have become a father again is heartbreaking - through fear and frustration to steely determination. He battles to make his colleagues see the legal profession in the same way that he now sees it. It’s hard for him to view his world from the other side and to realise that although he can see exactly what Maggie Gardner is doing he is powerless to do anything about it. Is this, the one case that Will has emotional engagement with, to be the one time when The Escape Artist finds himself on the losing team?

The Escape Artist concludes on Tuesday 12th November at 9pm on BBC One