Traces S1:E1.1 The MOOC Recap

Hello! My name is TTM and I will be recapping the Alibi series Traces for your reading pleasure. I had heard about this show because of the writing; the screenplay was written by Amelia Bullmore, whom I know as an actress from Scott and Bailey and Gentleman Jack (both also starring Suranne Jones). That’s not all, though, the original idea was from one of my very favourite mystery writers: Val McDermid. How could it not be awesome?? Let’s roll into Traces S1:E1.1 after the break!

We open with an anxious-looking young woman striding quickly across a schoolground (?), this is Emma Hedges (Molly Windsor who is all eyes) and she needs to talk to Professor Sarah Gordon (Laura Fraser from Retribution / One of Us!!) about her mum’s murder She found a photograph to do with dismemberment and I beg your pardon?

*I forgot how gruesome Val McDermid’s work can be, I had to skip large detailed portions of The Mermaids Singing but two things still managed to make it into my horror rolodex.

Credits! Wow, I know almost everyone, yay! Nice to see you, Michael Nardone from The Night Manager and Guilt but most memorably Rose and Maloney. Thanks for the recommendation, JLS!

We skip back three days to young Emma on her way to Scotland, held up by possibly a bridge jumper for ages then off to the University of Tayside which might be associated with the University of Dundee.

We watch Professor Gordon lecture enthusiastically about thermal decomposition for a bit, then zoom off to the office where Professor Kathy Torrance (Jennifer Spence) is waiting to discuss the recent fire we heard about on the news. They both will be working on the investigation with SIO D.I. Neil McKinven (Micheal Nardone) which makes Professor Torrance, aka Kathy, lose her entire chin in her neck. Professor Gordon, aka Sarah, does not react.

Speaking of unusual reactions or non-reactions, when Kathy reaches into her school mailbox, a postcard with a note about coming to see her makes her swallow her chin again. She replaces the post and walks away.

Sarah joins the fire investigation in progress, at least two people were found dead at Secrets Nightclub where a 30-th anniversary party was being held. All 84 invitees have been accounted for.

*Hiring out a nightclub called “Secrets” for a thirtieth anniversary seems like a non-typical choice, amirite?

Shelley Nardoni and Bashir Kumar are missing from the club staff, making it likely that they are the unidentified but very burnt man and woman that have been found. The manager Shuggie Brooke (John Clyde) has given a statement, it’s of note that he is Shelley’s uncle.

Also relevant that debriefing us is D.C. Trina Adeboyo (Morayo Akande who is the spitting image of her mother Moyo Akande from Guilt, I had to look it up!) who looks very familiar and Andy Jarvis (Steven Miller hoo boy, his cheekbones already annoy me and I can’t even say why! Can you have arrogant facial bones?).

*There are only ten actors in Scotland and I love them all.

Sarah and Neil break it down for the team, it’s going to be a procedural! I wish we could see Secrets before it was ash, what kind of Secrets are we talking about? Whips and chains or your garden variety side pieces?

The first odd thing is that the fire doors are chained shut, which makes them walls and not fire doors. A melted toaster draws Sarah’s attention, but Kathy is in the zone and now looking to make any friends with Fire Investigation Lead, Andy Jarvis. Kathy’s concentration yields another body that others have missed.

I’m learning all kinds of things today! Did you know potato chips (or crisps) make excellent fire fuel? Me neither!

Emma (you remember, first she was shouting about her mum’s murder then zipped back in time to driving here to this university for work) arrives to find her lead Sarah out of office, she’s signed in and handed off to Louise Chiu Jones (Anna Leong Brophy whom we JUST met in Last Tango In Halifax S5:E01!) to get started in the lab.

I’m not sure what gormless means, but if I looked it up in a dictionary, I feel as though I’d see Emma Bridges’s face.

Emma runs into Sarah and Kathy as she’s leaving, they’ll kick off when they get the samples, yay! Emma goes to the beach to stare at the water and remember a beach trip when she was young. She was born and partially raised there. The happy memories seem to make her sad, it’s probably something to do with her mum who was apparently murdered.

Emma signs into training program MOOC in the middle of the night, she’ll be taking a six week course on a case that has… hey! Val McDermid is the TV reporter in the case Emma will be training on! Wow, Val’s voice is super low, I always sort of thought she’d sound like my mom because they look so much alike. Interesting!

*Five bucks says it’s about Emma’s mum and I will not be happy when you hand over the moola.

You all owe me five bucks, Emma will indeed be training on the case of who murdered her mum. She wakes up her aunt Julie Hedges (Neve McIntosh) with a panicky call before we find out for sure.

The countryside is GORGEOUS.

In due time, samples from Secrets arrive in the SIFA lab and Emma works hard on her training course. A smirking Louise holding up what could be her mum’s skull sends Emma in to see Sarah.

Sarah says the case was invented, though, like a story which isn’t based on any person alive or dead. They chose the particulars of their fictional case to match  any number of cases, but one thing is for sure. Emma’s mum is not the body in the MOOC.

*I wonder how many people think that a novelist is writing about their story?

Kathy is working on the samples when Sarah calls, freaking out. Maybe she did subconsciously mold it on Emma’s mum’s murder, the investigation of which Sarah thought was inept. Kathy is pissed, they’ll have to look through the MOOC and see if there are any other similarities and decide whether it will have to be shut down. Kathy is all business, Sarah all heart. There are 23,000 people who are training or have been trained through the MOOC.

Emma walks down a happier Memory Lane, hai Skye Alessi (Jamie Marie Leary)! We saw her as a wee child in Emma’s flashback at the beach. Skye is lovely and freckly and asks Emma to come stay with her and her family.

Kathy and Neil review notes about the bodies in the lad, she asks him if he remembers the case of Marie Munroe (Carly Anderson), Emma’s mum. He remembers it very clearly, Marie went missing by the docks and was found three months later buried in the woods in a shallow grave.

Sarah shares a curious finding with the detectives working the case; there was cardboard shoved in or under the melted toaster, smeared with clay and kaolin to make it burn more slowly. She’s immensely pleased with this discovery.

People think everything gets destroyed in a fire but if there’s anything mystery, true crime novels, and TV have taught me: not the important stuff. Fire is unreliable as a source of evidence tampering.

All it took to burn this building down was a paperclip, a twist-tie and some smeared cardboard.

Emma watches as they test Sarah’s hypothesis, then heads to a club to see Drew Cubbin (John Gordon Sinclair) perform and smile at her. Big hugs after, is this her dad? Someone’s dad? They drink together as I reflect on my ageist ways.

They stare at pictures of her mum, okay, pretty sure he’s her dad. (Why does this seem so important? Maybe because she looks 12) He allows to her that she can choose to be defined by what happened to her mum or not, it’s up to her.

Yes, he’s her dad! He tucks her into bed kindly and is off to sleep on the couch. She’s awoken much later by loud pounding on the door, someone Scottish has come for his stuff! Just let him in! Her dad’s absconded and he’s not answering his mobile, so she searches his place finding…a picture of her mum in bed with a bard? I dunno, but she takes a picture with her phone.

Neil catches us up on the case of the nightclub arson; they were able to track the materials used to start the fire back to Shuggie Brook, manager and uncle to one of the presumed dead people. There’s no way to ask him why, he’s the bridge jumper we heard about when Emma was motoring to town.

Ah poor Shuggie. That must have been awful to know that you killed your niece when torching your place of work. More awful for the niece, one imagines. Was he the one who chained the fire doors shut? Oh sorry, I just said we couldn’t ask.

Kathy corners young lab tech Gregg Davidson (Ciaran Alexander Stewart) so we can understand why she freaked out when she saw the postcard indicating an upcoming visit. I’ll break it down for us:

  • Kathy met someone and had sex with them
  • Kathy did not exchange numbers or presumably last names with said person so can’t find out when/how they’ll be arriving
  • Is this a good thing or a scary thing?

Gregg cuts right to the important question.

It was! Lucky Kathy then!

Back at the arson investigation, they’ve positively identified Bashir and Shelley but have no idea about the third as yet unidentified body. They’re on door hardware now but Kathy has other things on her mind.

What’s going on with comparing the Maria Monroe murder to the training case in the MOOC? There are differences, but they won’t know how many because they don’t have the official police files. Sarah’s completely stressed out about this; Kathy has to remind her to calm down. Sarah doesn’t typically make mistakes, but when she does, she obsesses and makes another.

*We could also call that doubling down, or every single weekend in my twenties.

Emma meets Skye at the hospital where Skye’s mum Izzy Alessi (Laurie Breet) is dying of lung cancer but is very happy to see Emma, who looks exactly like her long-dead friend Marie.

Izzy forces Emma to agree to never smoke then tearfully shares her theory that her mum disappeared on a boat and that someone else was found in that shallow grave. She’s super graphic, a shaken Emma smokes outside to calm herself.

She calls her Aunt Julie to confront her about one particularly gruesome detail; that her mum was dismembered. Aunt Julie never told her that, now I want to see the police report too! Emma screams at her aunt for controlling all the information she learned about her mother’s death, erm, you were SEVEN, Emma. I’m with Auntie Julie on this one.

She takes her shitty and screamy mood to the pub, where she meets Jimmy Levin (Phil McKee whom you probably all know from Killing Eve. Boy I wish I liked that show) who may also be her dad. She asks him about the dismemberment, he misdirects, leading her back along to the past where he was her stepdad and a suspect in Marie’s murder. That makes sense!

I’m so glad I have all these older men in Emma’s life accounted for!


Jimmy didn’t hear anything about dismemberment, but there was a decent reason that he was under suspicion. He had a terrible temper. Marie and Emma both were afraid of him. Emma’s been wondering when her mum cut her hair, Jimmy tells her it was just before she was murdered.

That’s interesting to Emma because the picture of Marie in bed with a bard-looking guy was of Marie with short hair and he’s not the ginger Jimmy.

This is where we met Emma, she brings the photo of her mum with her bio-dad to Sarah, she wants to find out all she can. We’re out to Sarah firmly suggesting that the police is the way to go.

Well! A compelling story well done with just traces of humour and a hint of things to come, what say you? Val McDermid’s specialty is graphic sex murders with an intriguing procedural woven throughout. I’d say we’re well on our way! Cheers, and thanks again for the idea, JLS!