Welcome back to Traces, the UK thriller starring Laura Fraser, Jennifer Spencer and Molly Windsor. As a complete booknerd, the fact that the show is written by Amelia Bullmore and ideated by Val McDermid is what brought me in, but the fact that it’s from Red Production Company was also a factor. Let’s find out what’s happening in the MOOC (and what the MOOC is, if you’re just tuning in) after the break in Traces S1:E1.2!
I’m pondering the designation thriller now, Traces is that but also a procedural, sort of as though everyone were scared and running about sifting through fast-revealing evidence, but very, very carefully.
We open with the credits; how can I say how much I love “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”? How can I?
Emma Hedges (Molly Windsor) has left her hotel to move in with her childhood friend Skye Alessi (Jamie Marie Leary) , they’re going out tonight, wooo! Emma’s still asking questions about her mum’s murder long ago, but Skye’s all, erm, nope?
Professor Sarah Gordon (Laura Fraser from Retribution / One of Us!) – whom we will now call Sarah – is discussing that very same murder with colleague Professor Kathy Torrance (Jennifer Spencer – I legit had a hard time figuring out why her voice sounded so different from everyone else and it’s not that she’s robotic or strictly analytical, it’s that she’s one of the very few North Americans on the cast, no Scottish brogue whatsoever!) whom we will now call Kathy.
At the end of last episode, we had Emma breathlessly sharing a picture with Sarah of her mum Marie Monroe (Carly Anderson) shortly before her death in bed with Emma’s dad Drew Cubbin (John Gordon Sinclair). Normally that wouldn’t have been a problem except that at the time of her death Marie was married to Emma’s stepdad Jimmie (Phil McKee), a ginger with a bad temper.
OH SURE, MAKE THE GINGER A HOTHEAD!! That’s just profiling.
Kathy brings up a valid question. Who took the picture? This is in the 70s/80s/early 90s whatsits, definitely long before cell phones and the ubiquity of pre-post-and-during shag photos abounded. They don’t know, so they move on to the next point; Skye’s mum Izzy Alessi (Laurie Brett) told Emma that her mum Marie was dismembered before being buried. Nobody remembers anything of that nature.
Sarah returns to her lab where lab technicians Louise Chiu Jones (Anna Leong Brophy currently starring in Last Tango in Halifax season 5!) and Emma are setting up controls for a street drugs testing study. Emma’s eyes are asking something else entirely so Sarah passes on the number of her police colleague D.I. Neil McKinven (Michael Nardone recently of Guilt, memorably of Rose and Maloney and also in The Night Manager).
Neil himself is heading in for a briefing with D.C. Trina Adeboyo (Morayo Akandé) with the higher-ups about the Nightclub fire he’s been investigating alongside Sarah and Kathy. They’ve decided that the fire was set by the club’s manager Shuggie Brook (John Clyde) who jumped off a bridge shortly after learning that he’d inadvertently killed his own niece, another staffer, and an extra body as yet unaccounted for. Now they just have to explain all that to the DCI Catherine Attwood (Frances Grey).
It seems Shuggie’s niece Shelley Nardoni and Bashir Kumar were having an affair, that’s why they were locked in the office during the fire and unfortunately what probably led to their deaths.
Neil’s phone chimes in the meeting, Catherine asks archly if it’s work? His “no, it’s my dealer” makes everyone but her laugh.
*I’m not going to nitpick, but that felt like an unrealistic exchange. What actual boss would say “I hope that’s work?”
Catherine has her own information to share, they’ve identified a possible person as being the third body, some dude named Ian Howie that Shuggie probably strangled to death before he set fire to Secrets.
Neil just laughs at Catherine’s high-handedness; he’s pretty chill. Even more so now that he’s found a way to help Sarah make sure her online training system, the MOOC, isn’t training everyone on the case of the murder of Marie Monroe, Emma’s mum. With Sarah requesting him to talk to Emma, he can now pull her history, including the associated murder of her mum. Neil is Sarah’s hero!
Emma, who is working on a study to identify complexities and impurities in street drugs in Scotland is also currently off her face in a club with Skye on those exact same drugs.
Being high as a kite and dancing with her friends brings back memories of same when they were kids.
Emma is woken up naked by an adorable stranger she met the night before, her “did we, erm” gets a great big smile. She’s lost her bag, so hurries back to the club where she lost it, to be denied entrance. A man walks up after, Daniel (Martin Compson from Line of Duty! with vastly improved hair) takes pity on her and lets her sneak in behind him, handing over her tiny and intact green purse.
She thanks him by accusing him of hitting on her when he hands over his card, an interesting fight on the nature of sexism follows and I feel bad because I was mentally calculating their age gap and getting my back up again. He also said he thought he recognised her, let’s remember that people say she looks like her mum.
*I’m not sure what my THING is with aged men and young women. It’s not like people don’t have their own agency, and can make their own choices. Maybe it’s because Emma is a walking Daddy Issue, looks 12 and acts 14.
My favourite part was the “how you’ve even got time to be arsey? You’re late for work!”
**Unrelated: Martin Compson has aged phenomenally. I didn’t even know he had that nose.
Emma takes an emergency contraceptive, the use of which I gather is controversial since we saw it in such detail. I guess I’m old, because I’d be more worried about diseases than pregnancy.
She races home to get ready for work, but her phone clicking on shows Skye something she didn’t expect, the post-coital pic of Marie and Drew as Emma’s phone background.
Erm. You set THAT as your phone background?
Anyway! The bed in the photo is upstairs in Skye’s house, does that mean that her mum Izzy took the picture? What kind of scene was this?? Skye says she’ll ask her mum at the hospital, where Izzy is dying of lung cancer.
Emma fields a call from Neil on her way to work, he’ll be meeting her at the lab. She tells Skye, which seems important to note.
Kathy leads a class on bone-cutting, which is about as gruesome as you’d expect. She’s an exacting teacher, reminding star pupil Saffi (Hiftu Quasem) to not infer anything from forensic details such as contact marks in bone. Even calling them hesitation marks is assigning an emotion to them and she tells her students to be careful to stick to the facts.
Emma meets with Neil, who was actually on her mum’s murder case, back in the beginning when it was a missing person’s case. He carefully asks if she has any new evidence she’d like to share, then takes her back to the day Marie went missing. She was seven years old and there were tall ships everywhere, Izzy and Skye there too.
Ah they Three Conversation-ed her as a child, first that her mum was away but would be back, then sick in hospital and then finally that she was dead when she was found.
Emma brings up the dismemberment Izzy mentioned, but Neil can neither confirm or deny details in an active investigation. That makes Emma nod but I perk right up: now this is an active investigation? He says he’s pretty sure she didn’t kill her mum, but if he tells her anything, she could pass it along to someone else who did, not knowing that they were the murderer.
That’s why I wrote down when she told Skye!
Neil is also quite concerned that she’s shown the photo of her mum to anyone she knew at the time of the murder. She’s put herself in danger.
She sort of nods, but it’s not likely that she’ll be standing down any time soon.
Neil and Trina are not really digging working with glory-hound Catherine on the nightclub fire, even though she was able to get that third body’s identity confirmed.
She’s working on the theory that Shuggie set the fire to cover up the murder of his loan shark Ian Howie, but the club itself was also in debt and heavily insured. That seems like too much and too little premeditation. So which is it?
Emma makes it into the lab after the longest morning ever, to see PC Naz (Bhav Joshi) has brought in a bunch of sample street drugs for the lab to study. Janine Muir (Andrea Hart) leads him off for some cake as Emma starts work.
She and Louise start with the drug Emma took the night before, I bet it turns out to cause memory loss and increased libido!
Skye calls Emma on her break, her mum’s had a bad day at the hospital so she didn’t get to see her, waiting for Emma to say “nah, don’t bother asking her about the photo.” Emma says just that and downplays the interview with Neil, which is probably a very good thing given that Skye is lying through her teeth and being coached by her mum Izzy. She has to go, she’s meeting someone.
Daniel! She’s meeting Daniel! AND. She likes his nose!! I JUST SAID THAT. It is a great nose.
She’s having a rough day, still pretty shaky from her lost night due to drugs and drink. He needed to perform a good deed, after a bad one he was just involved in that was indirectly his fault. A FIRE.
*I love how they link everything together on Traces.
We’re back at the university before I can figure out if there’s chemistry or dadistry. Sarah’s leading her group in review of MOOC modules, changing the past history of the fictional victim.
Janine’s videoing Sarah for filler reel, Sarah makes me laugh.
As does Janine immediately adjusting the angle of the camera after.
The filming is interrupted by the arrival of Pia Salvador (Joana Borja) who would like to see Kathy, please. Hmmm, this must be the good sex partner Kathy has been awaiting / dreading!
Pia is dispatched by Kathy with extreme rudeness mixed with coldness and a fear of anyone knowing anything about her personal life. She even goes as far as to say that she isn’t happy to see Pia at all. Pia takes that with equanimity and rolls forthwith.
Emma and Daniel walk the streets talking about her partying past, she is working on her anxiety and depression. He talks about his bad patterns and given that putting herself at risk is one of hers, we’d like to know where he’s leading her now, please.
Daniel’s brought a bottle with him to the hill where he takes Emma, she spies her mother’s ghost walking into the woods behind them. This is apparently a sign for Daniel to make a romantic coat-sharing move.
Jennifer Lopez did it much better in Hustlers.
They’re standing on a volcano! She takes that as a line, but nope, this is actually a dormant volcano. I guess I should just lean back and think of England, because as much as I don’t want it to, this is probably going to happen, just like Jon Snow and his auntie on Game of Thrones.
They’re overlooking the bridge she drove in on that Shuggie dropped off of, he casually mentions that he knew him AND that Shuggie started the fire he’s conflicted about, both of which we already knew. I’ve got my eye on him because he’s been asking a lot of pointed questions for a new acquaintance.
Kathy gets home to her fabulous house and awesome puppies, deciding over a glass of wine to look up Pia after all. By look up, I mean call every hotel in Edinburgh and asking for her.
Neil calls Sarah, the dismemberment was forensic holdback evidence, not disclosed to the public and only presumably known to few police, the murderer and anyone who assisted the murderer. Since she’s been asking everyone and their cousin’s neighbour about it, people know she knows and she’s at risk, whether she knows it or not. You know?
Now Daniel and Emma are at his flat, I still can’t sort out whether it’s chemistry with these two or tension. It takes an expensive coffee machine to get her to mention losing her mum, then he loses his temper over running out of coffee and I start measuring her path to safety out the door.
He spies her anchor tattoo and kisses it, showing her his chest tattoo and she repays the favour. I’m speeding through this, but they slow down and it’s actually quite a superior romantic scene. Lots of slow kisses, caught breaths and (for some reason) blue touching.
I am uncomfortably aware how long it’s been since I’ve seen my partner.
Post-coital chitchat is Emma identifying bones in Daniel’s face, then Emma’s phone chiming sends her across the room. It’s her aunt Julie (Neve McIntosh) accepting her apology for hanging up on her, then instantly the phone rings again. It’s her angry dad Drew wanting to talk about that photo. He wants to see her the next morning.
She sits bolt upright, she’s got herself into trouble. Daniel asks what kind of trouble, but she doesn’t know yet. That’s really the problem, isn’t it? And we’re out.
Until next time! Cheers.