“You’re lucky. He’s been known to be lethal.”
So I’ve been waiting over a year to return to Northumberland, England and the world of DCI (Detective Chief Inspector) Vera Stanhope (Brenda Blethyn, Atonement). When we left off in Series 4 there were no cliffhangers to speak of however the opening of Series 5 gives one the impression that perhaps there had been. Right off the bat there’s a huge change which has occurred between Series 4 and 5 and that is the removal of the character of DS Joe Ashworth (David Leon, RocknRolla). He’s been Vera’s right hand man from the beginning and while it’s clear from the explanation given that there’re no hard feelings it’s still very jarring for those of us who only watch the series and don’t necessarily keep up with all of the updates put out on social media and the like which would have included the announcement of David Leon’s departure from the series.
But while Joe’s promotion is commented on there’s no time to dwell on what Joe may or may not be doing as we’re too busy delving into another murder as well as the arrival of Joe’s replacement, DS Aiden Healy (Kenny Doughty, Crush). Similar in looks to Leon Doughty’s arrival initially made me think of Criminal Minds and their long-running habit of replacing departing cast members with brunettes with similar features.
But that’s an aside and we quickly learn that DS Healy is not a lot like Ashworth at all. He challenges Vera’s methods from the start, and while they butt heads they don’t hate each other. It is made clear to Aiden that Vera has her own way of doing things and he better fall in line or else he’s going to be frustrated. But the nice thing about his arrival is what the writers decided to do in terms of acclimating DS Healy to the ways of the Northumberland Police Department. I think it is one of the smartest things they could have done and that is bringing more of the sort of background faces we’ve seen over the course of the previous series to the forefront, most notably Kenny (Jon Morrison, High Times) and Marcus (Kingsley Ben-Adir, City Slacker). By having more of a circle of characters we interact with this go-around there is much less of Vera and Healy standoffs and confrontations and things of that ilk which I feel like would have been the easy way to go. But instead Aiden becomes part of the team quickly, due in no small part to his learning that Vera knows all about why he applied to take this position. I won’t spoil what that is but suffice to say it’s something which colors his perception and at least at this point is still something he’s going to have to deal with overtly in the future.
I said in my review of Set 4 that one of the things I enjoyed about that series was how it’s accessible to both newcomers and long-time fans alike, with the nods given to long-time fans not things which would exclude viewers new to the show. And I’m going to echo that same sentiment here. It’s a necessity with David Leon’s departure. Especially since there was no indication that he was going to leave at the end of Series 4 coming back to Series 5 you almost have to reboot the entire series because of the new character of DS Healy.
I really enjoyed the four mysteries we tackle this time around and once again the writers have done a really good job branching out in terms of method of kills, locations, and back stories.
A very brief description of each episode is given below:
* “Changing Tides” — A fire burns through a trailer park and when a body is found the investigation expands to answer the questions of not just arson but murder as well.
* “Old Wounds” — A young girl’s remains are found buried in local woods and their discovery also unearths a decades-old mystery.
* “Muddy Waters” — A pipe blockage ends up being a body but the real mystery becomes identifying him and what he was doing there.
* “Shadows in the Sky” — A man falls to his death from the top level of a parking garage, leaving his family bereft and Vera struggling to discover if it was murder, suicide or an accident.
I waited over a year to watch these episodes and in no way was I disappointed. I will keep coming back to Vera no matter how long I must wait between episodes. Brenda Blethyn continues to impress with her acting, bringing not only the gravitas but the affability we the audience need to see in order to fully embrace the biting Vera. The writers made the smart choice to show us how newcomer Kenny Doughty’s DS Healy integrates into this squad by bringing known characters to the forefront. They also crafted a season which is accessible to long-time and new viewers alike. The variety of cases paired with the natural beauty of the English countryside only helps sell the series as a whole.
The technical specs echo what we see in previous releases. The video is a 1.78:1 transfer and is quite natural looking. The English countryside and its varying locations are left to shine with their own inherent beauty with very little processing done to the transfer. Everything looks natural and earthy and I enjoy the aesthetic. The audio is a Dolby Digital 2.0 and while it won’t blow your sound system by any stretch of the imagination it’s a serviceable track. I wouldn’t complain about an upgrade but I can understand the feeling that a bare-bones soundscape such as this one doesn’t really call for it. The lone special feature is a photo gallery.
The highest compliment I can give is that Vera always leaves me wanting more and this release is no exception.