“Oh, good enough to man the dodgems but not good enough for her princess?”
To say I am surprised Vera: Set 6 is available for review less than six months after I reviewed Vera: Set 5 is an understatement. In the past I’ve waited over a year in between releases of the beloved British series featuring our favorite caustic detective but I’m over the moon at the chance to delve right back into the thick of things. In Series 6 we return not only to Northumberland and the world of Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope (Brenda Blethyn, Atonement>) but also to the mythology-building of the series, as this set is not one a newcomer can simply jump into without any prior knowledge.
At this point in the series’ run I’m a huge fan and if I was going to deviate from recommending a purchase then this would be the time for it. Any issues with last (season) series’ almost-reboot could be written off as a need to allow the series time to find its footing again after the sudden departure of Vera’s longtime partner and the subsequent introduction of new partner DS Aiden Healey (Kenny Doughty, Stella). However I’m happy to report that the series has re-settled into its groove and that Series 6 in particular brings some of the more emotional situations that Vera has found herself in.
As always the cases are filled with twists and turns, and the intrigue never lets up. A brief description of each of the four episodes follows:
“Dark Road” — When a woman is found out in the moors Vera must look into every aspect of the victim’s life in order to understand how she came to meet her final end.
“Tuesday’s Child” — A local partying spot becomes the focus of a murder investigation when two lads find a body hidden in a cave.
“The Moth Catcher” — A simple hit-and-run turns out to be anything but.
“The Sea Glass” — When a missing fisherman turns up dead within the nets of a local trawler the entire community comes under suspicion.
I mentioned that Vera is handed some emotional situations this season. She learns that Aiden got married and that his wife is pregnant which calls to mind her own unattached situation and while that certainly pings on the radar nothing has more impact than what happens during the end of the season opener. Bethany (Cush Jumbo, The Good Wife) is murdered during the course of the investigation. It’s played well where you’re not sure what’s going to happen, you think it might be going in that direction but you hope not and then it’s upon you. For Vera this hits hard as she and Bethany spend the majority of the episode at odds with one another. Bethany is trying to transfer out of the department and she learns Vera may have said unflattering things about her. Thankfully they are able to clear the air before it’s too late but it’s still leaving a mark on Vera for she had told Bethany she saw her as taking over the department one day. It certainly leads one to think that’s where the show was headed, that Vera has seen her team in action enough to know who she wants to follow in her footsteps. It also brings in yet another new face, this time Bethany’s replacement, DC Hicham Cherradi (Noof McEwan, Holby City). And he isn’t really utilized overly much but that’s to be expected. Bethany herself had only moved to the forefront over Series 5 so with Aiden still finding his footing it’s impractical to bog the series down with two similar storylines taking precedence.
And while I am disappointed in Bethany’s death I cannot deny it helps the show. When Joe (David Leon, RocknRolla) left it was off camera and thus more indirectly addressed. But Bethany dying allows Vera to show a range of emotions and styles of dealing with it. She’s angry above all else but she also feels remorse as well as the need to rebuild her walls, especially around her team. And while she may have ended this season appearing to have gone through the grief and ready to move on to the next case the possibility is left open for the situation to return again, for Bethany’s ghost to have its hand in reactions, situations, or characters.
All in all Vera: Set 6 adds to the underlying mythology of the show and sets up some nice arcs which I hope will be explored over Series Seven, which is set to debut in 2017, and beyond. It’s easy to recommend as usual.
One caveat: I’m not sure why Aiden lies this season but I can only hope it’s setting up for something. He doesn’t tell Vera he’s getting married and then when his very pregnant wife shows up at the station to collect Aiden she inadvertently spills the beans to Vera that Aiden lied about why he needed time off. It could be that he’s afraid she’ll judge him for needing to put his family first, that she’ll think he’s somehow not dedicated to the job but it’s an unsettling character trait. And that very feeling of unease may be the actual reason behind it.
I usually don’t hesitate to proclaim my enjoyment of the filming aesthetic as it showcases England well and this go-around is no exception. There are some particularly lovely wide and long shots set up and they really portray the beauty of the countryside to their best effect. Overall the 1.78:1 transfer is minimally processed but it doesn’t really need to be and it holds its levels well with neither black nor white displaying any obvious issues. But once again I have to ask why we’re continuing to rely on a simple stereo track for this series. I definitely have to turn the volume up at times in order to catch everything so once again take that into account.
There are no special features, and more’s the pity.
Vera has been a favorite of mine since Series One. And while I was worried when Joe left and Aiden came on that we would lose some of the magic of what makes this series so great I had nothing to fear. Vera: Set 6 is a return to form with compelling mysteries, a consistently charismatic performance by Brenda Blethyn, additions to the overall show mythology as well as life-altering incidents whose echoes will continue to play out over the series’ run. If the show was going to stumble this would have been the time for it but it hasn’t so full steam ahead for Series Seven and beyond.