Helen McCrory and Maxine Peake help elevate Messiah – The Harrowing to arguably the series’ devastatingly effective high point
“See beyond the victim, see the killer”
The first series of Messiah is certainly one of the best, setting the wheels in motion for an effective crime series, but I’d argue that it is the fourth instalment Messiah – The Harrowing that is the best of them all. The arrival of a new writer – Terry Cafolla – releases the show from the baggage of its legacy which seemed to weigh the last series one and produces something that is really, well, harrowing.
Harking back to that first series and its connecting device of people being killed in the style of the Apostles, the murderous connection here ends up being Dante’s The Divine Comedy and its descent into hell. And weighted around the death by suicide of the daughter of one of their colleagues, Red and his team (with Maxine Peake’s DS Clarke now in for a retired Kate) find themselves once again up against the darkest parts of human nature.
That sense of unbearable tragedy really does deepen the work here. Helen McCrory’s pathologist and Hugo Speer’s DI are the estranged grieving parents, struggling with a return to work on a case so brutal. And more care and attention seems to be given to honouring the victims and their families – Margot Leicester and Kika Markham both give moving performances in the moments we get to explore their own grief.
The shift away from the personal allows Ken Stott’s Red a kind of freedom that works well (though I missed Michelle Forbes as his wife Susan) and allows for a focus on the case which proves fiendishly twisted. The excellent Harriet Walter helps out as a Dante scholar but is suitably appalled by the brutality of the crimes she’s being forced to bear witness to. And look out for a youthful Russell Tovey and Shane Zaza as police computer technicians.