‘Above Suspicion: The Red Dahlia’ continues the investigation

Courtesy of Acorn Media

The second feature-length drama of Above Suspicion, the successful British mystery series starring Kelly Reilly and Ciarán Hinds, cements the show’s excellence and lasting value. Here’s a well-thought-out drama that balances characterization with plot in a most intricate manner. The investigators — DCI James Langton (Hinds) and DCI Anna Travis (Reilly) — are as fascinating as the cases they seek to solve.

In the second miniseries, which is included in a 2-disc set with the pilot episode from Acorn Media, is dubbed “The Red Dahlia” and follows a copycat criminal who is trying to recreate the graphic murder details of the infamous Black Dahlia case that plagued Los Angeles in the middle of the 20th century. At first, it’s somewhat odd to see the detectives furrow their brows when the case of Elizabeth Short emerges. Both Langton and Travis (plus their team of investigators) have no idea who the Black Dahlia is or how much it has transfixed novelists, police investigators and average mystery buffs for years. Their lack of knowledge on arguably the most famous unsolved murder case in American modern history is a glaring hole in “The Red Dahlia,” but one that doesn’t hold the story back too far.

The suspect in this case dispatches a young, unsuspecting female in much the same way as the Black Dahlia. Her torso is split in two, and her mouth is slashed into a twisted smile. The details are heinous, and Langton/Travis want to find the killer right away.

Unlike the show’s two-episode pilot, “The Red Dahlia” runs three episodes, each lasting roughly 45 minutes. There’s no need for introductions to the characters, so the investigators are able to jump right into the case. We already know that Travis is a little green to detective work, while Langton is an irascible grump who also has a brilliant mind for fine detail. Together, the two complement each other almost perfectly, and they also have an unspoken attraction that emanates back and forth. With almost no time off, the DCIs spend a lot of time together, inspecting the facts and trying to find more clues.

I preferred the case, supporting characters and outcome of the pilot episode over “The Red Dahlia,” but this second installment still features enough gotcha engagement to entice viewers. Above Suspicion, based on the bestselling novels by Lynda La Plante, has a comforting rhythm. The first episode is all about collection of facts and getting used to the new faces. The second episode is typically the best and the one that finishes with the identity of the killer. The final episode brings on the inevitable: the eventual apprehension of the suspect and a quick retread of the facts. This formula has been used before in police procedurals, but Above Suspicion keeps everything fresh by basing itself in methodical, true investigating. Many of the scenes are of team members making phone calls, ordering food for late-night work sessions and developing leads, many of them spiraling into nothingness.

Reilly and Hinds are both exquisite in their roles, although DCI Langton is given a lot more context in “The Red Dahlia”. We learn about his love life, his dedication to the job and his refusal to back down. Not much more information is learned about Travis. She has a brief fling with a journalist on the case, which calls to mind her budding romance with (spoiler alert!) the killer in the pilot episode. But that’s about it.

So far, these detectives have tracked down two killers of women, and Travis has stepped over the line with key suspects in both cases. Here’s hoping the next installment treats the females with a little more respect.

Above Suspicion’s “The Red Dahlia” is not perfect, but it does prove that lightning continues to strike on this fine, fine British drama.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Above Suspicion: The Red Dahlia

  • Created by Lynda La Plante

  • Starring Kelly Reilly and Ciarán Hinds

  • Rating: ★★★☆

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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