Did we like it?
A superior cop drama, which thrives the further it shifts away from the conventional procedure of the investigation into the missing children and moves into the lives of those conducting the investigation itself.
What was good about it?
• Hugh Bonneville as the harassed DSI Iain Barclay who spends as much time sieving out the incompetence and inexperience of his team of detectives as cracking the abduction of two seven-year-old boys, which means he is often bereft of sleep (and when he does get some shuteye he’s in a heap under his desk or slumped in a rocking chair).
• And even though exhausted, Bonneville’s eyes perversely seem to be wide-open. So when he softly chastens the eager but naïve DI Zoe Larson (Eleanor Matsuura) it feels like she is being chased by the breath of Satan.
• Exasperated, he calls on the aid of DS Amy Foster (Janet McTeer), who provides the sneering contrast to Bonneville’s bumptious officiousness. She achieves her efficiency by being as rude as possible to her colleagues, while winning them over with her lazy charisma, a balance which McTeer marvellously maintains.
• And as the investigation whizzes around them like flying bullets across a World War One battlefield, the two protagonists and the rest of the team seem more concerned about their own lives rather than the two little boys. And this was one of the elements that made Five Days, the nominal prequel to Hunter.
• DS Nick Dyer oscillates between conscientious copper and leering Lothario as he dumps DC Mailer for DI Larson, while the pair cover their liaison with a phoney conflict during office hours.
• All of this welcome and distinct focus on the team mitigates the fairly thin plot that has made a death-defying leap from a mid-series lull on Spooks. The boys have been kidnapped to bring attention to what the abductors believe are the horrors of abortion, and they will be killed if their cause isn’t publicised on BBC News bulletins – perhaps with the notion that GMTV would turn it into a debate on justifying the practice through a woman’s right to choose her waist size, while Channel 4 News would only show the films projected from a screen dangling pathetically from a cross after it had been crucified for blaspheming against its Neo-Liberal dogma as Jon Snow smirks decked out as Richard the Lionheart.
• But because there’s less plot, there’s more character and those little details that are so stark and well-observed that it plops a neat kernel of truth into the bubbling fiction. One of the mothers is considered “too cold” to charm to the public, and so Barclay advises against a heart-wrenching TV appeal. But when he witnesses her break down in her estranged husband’s arms, he changes his mind. This was a two brilliant moment as it didn’t seem like a cynical observation of the police in general, but related far more to the sharp mind of Barclay, and how best he could solve the case.
What was bad about it?
• It’s something that’s apparent in many TV shows, but perhaps it was the acute use of location to shade in the atmosphere that alerted us to the futility of trying to capture rustic essence on the small screen. The beautifully shot scenes of Barclay’s home or villain John Elder’s cache where he’d hid the boys’ clothes were lacking the smells that really vivify such places – the odour of wet tree bark, the twisting scent of road and verdant banks or even the alluring stench of hot air unadulterated by the usual pollutions of the city.
• Perhaps overwhelmed by the deluge of cop dramas that fester across many TV channels, Hunter sporadically tries too hard to carve out a distinct identity, like a teenager getting a tattoo only to discover the world and his wife have such body markings making them even more amorphous than before.
• The first instance was the incidental music. As the two boys were being kidnapped amid the bland idylls of a trip to a caravan park and a swimming lesson, the sanguine tension was punched through by an intrusive jittering melody of imperilment. Likewise when Barclay and the team went to the scene of dead boy on the rail tracks, the music was far too frenetic and more suited to a staccato chase sequence.
• The lowpoint of Five Days for us was when the flawed DS Foster made a lurching racist remark, which seemed completely out of character. A few other examples of this needless affectation were found in Hunter. Barclay’s malcontent swipe about “too many women” in the police force was dispelled by Foster’s sly smile, but DS Dyer’s caustic dismissal of DC Mailer after she tells him she’s pregnant was really discomforting. While a reckless gadabout, Dyer hadn’t really been exposed as a bastard and this outburst was an unwelcome protuberance of dramatic conceit that skewered the carefully-prepared reality.