Caution: spoilers ahead for season two of Criminal on Netflix.
If you missed season one of Criminal, get yourself back to Netflix (what else have you got to do?) and give it a watch now.
It’s an unusual show, set almost exclusively in two rooms. Each episode is centred around a different character as they undergo a police interrogation for their part in a serious crime.
With a stripped back set-up and little to distract viewers, the acting needs to be seriously on point. The first series featured suspects played by David Tennant (see ITV’s Des for more superb creepiness from him), Hayley Atwell and Youssef Kerkour. The detective team, made up of Katherine Kelly, Lee Ingleby and Rochenda Sandall, employed verbal gymnastics to try and trip the suspects into confessing what they knew.
Now, the team is back for a second series, this time featuring A Suitable Boy‘s Shubham Saraf as a new recruit, eager to make his mark. The suspects are an impressive line-up: Sophie Okonedo, Sharon Horgan, Kit Harington and, in quite the departure from The Big Bang Theory, Kunal Nayyar.
This series is as masterful as the previous one. The storylines are varied, from Sharon Horgan as an online vigilante to Sophie Okonedo as the churchmousey wife of a convicted killer. The twists are expertly woven into the narrative, impossible to predict and yes, the acting is definitely up to scratch. Keep an eye out especially for Kit Harington’s six-minute, to-camera monologue as Alex, an arrogant west London estate agent accused of rape.
Harington’s episode in particular is worth watching very closely (spoilers start here). Alex is, for lack of a better word, a prick. He owns a property company in Latimer Road. He wears an expensive suit with a pink shirt. His brown lace-up shoes taper to a point and above them, a hint of colourful sock is visible. He’s a walking, talking caricature of a grown-up public school boy used to being seen and heard, and to getting his own way. His “I’m right, you’re wrong” attitude echoes a thousand bosses who’ve mansplained, refused to listen and taken credit for women’s ideas.
Alex is accused of raping a female employee after Friday night drinks. He details the events of the evening in a nonchalant manner. He’s thought of everything: who booked the Uber, who kissed who first, who suggested more drinks. It’s a defence delivered by a man who hasn’t even considered that his actions might have consequences.
However, as the episode goes on and the detectives carefully drop their breadcrumbs of evidence, a shift begins to occur. Alex taps his foot and becomes increasingly shrill. He’s on the verge of losing it altogether when Detective Petit (Saraf) uncovers a piece of information from the victim’s past which means the case against Alex will be impossible to prosecute. In fact, the new evidence even suggests that the employee might have planned it. The episode ends with Alex free to go but demanding an apology for what he’s just been through.
This outcome may feel infuriating. Not only is Alex highly unlikeable, this narrative appears to play into the one that dominates Twitter every time a high profile rape allegation is dropped. How could a woman drag an innocent man’s reputation through the gutter so publicly? How will the accused go on in the face of such ruinous claims? As DCI Warren (Sandall) says in the episode: “I just don’t want that to be true, I don’t want any woman to be like that.”
But of course women aren’t like that. The Home Office estimates that just 4% of rape allegations are false, not that you’d know it from the Twitter mob who vilify the ‘anonymous’ woman who accused their favourite football or movie star of rape. But a rape case being dropped doesn’t automatically mean that the victim lied; it means that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict.
Rape cases are notoriously hard to prosecute; last year, over 55,000 cases of rape were reported to police in England and Wales but just 2,102 of those cases made it to court, resulting in either a conviction or an acquittal. That’s out of the 97,000 cases of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault by penetration that are estimated to occur every year. In July, Harriet Wistrich, founder of the Centre for Women’s Justice, told the BBC that these statistics send out a message that rape has essentially been ‘decriminalised’.
So while Alex in the show might walk free, worrying about damage to his reputation (and if he is innocent, quite rightly so), what the episode is really doing is highlighting the difficult reality of reporting a rape. The detectives, and even Alex’s own lawyer, make it clear that Alex being free to go doesn’t necessarily make him innocent. “We decided that we cannot show you are lying,” Detective Myerscough (Ingleby) tells him.
Alex demands justice for what he’s been through and written confirmation that he is innocent but it is clear no help is coming. For those who report rape only to have their cases dropped, the outcome is the same. There is no comfort for what they’ve been through, no written confirmation that they weren’t making it all up. The difference is that Alex leaves a free man with a reputation that will, if he is innocent, hopefully recover, but a rape victim remains trapped with the trauma of what happened to them.
All of the episodes weave their own complicated tale but it is this one with Alex that really steals the show. So give it a watch, seethe and reflect and then do your homework on the reality of the situation. With rape prosecutions at a five year low, this is something that needs to change, now.
If you have experienced sexual violence of any kind, please visit Rape Crisis or call 0808 802 9999.
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