So it’s Day Three in the investigation and the abduction case is still top priority for the South Hertfordshire police and the national press, which is positively foaming at the mouth. That will no doubt change in interesting ways when we skip ahead nearly a month for “Episode Three,” but for now, there’s a sense of urgency pressing at everyone involved, though not necessarily to the benefit of those looking to crack the case. While it continues to unfold patiently—perhaps a bit too patiently, really—this episode of Five Days is all about pressure and the myriad (and often self-destructive ways) that people respond to it.
One of my favorite Humphrey Bogart movies, Nicholas Ray’s In A Lonely Place, finds Bogey playing a screenwriter accused of murdering a hat-check girl who he’d been seen with earlier in the evening. His lovely neighbor presents herself as an alibi and the two embark on a romantic relationship. Over the course of the film, she discovers that he has an extraordinary temper and his tirades eventually frighten her to such a degree that it ceases to matter whether or not Bogey killed the hat-check girl. Guilty or no, she doesn’t trust him and can’t abide being with him anymore.
To me, that’s what’s happening with Matt (David Oyelowo), the moody, ill-tempered husband and father to the missing persons. He knows full well that everyone looks to the husband in cases like these, and that he not only has to worry about getting his family back, but succeeding in the court of public opinion as well. Nevertheless, he refuses to participate in the dog-and-pony show; he can’t play the role of the tearful husband pleading for his wife’s return, because for whatever reason it feels false to him. When he finally agrees to participate in a press conference, the results are disastrous: One insensitive question from a reporter (“Was your wife pregnant when she disappeared?”) and he storms out before reading a word of his prepared statement. On two more occasions, Matt lashes out violently: Once at the well-meaning people leaving flowers on the site of his wife’s abduction (his not-unreasonable argument being “she’s not dead”), and later when a man from the pound stops by to check on the family dog and attacks the poor guy in full view of the press. While certain revelations in the episode would seem to exonerate him from any involvement in the kidnapping, he’s a lot like Bogey in In A Lonely Place, guilty no matter where the truth lies.
The good news for everyone is that both children (and the dog) have been found, so now only Leanne is missing. The boy, Ethan, was the first and his discovery ended the first episode with a hell of a kick, and introduced bystander Sarah (Sarah Smart), who up to that point had no discernable purpose at all. Now, she’s one of the most fascinating characters on the show, a sympathetic gadfly who continues involving herself in the case even though she’s not of practical use to anybody. She does has a nice connection to Ethan, who’s very shy and still clearly traumatized, but her motivations for sticking around are not entirely known yet. Does she believe she can help? Is there something ultimately destructive about her attempts to get closer to Matt? The fact that such a tangential character, with no connection to the police or the family outside her dumb fortune in stumbling upon Ethan, could be a major player in this show is definitely intriguing.
And then there’s the girl, Rosie, whose discovery raises all sorts of troubling questions. She was found in a weakened state, locked up in her great-grandfather Vic’s trailer, after Vic (Edward Woodward) had given the key to a reporter interested in seeing some family photos and memorabilia. As it turns out, Vic has no qualms about giving his keys away, since he traded access to his trailer to the kidnapper Kyle (Rory Kinnear) for a running supply of free smokes at the nursing home. Vic’s unwitting role in his own great-granddaughter’s abduction leads to an emotional breakdown, and opens up the possibility of family involvement in the crime. Matt is also convinced, despite early medical assertions to the contrary, that his daughter has been sexually assaulted. Why else would someone hold a young girl in a bedroom under lock-and-key?
Meanwhile, the police have been responsible for precisely none of the positive news in the case and public confidence in them has been waning by the hour. Here the show really excels at dealing with what an investigator’s job becomes when facing such intense public scrutiny. Ian (Hugh Bonneville) obstinately refuses to acquiesce to the press, claiming that he’s too busy working on the case to bother with the cameras and reporters, but his self-righteousness has some consequences, too. As the PR person reminds him, the media is currently bigger than the investigation, and the pensions of 2,500 officers could rest on his shoulders if he fails to restore their professional reputation. (Despite the lecture, Ian still doesn’t show up to the big press conference.)
At this point, only Leanne is missing. From here on out, the time factor on Five Days is really going to come into play and we’ll get a chance to see how the conceit pays off. Given the deterioration already taking place within Leanne’s family in her absence, it’s probably safe to assume those rifts will open up further in later episodes, but I’m especially interested in what will happen to the case itself once the media attention has gone away. To me, that’s the point where David Fincher’s excellent film Zodiac really staked out fresh territory, when the case went cold and only a few obsessives were left to seek justice. Here’s hoping for the same sort of excitement here.
• Will the ever-present surveillance cameras—which were as important in the first episode for what they didn’t reveal as what they did—become a factor again? Or are they just window-dressing at this point?
• I barely got around to mentioning Kyle, the mysterious young perpetrator of this kidnapping plot, but that might be because he’s so damned enigmatic at this point. Other than being a fitness nut (possible Matt connection there?) and having a mother suspicious enough to rat him out to the police, not much is know about him.
• The “race angle” of Leanne’s black husband finally comes up, only to get shushed down again. Can it be kept down for long?