Shadow Boxing

A blog that probes the mind's dark secrets

Never Be Ordinary: A Better Women's Murder Club

This British miniseries deserves notice for its unique approach to murder.

Finally, I’ve watched a unique TV series with a serial killer theme. These shows generally suffer from repetition of the same old motivations, investigative formulas, and world-weary investigators. If you see enough of them, you can spot within the first ten minutes where they’re going and how they’ll arrive. Meh.

So, I just watched one that made me sit up and notice.

Netflix has this sometimes-nice-sometimes-intrusive feature of telling you that “if you liked this, you might like this other one,” which introduced me to The Bletchley Circle (2012). With such a vague title, it didn’t grab me, but the premise looked intriguing, so it went on my list. I wished I hadn’t waited so long to take a look.

So, here's the premise: Four women who'd worked at the British government’s top-secret code breaking facility, Bletchley Park, during World War II end up in post-war London, spotting patterns in a series of murders that Scotland Yard overlooks.

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The activities at Bletchley Park that broke German military codes have been featured recently on shows such as BBC’s Antiques' Roadshow, Codebreakers, and a highly anticipated film for 2014 starring Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game.

But Bletchley Park, for all its mystique, is just the initiating frame for the talents these women bring to forensic investigation. Talk about a women’s murder club! This is it! They live during a time when female “ideas” are barely tolerated, so they realize that they’re the only defense that the killer’s future victims might have.

They become highly focused investigators. Each has a special skill, from photographic memory to networking to creative re-alignments, which turns this team into a finely honed thinking machine. They ache for how they once had made a difference. Their wartime motto, “Never be ordinary,” emerges again, especially when the going gets tough.

And they do know what “ordinary” feels likes. After the war, they'd left breakthrough work to become housewives, clerks, or waitresses. The lead character, Susan, has a nice husband who works in transportation. With two children, they appear to have the life that anyone should want. But Susan is restless. When she catches news reports about missing and murdered girls, her code-working brain starts analyzing the data. She’s convinced there are more, and that the killer is showing a clear pattern.

Susan does get an audience with a Scotland Yard official (thanks to her husband's influence) and he does act on an idea she offers, but it goes nowhere. For him, this just confirms that Susan is one of those busybody housewives who waste resources.

But Susan has good instincts, as long as she has sufficient data, and she’s certain she’s right. After the official brush-off, she turns to her former girl-team. They’re ready to re-engage their talents, especially when it’s clear that Susan’s on the money.

But this show isn’t just about a serial killer investigation. It’s also about the effects of a war and its aftermath, as we learn about how records were kept, deranged people were treated, propaganda efforts were designed, and collateral damage to people was quietly absorbed. Even the killer’s obsession and MO are related to secretive ventures.

The show is also about unsung heroes. It’s interesting not just to watch how the women work out their codes (perhaps a bit too quickly at times) but also to feel the warmth of their unflinching support system. Their solid camaraderie makes this show a stand-out. They know they’re bright and capable. Despite being in a world run by males who barely take them seriously, they honor what’s important and they do what they can – no matter what they find.

There are just three parts to the 2012 series, so it’s watchable in a single evening. I’m pleased to see that there’s a second season, not yet on Netflix. These characters are not just endearing; they're good reminders that brilliant talent should be used, not hidden. Never be ordinary! 

 

Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D., an expert on murder and other shadow themes, teaches forensic psychology and has published 46 books.

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