The end of Prime Suspect 2 saw the boys club of the police squadron reject Tennison’s application for promotion, despite being more than qualified for the position. Prime Suspect 3 picks up a year later, with Tennison now working at a new police precinct, and taking over a half-assed case with Vice Squad. This time around, we’re exploring child prostitution and homosexuality.
The plot has become infinitely more complicated, and the balance between character development and sociological issues is finely starting to even out. The story begins with a house fire where the remains of an underage rent boy are found, and by the end we’ve descended into a hellish world where the police are complicit in covering up these heinous acts. Tennison’s righteous fury is deeply felt as she claws through a mercurial landscape looking for clues to piece it all together.
Prime Suspect 3 is the series gearing up to fire off on all cylinders, and achieves many moments of absolute greatness. The only problem here is that so many of the supporting players are given ample moments of character development, but we’ve just met them so the intended payoff is possibly less than expected. If we were with the same unit as the first two entries, this point would be invalid, but we’re with a (mostly) fresh batch of characters.
No matter, Mirren is typically excellent, continuing to dive deeper into Tennison’s many personality quirks to find new textures and colors to explore. Peter Capaldi as the emotionally brittle Vera, a female impersonator, is equally excellent. First introduced as the victim of the house fire, Vera knows more than she tells, and Capaldi’s fluttering speech and anxious body language really sell the character. Equally as important, Tom Bell returns from the first installment to reprise his character. In the first series, he was Tennison’s main bully on the force, and here he softens to her just enough to work with her, becoming her main support system within Vice Squad. His character never fully blossoms into someone likable, but Bell does a damn fine job making his character understandable.
It’s understandable if any of this material sounds well-worn, but Prime Suspect always finds a more unique, quieter spin on the material than one would guess. The plot intricacies can get convoluted, but the series finds time to counterbalance that with the weight and pressure placed on Tennison to either abandon the case, or her own internalized emotions to solve and prove them all wrong. The balance between the two, and how it is sometimes hard to shut off “work mode” and “home mode” when one is involved in this work gets more richly explored than before. Prime Suspect 3 continues the improvements made in the first two, and finds new ways to make the subject matter fresh, engaging, and Tennison an enigmatic if charismatic protagonist.