Series 17 – Coup De Grace. Parts one and two. Written by Graham Mitchell, Directed by David Richards.
When I was introducing Silent Witness to this blog last week, I think I was keen to demonstrate and explain precisely what makes up your standard episode, such as a relatively complex intertwining of multiple storylines, each of which is linked either explicitly or implicitly to one of several deaths. However it is clear from this week’s offering, that this is not always the case and also there are some other elements that can come together to comprise a particular episode arc.
In Coup de Grace it was clear that whilst there remained a reasonable body count, and there were also now semi-traditional Nikki in peril and Nikki dates an inappropriate man contributions to the plot, this storyline followed the fortunes of one criminal court case and the consequential fall out of outcomes and decisions made, as much as it did the background plot of a killer on the loose and rising body count. And whilst I am certain that it would not necessarily have been Nikki that drove such a case forward outside of the world in which Silent Witness operates, you only need to look at the all-encompassing press coverage of some events to have an understanding of the concept of the role the media play in such matters.
Anyway, back to the episode and we started with a young man in a custodial environment and later in familiar prison transport reflecting back on memories of his past, specifically being with his partner at a desolate water front location before that particular scene is replaced by a body, lying dead in the very same place and we’re in with the music.
The premise of the opening plot elements was simple, as Nikki – looking spectacular in that suit I have to say – was being called as an expert witness for the high profile appeal hearing on behalf of David Benetto, the young man who was in prison for the homophobic murder of his ex-partner Daniel and another young man. It transpired that he had initially been accused of killing Daniel but was released without charge, before subsequently being re-arrested, tried and convicted after the second murder however his barrister was keen to show the court that far from being a potential serial killer who had been stopped, this was a vulnerable young man who had suffered a miscarriage of justice. With the psychiatrist called by David’s legal team stating his bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder would have influenced his decision to initially confess, Benetto’s solicitor Greg Walker (played by the epic Tobias Menzies) – with whom Nikki had grown more than a little close – was confident that with sound testimony from Nikki about time of death, there was a strong case for getting the conviction quashed.
Nikki’s case as presented to court related primarily to the presence of diatoms on the victims face, which indicated an emersion in water post death and therefore brought the time of death for one victim forward by approximately 2 hours until a time when David had an alibi, giving her reason to provide a key confirmation to the court that she believes this means he could not be guilty. This is immediately challenged on cross-examination, in relation to whether wind direction and the resulting spray from the water could have caused such deposits and has to concede it is feasible. However on leaving court she quickly re-checks her evidence, whilst I am once more fangirling over her hair, and has an epiphany moment as she studies the crime scene photographs. On making her new evidence known to Benetto’s team, Nikki is recalled to the stand to explain that livor mortis, the phenomenon of “blush” pigmentation being caused at pressure points in the first two hours post death, indicated that the victim’s leg had originally been placed in an alternative manner at the point of life extinction, as there was no presence of this despite the knee lying against a tree in the crime scene photos. This gave more weight to the theory that the body had been placed there earlier than originally believed and the tidal water had caused the body to move after the livor mortis timescale had passed. As a direct consequence of Nikki’s evidence which the Crown was unable to contradict, David Benetto is released immediately with no threat of retrial and outside court the press have a field day with the photos.
Subsequent scenes show that the now free David is staying with his sister Jill, her husband Mark and their children. It is obvious they’ve all done it tough since his arrest, with the press having consistently targeted the family to get news of the “gay slayer” and whilst he doesn’t say much, it is clear David and his sister are close. Therefore once she has gone out, he heads over to the offices of the newspaper still printing incredibly personal articles about them all and pins the man concerned up against the wall of a life before being removed by security. It becomes clear that Peter Masham has known of this case since the start and contacts Walker to pick him up, but as they leave together David spies Charlie, son of Peter arriving and watches him with interest, as he does several other young men in town after Walker has dropped him off telling him to keep a low profile. There is one particular person who Benetto makes eye contact with, someone who glares back at him but the moment passes and the world continues.
Back at the Lyell Centre, Thomas has asked to see Nikki alongside Richard Parkwood from the Home Office and DI Rachel Klein, played by the ever brilliant Lorraine Ashbourne, and she is informed that the police want them to help find the killer given that Nikki “so successfully dismantled” the original pathologists case as DI Klein puts it without any grace. As Jack and DS Adam Kemp join them for a case discussion, Jack queries if it was David’s discharge of psychological grounds from the Royal Engineers that triggered his involvement in the case but is advised that David was both in a relationship with Daniel and keeping this a secret from his father, plus his fingerprints were on the knife. Thomas states the Lyell Centre is willing to work for the case as long as the police are paying before DI Klein makes it clear to Nikki, who has just had the largest bunch of flowers delivered as a thank you for her work in getting David released, that she believes the guilty man was released.
Nikki’s later drinks date with Walker, at which they discuss the resentful policewoman and Walker’s own dedication to getting David released, is interrupted by a call in relation to a body. Nikki and Jack attend the scene alongside DI Klein and DS Kemp, and conduct their examination whilst avoiding the sarcasm of Rachel about the occurrence of the death after David’s release. The body is that of the young man who glared at Benetto earlier on, and he has been murdered with the same MO as the two previous victims, beaten, scarred and shot. Thomas later does the PM on Byron Lee, identifying injuries from a beating, scars and semen as a way to get DNA.
Jill and David are both awake in the middle of the night, unable to sleep and discussing old photos and letters which he has found at hers. They talk about his flashbacks of Daniel and whether he could have told his dad about him, but upon his imprisonment he had written to him every week with no response having believed his guilt. Jill confirms their dad disowned him, but still offers him his old flat and acknowledges that whilst he may not want to be there, there is no pressure from her at all.
At the Lyell Centre Nikki , wearing an amazing jacket, joins Thomas to discuss the two different semen samples – one healthy and one with no sperm – with a DNA result due back by the close of the day. Simultaneously Jack and the police are examining Byron’s place of residence, where it is established he was a rent boy. The police bring CCTV of Byron’s street to the Lyell and as the team sit down to watch, they are all directed to see David Benetto walking down the very same street leading to DI Klein calling for armed police to move in, not wishing to wait for any test results.
DI Klein interviews Benetto after he has been arrested at gun point at Jill’s house and Nikki has taken a multitude of photographs and samples from him for testing purposes, and whilst she asks him about the newspaper offices the previous day and the body, Walker barely lets David answer any questions, as the man himself is preoccupied with the seemingly ever present haunting image of his deceased boyfriend. It is left to Nikki, who has heard from Jack that there is no gunshot residue or evidence on his clothing, to break the news to Rachel who accuses her of having a lot riding on the case, despite Nikki’s insistence that it is a scientific process without the presumption of guilt or innocence.
As a result of the escalating tension, press interest and Nikki being a perfectly photogenic expert witness, she is subsequently dismissed from the case by Thomas and Richard and is angered that it will be her head on the chopping block if things go wrong. However whilst she departs the Lyell Centre and starts to ignore all contact, she eventually speaks to Clarissa and establishes that neither DNA matched Benetto, news which obviously causes her a significant degree of relief.
Therefore whilst the police track down Callum Jordan, the only identified sample, and a man with a penchant for street boys, Walker takes David home following his release where he is promptly thrown out by an angered Mike, who just can’t take it anymore, triggering Benetto to take out his frustrations by punching a photographer on the doorstep before disappearing off with Walker on his heels.
David ends up at his father’s flat, on a traditional poor inner city estate, and after reading an article in a paper he had swiped about Daniel, he reflects back on his childhood with an abusive father and a sister he failed to protect before rummaging through the flat until he finds a gun that he obviously knows how to use. He is later outside Peter Masham’s house, where he and another son, Robbie, are at home, but receives a call from Jill to check up on him. However despite Peter later hearing noises in the house, it transpires that this is Charlie having returned before a night out and David is next seen back at his flat in an agitated state.
Nikki and Walker are on another date, as she tipsily questions whether he could be using her to get information about the case but as he goes to reassure her with a kiss, after establishing he is intending on spending the night, his phone rings and they end up heading over to Benetto’s flat together where the young man is increasing hyper, shouting about the press and police and obviously requires some urgent support. Whilst Walker deals with that, Nikki receives a phone call from Thomas to inform her that Byron was drugged prior to death with benzodiazepine and that they have another body, as Jack examines the darkened scene of crime, and it becomes apparent that this is Charlie Masham. Nikki’s interest is piqued by a closed door and after taking the opportunity to have a rifle through David’s bag and finding both the gun and the medication, she takes another phone call from Thomas and tries to get out all the words in a frantic whisper as to where she is, why and what she has found, before David grabs the phone off of her at gunpoint, leaving Thomas shouting her name in fear as the end of episode one music stirs.
Things recommence the following morning with Jack, DI Klein and DS Kemp keeping watch on the flat as armed police and a helicopter keep the place under surveillance. David has remained in an agitated state and Nikki looks distraught but Walker convinces him to speak to the police, only for DI Klein to cause him to hang up when she references his past crimes. After David admits that he can’t see Daniel, and he should be there, Walker reminds him that he was going to give up the gun the previous night and if he does that now, no one will hurt him. However whilst Benetto does do as he is told, he also grabs Nikki, moves to stand by the window and mimes shooting her, triggering the police to shoot him – although by some miracle from the distance not fatally – in an attempt at suicide by cop, bringing things to a far swifter resolution than I had imagined.
As Nikki returns to the Lyell Centre, Peter Masham is there having come to see Charlie and he vents at her for putting David back on the streets before he spends some time in quiet reflection with the body of his son. After the post mortem, which for the first time locates a bullet, the police and Thomas discuss time of death and bullet comparisons, but when Nikki attempts to intervene she is dismissed once again before she is informed by Thomas, after a debate with Richard from the Home Office, that she will not be suspended but it will be announced she is subject to a disciplinary.
DI Klein releases Curtis, who despite being dodgy had no involvement in the case, and she relishes in having David in custody before her and DS Kemp visit Jill. They ask her, and an unimpressed looking Mark, questions about the two recent victims and the gun, which she identifies as her dad’s but is clear he would never have given it to David. At this stage Peter Masham phones Mark, calling him out on his loyalty to the man that has now killed Charlie and it is clear Mark has been leaking sensitive stories all along. The police later interview David with Walker present, who keeps interrupting and making it clear that his client had been trying to hand over the gun not shoot anyone.
Jack starts to examine some of Byron’s possessions after a prompt from Clarissa, and it is established that one is a memory card with photos and another is a handwritten letter – unusual for a young male to have these. Jack continues by running tests on the gun to get bullet comparisons at Thomas’ behest whilst Nikki is secretly doing some investigation work on her own, but she is relieved to be informed by her colleague that not only did the bullet not come from David’s gun but he also didn’t file his prescription for benzodiazepine.
DI Klein, a Commissioner and Thomas give a press conference where they’re asked a number of questions about Nikki and Walker being at David’s flat before Peter Masham arrives and rants to the crowd about tame pathologists. However before Thomas can give his pre-prepared statement he receives a text from Nikki and departs without a word, leaving uproar behind him. There is a following tense debrief between the police and Lyell team about guns, medication and mismatching tyres but with Walker arriving at the most inopportune moment – unwanted by everyone bar Nikki – even Jack has had enough, and makes it clear that he is doubting her version of events. However as a consequence of the queries, the police have no choice but to release David although DI Klein puts him under surveillance, still debating as to the whys and wherefores of his apparent murderous tendencies as she does so.
Despite advice to the contrary, and money from Walker to get himself a hotel, David goes back to his dad’s flat where he sits alone with his thoughts, memories and the remembering of Daniel. He’d given Walker a tight hug before leaving his car, showing that underneath the man accused of murder he was also someone who just wanted to feel connected with humanity once more. He eventually heads back out, police at a reasonable distance, but frees himself of his shadows in a less than salubrious part of town before stopping to glance through the paper where he spies copies of his own personal photographs, which had been given to Peter Masham by Mark the night before.
In the meantime Nikki and Walker meet for lunch, where she questions why he had failed to tell her about his wife and child whom she saw with him upon her arrival. He explains that his wife and he had been unable to have children and that after years of IVF they eventually adopted Bella before he walked out on the family. He is adamant that they are separated and his failure to tell her related to his own guilt over leaving them, but Nikki remains unconvinced.
Upon returning back to the Lyell Centre Thomas asks her to join him to look at some marks on Byron and Charlie’s faces, which Nikki establishes were also present on the first two victims. The marks alongside the condition of the eyes would indicate the victims were asphyxiated, having been repeatedly taken to the brink of death on numerous occasions before bringing bought back. Nikki tries to explain this to DI Klein but whilst she finds the theory interesting, she doesn’t change her mind over it being David. In the meantime Jack and Thomas have been able to ID Bryon as a young man who donated bone marrow before his recipient died, and it would appear that he had written to her regardless of her death.
As Jack, DI Klein and DS Kemp travel to tell the relatives of Byron about his death, Nikki meets Walker to discuss her new theory about the killer. She explains that the victims were not targeted because of their sexuality, as sexual violence and torture isn’t about that, and it was instead about young men looking for highs who had their life taken away. Walker has an interesting response about David’s controlling father causing him to have no self-respect or control, whereas giving him power over a person to decide if they live or die must make you feel “as if you’re on the cusp of existence”, that is real control. He concludes by saying that the person she described isn’t David, because they both know he is innocent. In the meantime David has let himself into Jill’s house where he is hallucinating Daniel once again, before attacking Mark on his return for selling the photographs and is consequently arrested once again.
Jack returns from seeing the news delivered about Byron worked up about the fact DI Klein is still totally focused on David despite there being no real evidence. Nikki and Thomas listen to the discussion as they conclude the murders were either Benetto with a fantastic lawyer, massively coincidental or as Nikki suggests staged. They agree if that was the case it would need to be someone who knows where he has been, what medication he is on, everything about him and with barely a word Nikki indicates she believes it was Walker. When questioned why he would have fought so hard to release him, Nikki elaborates that with David in prison, Walker would be unable to kill again. He has control fantasies, he saved him at the siege so he had a patsy and he targeted people that there could be a clear motive for David to have killed, such as Charlie. It is in that moment that Nikki realises he has been confessing to her all the way through and on working through the evidence – such as how he saw her on both days he could have killed someone, that he cannot have children and potentially gunshot residue he left on Nikki’s jacket, the team decide to approach DI Klein. Unfortunately she is not as easily persuaded but Thomas leaves her with very little option but to get on board with their trail of thought.
Nikki accompanies DI Klein to speak to David, who confirms David directed him to walk down the street on the CCTV outside Byron’s place of residence and he knew about his medication. David is reluctant to tell them anything about where Walker could have gone, although it is obviously dawning on him that he had been set up by the man he trusted. Afterwards Nikki, in an awesome jacket, brings Rachel a coffee and they both acknowledge they’ve been played by Walker. However DI Klein is preoccupied by the fact she has lost out on her promotion and angrily says they can shove their job.
In the meantime Walker is cruising around town, driving whilst his eyes track young men on the street before he pulls up back in the same desolate place episode one started. On DI Klein’s suggestion Nikki calls Walker and after a brief conversation, his number is traced and the entire team race to the scene as David receives a phone call from Walker upon his release from custody to tell him it is over, before he hangs up and sees Daniel once again. Just as an aside, I do hope upon his release this time Jill helps David buy some more clothes, because he was superglued into the same tracksuit in almost every scene. As the police arrive to where Walker is and surround him, he is ordered out of the car but is shot multiple times when he points a gun at the police. Nikki and Thomas rush to resuscitate him, which Nikki manages to do, with Rachel demanding she needs him alive.
The show ends with a distraught Nikki being comforted by Jack as David stands alone back in the same bleak place where he used to secretly meet his lover, where he and Daniel will always be together.
Now this as very much a Nikki led episode, and Nikki being Nikki she had to put herself in danger, date an unsuitable man and question her own judgement all in the space if a few hours, and all whilst wearing the most amazing wardrobe. Sorry, I know it must seem as if I am obsessed but when did pathology look this good? Anyway back to the analysis and it was clear from the start that Dr Alexander had had her head, and heart, turned by Walker as they flirted from the outset after what I can only imagine was quite a period of preparing the case in close proximity. Despite the high profile media coverage Nikki did her job in court well, calmly exiting after her evidence and returning with all the answers and proving that despite all the drama she always was a damn good pathologist.
Her antagonistic relationship with DI Rachel Klein was an interesting one, as they were forced to work together despite being of opposing opinions and their complete belief that the other was either incompetent or, well, incompetent. However despite their apparent differences, the characters worked well as mirrors of each other, given how personally connected they became to the case and how much they had riding on it professionally speaking. In many ways they spent the majority of the episodes so convinced they were right they were unwilling to see another’s point of view but in the end it was Nikki who blinked first and accepted she had made a mistake.
As always it was Nikki’s new boyfriend who turned out to be dodgy, although I do not believe even she has before dated a controlling serial killer unless I missed something. Despite that there was excellent chemistry between Nikki and Walker due to faultless performances from Emilia and Tobias, and I was smiling as she offered to buy drinks given he was a solicitor with champagne tastes whilst earning legal aide lemonade money. I was already uncomfortable with Walker by the time he told her he was an honest man, knowing full well Nikki could never date one of those but when they met for later drinks and he tried to reassure her tipsy paranoia about his knowledge of the case, it was more than a little apparent his interest in Nikki was not just as a date. In using her as a witness to the unstable Benetto unravelling with a gun in his hands, he put her in danger and used her to cover his tracks, and I found myself saying aloud “Don’t do it Nikki” many times.
Throughout the episode there was an undercurrent of debate about innocence, and whether it is okay to presume someone is innocent or guilty, which turned the similar debate from last week’s episodes almost upside down. Nikki asserted that scientific processes do not presume guilt or innocence and yet Walker constantly stated that they both know Benetto didn’t do this. Upon reflection it is obvious that Walker’s insistence perhaps had more to do with his own attempts at a confession, because as things begin to unravel it is Nikki who finally puts everything together – using her closeness to the case as an advantage for once – just as Walker knew she would. The question is does that make him a serial killer trying to evade the law, a man playing a cat and mouse game with authority where he believes he is in control, or someone who wanted to be found out? Do you know what, I am not actually sure but I know that no version leaves his connection with Nikki in a good place.
At the end of the day it was Nikki who rightly got David Benetto released, and Nikki who made the final evidential connections to get the killer put behind bars, and that is because she is a brilliant pathologist despite her complete inability to sustain a healthy personal relationship with any man. And it was also Nikki who brought Walker back to life to face justice, acting on pure adrenalin and determination alone. She may not be perfect, but she is human and when she makes a mistake, she will do anything in the world to put it right once more.
Nikki & Jack
Jack and Nikki’s relationship remains one of the key elements to the success of last series and this one, and whilst they do not have the same closeness Nikki and Harry used to, their ever strengthening connection is something I am really enjoying unfolding. They are able to tease each other, get angry with each other and criticise each other’s working practices and yet still, when it really comes down to it, they are still standing side by side.
With Nikki up in court giving evidence, it was Jack there waiting for her and it was him who was teasing her about being pathology eye candy for Thomas’ profit making ideas. However when things start to get difficult Jack struggles to offer her the requisite support a friend might, citing that he cannot make Benetto innocent in much the same way she cannot be objective, both of which are true but said in a way that contributed to Nikki’s increased isolation and therefore support for Walker.
Despite that it is Jack who spends the night in a scraggy flat with the police, anxious for her safety and angry about the lack of action, when Nikki is held hostage in the siege. I can’t imagine the action man in him would have been comfortable in staying there whilst she was in danger, but on her release he only managed to express this via the medium of shouting at her that she never listens. He was right, she doesn’t and she put herself in danger as a result, but it was his own pent out frustration about what could have happened he was letting out there – in much the same way he did when he grabbed her quite violently when he accused her of being worked by Walker and not having a clue what she was doing.
At the point when it dawned on Nikki that Walker was not squeaky clean, even she referenced that she was bowing to Jack’s greater insight as she could now see he had been correct all along. It spoke volumes that she was able to make that admission to him, that Walker was economical with the truth personally speaking at least, because it showed that despite all that had gone on, she trusted him enough to confide that. It was also through their discussions that Jack finally questioned her feelings towards Rachel, telling her she was not objective and suggesting they bury the hatchet – but not in her head, and Nikki was able to offer him advice about providing his evidence to the police over Byron’s real identity.
Actually as a side note, that moment where Jack, DI Klein and DS Kemp visited the family home and DS Kemp broke the news was one of the most beautiful of the entire episode. There were no words as we could not hear what DS Kemp said to the mum, but her reaction and the reaction of Jack and Rachel back in the car spoke volumes and proved that sometimes silence is worth more than words. All scriptwriters need to keep that in mind for key scenes such as that.
At the very end when all was said and done, Walker was shot but alive, David was released and Nikki was sitting there devastated, emotional and vulnerable after the events that had unfolded, it was Jack who placed an arm casually over her shoulder. There needed to be no more than that, it was just Nikki and Jack, friends and colleagues, but able to rely on each other when they need someone to turn to.
Thomas Chamberlain is an interesting character. He is not just a pathologist but a business man, and far more convincing than Leo ever was as someone trying to make the Lyell Centre a profitable enterprise. He was happy to get involved in even the most controversial of cases as long as someone was picking up the tab, although I really do hope he does not see Nikki as pathology eye candy because whilst she is, that sounds so very weird. Thomas is firm, but fair, when managing the Lyell Centre and I felt that was demonstrated by his refusal to suspend Nikki when he was told to. His vehement answer of “my surgeon, my call” shows he has real confidence in his decision making and is willing to stand by his team – but also prioritise what is right for the business. When Nikki thanks him for standing by her, his response that they would have come after the Lyell next makes that clear and yet I am sure there is more to it than him just using her as a firewall as she put it.
On that note, Thomas as Nikki’s senior has had a bumpy start, not helped at all by the events of this episode. It would seem that for every time something pushes them to opposing viewpoints they are then brought back to working as a team, but it will be interesting to see whether that changes as they get to know each other more. Thomas was understandably hard on her and without hesitation removed her from the case when it was clear she was too close to it, as well as dismissing her several times in front of their police counterparts. He is obviously not shy in expressing his opinions or his expectations, but perhaps his tough love angle is precisely what she needs.
It is clear that there is backstory to this man that we the viewers have yet to see, which was clear in his discussions with Masham over Charlie’s death as he explained how grief can freeze you up long term. It will be interesting to see precisely how that all unravels as we get to know him better.
This was another strong episode from Series 17, despite it being completely different to the pairing of episodes the week before and there was a great plotline. My main criticism was that the central twist became obvious to early on for me, in that I had my suspicions about Walker before he should ever have been a suspect. Therefore whilst there were still elements of the plot that took me by surprise, there were stretches of what felt like unnecessary explanation and filler, and parts that should have held dramatic tension were over too soon, such as the siege. As an example, how many times was David Benetto arrested and released during a two hour show? He and his tracksuit spent most of their time being released from police questioning, acting in a manner likely to get himself arrested and then being taken back to custody once more. Additionally whilst last week was far-fetched in a way that a small suspension of disbelief could cure, this week had quite a bland presentation of mental illness. David was meant to be suffering from BPD and PTSD, but instead spent his time hallucinating visions of his dead ex-boyfriend and acting in an agitated state. I don’t know, but it just didn’t feel real to me and I am sure that more could have been done to accommodate it in a more realistic fashion.
However all of the above aside, there was a great deal of character development of Thomas in this storyline, mainly through the layers of man that we were treated to, and also of Jack, who despite being very much Jack-the-Lad most of the time, showed real care, concern and also annoyance in respect of Nikki. I love the fact that it was through his anger he was able to demonstrate that he does see her as more than just a person he works with. And as for Nikki…. Well Nikki my love, please don’t ever date a man again, especially one with a penchant for killing people. It won’t do you any good, and I’d rather you weren’t permanently traumatised.
Roll on next week, can’t wait to see where the series takes us next given how different the two story arcs have been so far.