Investigating 'Gently': 'The Burning Man,' Episode 2 Recap

Last week, KCETers met "Inspector George Gently," with the series pilot airing on Sunday and the first edition of "Investigating 'Gently'' running here on the site, introducing you to this BBC crime procedural and walking you though the twists and turns of the inaugural whodunit. This week, it's episode two. Read on, if you don't mind spoilers, and check back if this week's episode -- airing Sunday at 9 p.m. -- leaves you with any lingering questions.

So this week's episode title is "The Burning Man." Like the concert?

Thankfully no. The show does still take place in 1964. No, that title references the murder of the week, a charred body found in a verdant North England meadow that makes for one of the most picturesque crime scenes ever in a TV show. See?

So who's the unlucky stiff?

Good question. With "CSI"-type technology decades off, Gently and Bacchus have only the following as clues to the deceased's identity: teeth and the contents of his stomach, which include a ring engraved with the name "Wanda." Our heroes are about to contact the only Wanda who works at a diner in the greater Northumberland area when they're met by a third investigator.

Oh, so they have special help this week?

Not quite. Det. Empton ("Prime Suspect" alum Robert Glenister) makes no friendly explanation for his presence in Gently's jurisdiction. Suspicious, Gently sics Bacchus on him, but Empton soon enough charms Bacchus with cop tales and the vague promise of help in securing his promotion to a big city department.

He's a real dope, that Bacchus.

That's not really a question, but yes. Gently, meanwhile does real detective work, seeking out Wanda (the improbably named actress Pooky Quesnel) to ask what her relationship to the deceased might be. Through a series of Wanda-centric flashbacks, we see that she and the dead man, an Irish local named Ruairi O'Connell, were lovers, but Wanda lies, telling Gently they weren't especially close. She then attempts to seduce Gently, who declines, citing his wife's recent death.

And who is this O'Shaughnessy character?

The second twist in this increasingly Irish plot involves the fetching Carmel O'Shaughnessy (Charlotte Riley) stopping at the police station to state that her father is missing, raising the possibility that the burned body was his. When Gently and Bacchus check his place of employment at the local Air Force Base, they find no sign of him... nor any sign of a cache of government firearms. Mr. O'Shaughnessy apparently disliked the British, and both O'Shaughnessy and Ruairi O'Connell had ties with the I.R.A. In fact, O'Connell is an I.R.A. sniper and the paramour of Carmel O'Shaughnessy.

This Northumberland types lead complicated lives, don't they?

Invariably yes. But to the surprise of Gently and Bacchus, tailing Carmel Shaughnessy leads them not to her lover, O'Connell, but to her father, who promptly gets picked off by an unseen sniper.

The famed I.R.A. marksman Ruairi O'Connell!

Nope! While Gently and Bacchus regroup, poor Wanda gets a visit from Doyle (John Kavanagh, "The Tudors"), a third Irish Republican Army member demanding a parcel that Ruairi might have stashed in Wanda's home. Wanda plays it cool -- it's clear that she's had practice with rough men -- and Gently and Bacchus show up just in time to see that Doyle has taken Wanda hostage. This time, Gently displays the expert marksmanship by taking Doyle down with a shot to the head.

Okay... Three dead Irish guys. But who killed whom? And who was the original body?

Empton finally spills his guts. He only showed up in Northumberland after a rookie cop disappeared while investigating a tip about I.R.A. activity in the area -- a tip made by Wanda, who was angry about O'Connell leaving her for I.R.A. duties abroad. O'Connell killed the officer, and that's when Doyle, a senior I.R.A. operative but also Empton's informant, killed O'Connell. O'Shaughnessy, whose I.R.A. involvement was minor, got roped into burning O'Connell's body, then split until the heat died down. He would have stayed hidden, had Gently not led Doyle straight to him, whereupon Doyle shot O'Shaughnessy dead. Worst of all, Empton condoned Doyle's murders of O'Shaughnessy and O'Connell, because Doyle's evasion from Gently would mean his continued service as an informant.

Oof. That's a lot.

Yes. In fact, I had to rewatch the denouement scene to get the facts straight. Gently, by the way, is appalled at Empton's willingness consent to murder for the greater good of monitoring terrorist activities.

The scene where the older, wiser Gently disagrees with the younger, brasher Bacchus's belief that cops can use violence to get information that could stop terrorist plots... That's social commentary, right?

Seems like. It's hard not to read it as Europe-versus-America debate on torture in Iraq and the Middle East. Layers of meaning!

So none of the characters on the show think that Inspector Gently's last name is funny?

Apparently not. Maybe it's normal for people in Northern England to have adverbs for names? I still maintain that "Inspector Gently" sounds like a set-up for a dirty joke.

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About the Author

Drew Mackie, associate producer of new media, liked shows about old British people before it became fashionable. He also says silly things on Twitter.
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