Des (2020) s01e03

So, now we get the episode about how sad it makes Daniel Mays to bring harm to people but he does it anyway. It’s the joke about Americans making movies about how sad we are we had to kill a bunch of BIPOC civilians. Only here it’s Mays forcing attempted murder victim Laurie Kynaston to testify against David Tennant and defense attorney Pip Torrens tearing him apart. It stands up for a couple reasons, one it’s entirely predictable Torrens is going to tear him apart because it turns out Tennant has seemingly engineered his entire prosecution and is prepared for all the witnesses against him. Second, Mays ought to know something’s up.

This episode comes the closest to thinking Mays is giving a transfixing performance, with director Lewis Arnold frequently cutting to Mays for reaction shots only he never has any reaction shots because Mays has one, sad expression. Oh, and also all the manipulations of the episode don’t actually matter once it gets to the conclusion because of how the verdict goes. There’s the story and there’s where writer Kelly Jones (Jones’s sole entry is this episode) takes it instead.

Though having a trial episode where Tennant is mostly silent is another thing; why watch “Des” if not for Tennant. He’s got a couple good scenes, but he’s a diabolical mastermind here. “Des” has melodramatic theatrics but it doesn’t have a lot of tangible reality anymore. Even if it does awkwardly open with footage of the actual Dennis Nilsen at his trial. Because… they want show how close they got Tennant’s hair, I guess. It does nothing else for the episode.

There’s also a lot more of Mays and Jason Watkins together, which is just a chemistry vacuum.

I’m not sure what “Des” needs, other than some recasting, rewriting, and maybe a better director. A point would probably help. The big question is whether Tennant’s got some undiagnosed mental health condition explaining him living around dead bodies for years at a time or if he’s just a master planner who wanted an insanity plea. The show doesn’t make any decision—it ignores the question as best it can—and Tennant’s intentionally cryptic too.

Also the text epilogues reveal some information they should’ve baked into the narrative. And, based on the text, they completely got Watkins’s person wrong. But whatever, it’s over, who cares?

“Des” is okay for a Tennant stunt cast and it has moments of genuine interest but… nah. Mays and Watkins are just too flat. Especially Mays, who’s somehow more tedious in his performance than the same Droopy Dog cartoon on repeat.

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