Murder, black comedy and romance abound in this grisly show about the team investigating Britain’s worst serial killers
You are a detective investigating Britain’s worst serial killers and a new one has just arrived. Six body parts from six different victims have been found in a deserted flat, stitched together neatly to make one hideous whole. What is your top priority? Seal the scene to avoid DNA contamination? Interview the neighbours? Check your list of known murder suspects?
If you are Nate Rose and Emily Baxter, the sleuths in Ragdoll (Alibi), the answer is: compete to think of the coolest name for the killer. In honour of the murderer’s high-class artistry, Loco Chanel is an early runner.
Alibi’s promo push for Ragdoll makes a lot of the fact that it is made by the same production company as Killing Eve, and its writer Freddy Syborn did pen an episode of that show. It shares Eve’s wicked sense of humour, or rather its insistence on meeting wickedness with humour. You will know within 10 minutes whether the operatic ultraviolence, black comedy and arch, very nearly overwritten dialogue make you wriggle with joy or combust with irritation.
If you like it, there is a new sleuthing duo to obsess over. Ostensibly, the lead is Henry Lloyd-Hughes as DS Nathan Rose, your standard maverick detective with a complicated personal life. Recently restored to the force two years after committing GBH during a court hearing, Nate is first seen face down on a sofa in an otherwise barely furnished flat, his possessions piled in a cardboard box with “CRAP” scrawled on the side. He is, of course, haunted by a previous case: his failed pursuit of a villain known as the Cremation Killer.
Rose’s demons are, however, serious. He has spent the time since in a psychiatric facility, although he dislikes the term: “I think ‘loony bin’ better reflects my lived experience of that hellhole.” He needs looking after. Step forward the character who is at least his equal and, after Nate’s demotion to DS, now his boss: DI Emily Baxter, played by Thalissa Teixeira.
Having recently specialised in dramas that look interesting but never reach the top of your watchlist – Trigonometry, Baghdad Central, Too Close – Teixeira properly announces herself here. Clad in a highly imitable, unisex uniform of grandad shirt, combat pants, chunky boots and grey boyfriend blazer, her sloping swagger is Whovian and Holmesian and is surely about to see her cast in absolutely everything. While Lloyd-Hughes brings the show its tortured darkness, Teixeira adds a steely competence that doesn’t stop Baxter sharing Rose’s tendency to treat the grisliest evil as an opportunity to make jokes.
Nor does the urgent need to stop the killer distract Baxter from her prime concern: Rose’s welfare. The drunken karaoke night when it’s confirmed that – yes! – they love each other but can’t say so is a sentimental joy. There’s a scene late in episode one where Baxter drives Rose safely home and clearly doesn’t want to get out of the car – we don’t want him to either.
If Rose and Baxter are a quasi-couple, they already have a pseudo-child to control: DC Lake Edmunds (Lucy Hale), an eager American rookie who is the third member of the core trio. She and Baxter form their own pair, offering a pleasing variation on the classic Morse/Lewis dynamic of cynical veteran and annoyingly by-the-book underling. This is millennial v Generation Z, and Syborn’s script finds the ideal line to point up the gap when Baxter references the Simpsons, which she obviously knows by heart. Edmunds replies breezily: “I’ve never really seen the show. But I know the memes!”
As for the detective drama – with characters leaping off the screen, it’s easy to forget why we are here in the first place – there’s a heavy debt to Luther. The show finds its home in low-rise, strip-lit south London, painting it as a land of blinding glare and suffocating shadows – the ideal stomping ground for an apparently omnipotent killer who want to make every slaughter a spectacular masterpiece.
Is Ragdoll a masterpiece? Not quite, not yet. Some of the scenes are too stylised, and Phil Davis has a confusing guest role as the mayor of London, who looks like a Boris Johnson-ish clown and acts like a gangster, but also seems to be a leftwing stalwart; he is overegged, something the show flirts with throughout. If it does crash and burn, those of us who are on its wavelength will happily go down with it.