Just over a week after Line of Duty’s PC Ryan Pilkington drove a police car into a reservoir in a bid to bump off an inconvenient witness, here’s another horrifying watery detour to raise your blood pressure. In the opening moments of ITV’s three-part thriller Too Close, Denise Gough’s Connie drives her car off a bridge, with two young children (one is her daughter, the other is a friend’s child) in the back seat.
It’s a shocking moment that sets the tone for a deeply uncomfortable but compelling first episode. When we next see Connie, she’s in police custody. One eye is bloodshot crimson, her body is covered in bruises, but she is alive - and claims to remember precisely nothing about the night in question. Enter forensic psychiatrist Dr Emma Robertson, played by Emily Watson, who is tasked with assessing Connie’s mental state: is she really suffering from amnesia brought on by a traumatic event - or is she conveniently good at bluffing?
This sets the scene for a series of two-handers in which the power dynamic is constantly shifting. Connie is unsettlingly perceptive, able to extrapolate accurately details about Emma’s personal life (a nice, normal middle class existence; a marriage she seems to have outgrown) with a quick glance at her “sensible shoes” and her “expensive but deathly dull clothes.” Her comments seem to needle her interrogator in all the right places: Emma is soon consumed by the case, listening to her dictaphone recordings of their sessions while she drinks wine at home alone (there’s one upmarket TV thriller trope for your bingo card).
Flashback sequences, in which Connie floats around North London wearing a series of boho dresses and a cloud of Jo Malone’s Pomegranate Noir, help us start to piece together what might have made her snap. There’s certainly something a little unsettling about her friendship with new neighbour Ness (Thalissa Teixeira), who quickly becomes her confidante after they bump into one another at a local playground, bonding over the fact that neither seems to fit the “banker’s wife” mould.
When they meet again, at some sort of boujee village fete complete with festival-style glitter face painting for kids and plastic cups of wine going for a fiver, Ness has copied Connie’s finger tattoos and reeks of expensive pomegranates, which feels like a very upmarket warning sign.
Connie is accused of a horrifying crime, but the vitriol which her act inspires is deeply unpleasant, too. Returning home from work, Emma must join an excruciating dinner party for her husband’s siblings and their partners, all of whom are vying to have the most outrageous hot take on the “yummy mummy monster” case, as it’s been dubbed by the tabloids, in the name of banter. It’s a striking reminder of how the court of public opinion plays out.
The idea of a psychiatrist becoming fascinated - or manipulated - by a patient is hardly uncharted territory, but Gough and Mortimer are two of our best actresses. Watching them go head to head is a treat, even if their exchanges are sometimes a little too wordy to feel totally authentic. Connie’s tendency to speak in ominous pronouncements is luckily undercut by Gough’s kinetic performance. In early scenes, she plays Connie like a coiled spring; when she eventually unravels, it’s all the more disturbing.
Watson’s part is naturally more understated, but Emma is intriguing in a different way, weighed down by a past tragedy that we’ll surely learn more about in future episodes, which will air over subsequent nights this week. With her and Gough at the helm, it’s hard to look away from this cat and mouse game.
Too Close continues on April 13 and April 14 at 9pm on ITV and is available to stream on the ITV Hub