The BBC’s Career of Evil: Hits, Misses and Clues to the Future of the Series?

This post began as a comment on the Career of Evil TV series post, but ballooned to something longer than I had anticipated. So, at the request of our Headmaster, I’m re-posting it as a post of its own, with a few expansions. 

This TV adaptation was probably the most butchered book of the lot so far, in terms of leaving things out. The BBC needs to devote at least 3 episodes to do one of these novels justice, which is why I am very glad to hear the Lethal White will be four episodes.

The neuroscientist in me was most disappointed in the dropping of the Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) plot line in favor of  the much simpler “Kelsey has a crush on Cormoran” angle. I assume this move was made both to save time and to avoid accusations of insensitivity that would arise from having our hero call people suffering with this genuine neurological disorder “nutters” on screen. Although, if you pause at the scene of Strike reviewing his fan site, you can see the screen name “NowhereToTurn” and “I heard he did it himself” message. The “schoolgirl crush” approach also put more emphasis on the killer’s efforts to set Strike up as a suspect, and made the Met much more inclined to accept that as a possibility.

But that was just the beginning of the cuts that were made to Strike3 — not to mention the changes and flat-out additions that point to possibilities in coming novels.

The other major omission was the attacks on the other women. The closest we get is the police mentioning there are other bodies in the fridge. But, in the eyes of the public, this is the murder of Kelsey, not a search for a serial killer.

Other missing plot lines: Elin (only mentioned as the “beautiful, Swedish” date Cormoran slept through), the royal wedding, the 50 roses with the unread card, the massage house, and Carver. The absence of the latter, with all of his bluster,  made the threat to Strike’s business from animosity with the Met much less of a factor.

Finally, the timeline of the story is much shortened; it all seems to happen over a few days rather than a couple of months, and this puts everything, including Robin’s wedding, in early spring; everyone’s still wearing coats and the sea holly Uncle Ted sent to Leda’s grave is not yet in bloom, as it would be in June.

Some interesting additions and changes:  I continue to love the series’ take on Shanker— it certainly works in the TV medium, even if he doesn’t physically resemble the character in the book. It would be hard for a character as scary-looking as Shanker is supposed to be to be likeable on screen, but the actor does a great job of mixing his low-life tendencies with humor, which makes him a likable ally. His meeting with Cormoran to put flowers on Leda’s grave was a touching addition, and his allusion to The Graduate’s “Elaine!! Elaine!!” when whisking Strike off to the wedding was probably my favorite moment.

Flobberworm Matthew actually gets a bit more sympathetic treatment in this adaptation. The toe is delivered not to the office, but to the couple’s flat when Robin is out of town for the dress fitting, and even placed in Matthew’s kettle as he is boiling water for his morning coffee. (Ewww!) But this definitely ups the threat level, and makes Matthew sound not quite so unreasonable. They are both in danger if the killer can enter their flat at will.

Under these circumstances, Matthew’s confrontation of Strike after the knife attack and him calling Cormoran a “sociopath” for letting Robin keep working were more understandable responses. All this changed the dynamic of Robin’s sacking. With the much friendlier Wardle in charge of the case rather than the hostile Carver, Cormoran barely mentions being in trouble with the Met, and seems angrier about Brockbank escaping than the threat to his business. Unlike in the book, the TV Strike has not yet convinced himself at this point that Ray/Laing is the killer, and actually considers Brockbank the most likely suspect.

But, his demeanor is so calm during that firing scene that a non-book reader might conclude that Robin’s disobedience was only an excuse— that Cormoran Blue actually listened to Matthew and discharged Robin for her own safety’s sake. Matthew blocks his number immediately after the sacking, not later when Strike calls to apologize, so this too doesn’t seem like quite so much of an underhanded act. 

I also liked seeing Leda’s grave, and Uncle Ted sending the sea holly. It was great to see him in person, when Cormoran called him to ask about the plant. (Let’s have Aunt Joan and Uncle Ted appear in the books soon!) But the most interesting addition was Brittany, and having Strike go to her in person to tell her of Brockbank’s arrest and apologize for failing her as a child. They have an apparently leisurely chat and walk. Brittany asks him to thank Robin for her, which appears to be the trigger for Strike’s remorse. Strike is prompted then to rush off to the wedding, rather than making that decision on his own, and returns to the car to tell Shanker, who seems surprised,  “We have another stop— Yorkshire!”  Which makes you wonder how Strike just happened to have his best suit in the car for the handy change at the gas station.

The suit was, of course, entirely inappropriate dress for Brittany’s new home, a  “modern-day commune” that seems to be a bunch of people hanging out in a ragtag perpetual campsite. Strike locates her through a newspaper article that he presumably collected as part of the investigation. Why, of all places, would Brittany be living in a commune? If the TV gamemakers went to the trouble to build such a set, rather than have Strike meet her at a generic flat or house, there must be some reason. 

This setting is one of the most  interesting additions to the story, and makes me wonder if it is there for a future plot point. In both Cuckoo’s Calling and Lethal White, Strike remembers a horrible commune in Norfolk where he lived with Leda when he was about 8, and witnessed abuse. Both John and I have speculated this commune may turn up again, perhaps during an investigation of Leda’s death. Could this commune, or someplace like it, be be connected to a future plot?

Another addition of interest was Cormoran flashing back three times to when he was a small child, with his mother saying “I love you”— with the last two times adding “Someday you’ll feel like that about someone.” Besides the obvious foreshadowing (both “someday..” lines immediately cut to a shot of Robin, in bed!), it is also clear in the final flashback that young CB and his mother are standing on pavement, watching some nighttime scene with multiple sirens and flashing lights. Something big is clearly going down. Though Cormoran would have been too young to know Whittaker at the time—  his new step-daddy entered the picture when CB was 16 or so, the Strike in the flashback looked abut 8— the first flashback was triggered by the sight of Whittaker and his new young girlfriend. Could Cormoran be remembering something traumatic that happened with one of Leda’s other men, and could this be a key as to why he refuses to form close relationships with children, or even meet the offspring of his girlfriends?

The final tidbit I noticed was a small one, but may be the most interesting. Even with only a few minutes of screen time, Whittaker manages to mention he had a child with Leda. This re-affirms my speculation that this child: who we know from the Lethal White Wikipedia entry on Whittaker as Switch LaVey Bloom Whittaker, will turn up in future books. If the TV script went out of its way to mention him, I’d bet it’s a pretty important role.

The name is certainly  intriguing:  LaVey presumably was his occultist father’s choice, for Satanic Bible author Anton LaVey, while Leda undoubtedly chose Bloom in honor of Blue Oyster Cult’s Eric Bloom— the same reason she gave Cormoran the middle name of “Blue.”  As for Switch–it sounds like a name to give a changeling, but it could have had any number of meanings to Leda and Whittaker:  from a 1991 movie (featuring a protagonist who is basically good but “a shit to women”–  sound like anyone we know?) to a 1970’s band to a different 1970’s album by the Dutch band Golden Earring. (And that’s assuming we discount the BDSM connection!) The remarkable thing about this name is that the child’s wealthy great-grandparents, who raised him, didn’t insist on changing it.

We know fairly little about SLBW: he was born in 1992, a few months after Strike’s 18th birthday, was less than 2 when his mother died, went to the custody of his great-grandparents after Leda’s death and Whittaker’s legal troubles (despite their relatively advanced age and the fact that his maternal uncle and aunt were already raising his sister Lucy), from where his father attempted to kidnap him when SLBW was about 3. Apparently, Strike has not seen him since Leda’s death. But, by the time of the Book 5, young Switch will be 21, probably in or just finished with University, setting out on his own, likely with considerable wealth at his disposal, and probably very interested in meeting his famous older brother.

I think it is very likely we will meet young SLBW, perhaps as soon as the next book. And, when you think about it, the Whittaker great-grands, with both their daughter and grandson lost to drugs and mental illness, might have had good reason for wanting Leda dead, so they could snatch up baby Switch as their last hope for a respectable heir.

Comments

  1. Joanne Gray says:

    Absolutely fantastic post! I agree with your assessment of the show and that thank goodness they will be giving Lethal White at least 4 episodes. From the moment they announced they were only giving two episodes to Career of Evil, I knew they had terribly short changed the time needed to tell the third book’s story.

    I also agree that since JK Rowling is an executive producer (and her Bronte Company is behind the production of the TV version) that she would make sure–no matter how truncated the show–that vital information would be included in the show’s background story, in order to allow the ongoing story in the books, to meld with future episodes of the show.

    You have opened my eyes to some things that even after viewing the show several times–I still missed. I really think you are on to something with the Norfolk commune (I did wonder about them adding that camp in the show but I didn’t make this connection–great catch!)

    I also think you’re right about the missing brother coming into the picture–although, I think he might have gotten another name from his grandparents–so he might not be immediately recognized as Strike’s mysterious brother. Love your final thoughts about the fact that Switch’s grand parents could have taken custody of him as a final grab to mold a respectable heir for their legacy–and that in order to do that, they may have “removed” Leda. Another possibility that wasn’t on my radar.

    Thank you so much for posting some really great pieces for the possible solution to Strike’s ultimate puzzle.

  2. Louise Freeman says:

    I do find it amusing that, as many times as the Harry Potter books were accused of being a gateway to the occult, JKR chose to make Whittaker, the most revolting character in the series (with the possible exception of Laing) a devoted Satanist.

    I predict the “Norfolk commune” will wind up being a “The Family International” type cult– it attracted a number of musicians, including one of the founding members of Fleetwood Mac, which sounds like an environment Leda would have gravitated to. There was a major court case in the UK in 1994-1995, the result of a grandmother trying to get custody of a grandchild in the cult, that documented a history of physical and sexual abuse of children.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Family_International

  3. Dr. Freeman,

    The biggest takeaway I’m getting from the TV adaptations are as follows. (1) Ms. Rowling seems more or less content to treat them as a secondary matter, meanwhile letting the Strike novels serve as more of a primary concern. (2) Looked at from this angle, I probably makes more sense to believe that Rowling will treat the TV series more as an info dump than as a straightforward story-telling exercise.

    We’ve seen her dump important background details to the series before. For instance, she’s yet to go into detail about the bomb attack that cost Strike his leg in the military. However, in “The Silkworm” adaptation we are shown the whole scene, complete with a character we’ve only heard mentioned in passing from the novels, the boy who has a chance to kill Strike and decides to let him live for some reason.

    I think we can expect to see a great deal of similar sequences where some thread from the backstory is revealed on-screen. The only question I have is how this will affect the books themselves. Will she be able to keep things straight, or will the constant leaking of the backstory cause her to get turned around, creating unnecessary contradictions.

    The most embarrassing scenario I can imagine is if she started to write down an important bit of backstory and discover to her horror that the story is shifting and changing of its own accord as she’s setting down on paper. It’s the kind of thing that can happen when a story, or its characters “take on a life of their own”. If that were to happen, then all bets are off in terms of where the story wants to go.

    Still, I think you’re on to something when you mention stuff like Switch or the commune. I don’t know that this will connect Whittaker’s parents to Leda’s death, though I do admit it adds to the suspect list. If I had to make a list of likely suspects in the murder of Leda Strike it would go something like this:

    Rokeby (prime suspect)
    Whittaker (subordinate?)
    Whittaker parents (secondary subordinates?)

    Either way, I still say you’ve hit the nail on the head about expecting further info dumps about the over-arching Strike case. Congrats.

  4. Joanne Gray says:

    I think you have a wonderful chance of being right with your prediction. Thank you for posting the link and the added information giving more background to a possible expansion on the Norfolk commune back-story. Hopefully book 5 will begin to give us some real solid answers to Cormoran’s past and his origin story.

    In going through the books again I was trying to find some of those moments that pop up from time to time that echo back to when Cormoran was a child. I came across an unexpected gem in The Silkworm that was interposed into the scene after Strike and a very drunk Jerry leave the Simpson’s-in-the-Strand and they are standing on the sidewalk outside:
    “Watching Waldegrave disappear into the swirling snow past the Christmas shoppers scrambling, laden, along the slushy pavements, **Strike remembered a hand closing urgently on an upper arm, a stern man’s voice, an angrier young woman’s “Mummy’s made a beeline, why don’t you grab her?”** (The Silkworm, ch 36, pg 318)

    There is something in the situation taking place around Strike—of an angry drunk Jerry yelling at his wife on his phone—that triggers the memory in Strike’s mind to go back to this childhood moment with an unnamed stern man and the angrier woman who then mentions Strike’s mother.

    Earlier in the same book in chapter 28…
    “Something had flickered deep in his subconscious as he spoke. Somebody had told him…someone had said…but the memory was gone in a flash of tantalizing silver, like a minnow vanishing in pondweed.” (Pg 242)

    The very next line is of him muttering out loud, “A poisoned skeleton,” as “he tries to catch the elusive memory, but it was gone.” (For some reason the stone skull and cross bones of the graveyard that Robin walks through in Lethal White while on the phone with Strike reminds me of a poisoned-skeleton—but I can’t see any tie to this memory and a cemetery in Deptford (where Christopher Marlowe’s is supposedly buried).

    It is clear, however, from all these fleeting, elusive childhood moments that there are some very dark memories buried deep in Strike’s subconscious, hidden for some very real psychological self-preservation purposes. They’re buried far deeper than Billy Knight’s dell burial. Even though both Billy Knight and Strike saw something traumatically shattering when very young, only Strike managed to bury his trauma beyond conscious reach. At least, so far.

    His very ability to repress will prove all the worse, when his own inherent need to know the truth, forces him to make the most reluctant of witnesses he has ever faced (himself), dredge up and expose his most painful memories. He will not be able to escape the truth that he is the only one who has the pieces necessary to solve his mother’s murder. To get those pieces will require him to face the very demons—the cold facts he never wanted to face—and see the truths he has kept hidden about his mother.

    Since the fifth Harry Potter book really goes to the heart of the link between Harry and Voldemort—finally revealing the hidden Ministry of Magic’s prophecy exposing the true connection between Harry and the Dark Lord. I feel this means that we may have a good chance of finally getting some actual verification for Strike’s back-story in his fifth book. Maybe even answering the question: “Is Jonny Rokeby Cormoran’s actual biological father?” Or is there, like Harry’s own hidden prophecy, a still unrevealed biologically linked father hiding in the shadows?

    After all—the revelation in Harry Potter was that there was a piece of Voldemort in Harry forming a link between them. So if the once hidden, but now revealed, biological link between Strike and his mystery biological father is revealed, it would be a close (albeit less sinister) echo between the two books.

    I confess I really have high hopes that the fifth Strike book will offer the same real foundational facts for Strike’s life story that the fifth Harry Potter book provided for Harry. I also hope we don’t have to wait too long before book 5, although, I’m not as optimistic as before about seeing it any time soon. The recent news (and long time Twitter silence from JK Rowling) even with the third Fantastic Beasts screenplay finished, it appears that all attention is now directed to getting Fantastic Beasts 3 up and running. This could put Strike book 5 way back on the backburner. Here’s hoping I’m wrong about that.

  5. Louise Freeman says:

    The “Mummy’s made a beeline” line was from the Roper Chard party when Jerry tried to stop his daughter from approaching Fancourt. I don’t think this was a flashback to his childhood.

    I agree with you that Strike probably is suppressing some child trauma memories, though. It was the “shagged it and it died” line that seemed to trigger something— perhaps a sexually abused child dying in the commune?

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