I don’t watch programmes like Silent Witness so much anymore. I spent a lot of my life watching crime shows on TV. At some point, though, I’d had enough. Maybe it was an increasing sense of my own mortality, maybe it was seeing one too many women get horrifically killed for our viewing pleasure. After the first season of The Fall, which sent a clear message that if you dare to be female, single and live alone then terrible things will happen, and the Luther that ran at the same time and reiterated the same message, I swore off such programmes.
So I’m not sure why I watched the latest two episodes of Silent Witness. I was just coming out of the death grip of a migraine and so was somewhat weakened, plus I assumed a certain quality of drama from this long running BBC show, fronted by a strong female character, some kind of nuanced look into bad people doing bad things. But what I got was two hours of gratuitous death, pre and post mortem violence and gruesomeness, and a shockingly disgraceful explanation for why a man might rape and murder a teenager.
A woman – for some reason presented as entirely unlikable in her few moments of screen time – was run off the road, kidnapped, almost allowed to escape, then killed. We didn’t see her actual death, although we were treated to the graphic visual of her and her bike being violently run off the road not once, but twice. We got to see her nearly escape her fate before realising that she was no match for her faceless male predator. We saw her naked body being slowly, slowly dragged out of a lake. We saw her naked body on the slab, being mercilessly examined. We saw a second woman’s naked body on the slab, being mercilessly examined. We heard graphic description of an earlier rape and murder of a teenage girl, for which no one had been found guilty. We saw a man explain away an unlawful sex conviction that had led to him being a prime suspect in that case (“It was consensual. Consensual!” Um…okay then.) We saw the instigation and the aftermath of an assault on a frail older women.
I mean, that was enough, really. And that was mostly in the first episode. We watched the second one, for hope of some kind of resolution before going to bed to meditate on the awfulness of it all. And the resolution was this: the man who had raped and killed a teenage girl twenty years previously – and then had it catch up with him after he dumped the body of a woman who’d accidentally died in his car, then brutally murdered the woman who witnessed him doing so – had done so because his girlfriend had been unfaithful to him. It wasn’t his fault! Their relationship hadn’t been going well, they’d argued about him being possessive… so he’d followed her to Brighton and watched from some bushes as she kissed another man. This made him angry, so he turned around and raped and murdered the first girl who walked by. This was actually all re-enacted for us, through a 90s haze, just in case it wasn’t clear.
Ok, I chose to watch a programme about forensic pathologists. And I’m not complaining about the gore, about the emotionless treatment of bodies on slabs. I can look away. And I’m not complaining about general ridiculousness of the drama either: the endless boring close ups of various cars, which led to nothing, or the main character’s ability to find a hair in a tree, or the weird way colleagues over-explain things to each other even though they surely all know the same stuff, or about how stupid the police seem to be if left to their own devices. All of that gets a pass – it’s just a TV programme, and as someone who has watched a fair few episodes of Castle, I can forgive a lot for a bit of escapism.
But. BUT. Apart from the fact that these programmes treat rape and murder of women and girls as fodder for light-hearted entertainment, this entire episode centred on the idea that a man had committed a heinous, violent crime because his girlfriend (and future wife/mother of his child) had betrayed him. That he had raped and murdered a teenage girl because he was somehow pushed into it, he was made so angry by the betrayal that it was inevitable. The guilt and horror of the wife was laid out, full screen, and left to linger with no dissuasion. (Where’s Olivia Benson when you need her?)
And just…NOPE. This wasn’t a clever storyline with cool forensic twists, it was a litany of sexist tropes, it was a disgraceful display of horrific crimes against women and how to explain them away. And I am so done with that shit.
Yours in disappointment,