HBO // 1996 // 465 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // May 3rd, 2004
This critic's absolute love affair with Cracker is given a third and final airing.
It's Series 3. Eddie "Fitz" Fitzgerald is still a "cracker," a highly skilled police psychologist working to unwind the most sinister and sick of suspects. Jane Penhaligon is still working for the Manchester Police, even though her recent past has left her jaded and intensely hurt. Jimmy Beck, another officer, is also coming undone. He has spent the last four months in a rest home, recovering from "nervous exhaustion." With the events surrounding DCI Bilborough, DCI Wise has taken over the Manchester precinct and his patience with Fitz is beginning to wear thin. At home, Fitz is about to be a father, as a very pregnant Judith struggles to keep their relationship together. In the midst of all this turmoil, our illustrious crime-fighting shrink takes on the following cases in this final collection:
* "Brotherly Love": Danny, Fitz's younger brother, has some overwhelming news -- their mother has died. Fitz is devastated. When the police find a prostitute brutally slain, they call on their resident cracker to interrogate David Harvey, a mild-mannered man whose brother is a local priest. He is the prime suspect, but while in jail, another whore ends up dead. When a third body is found, everyone is confused. All evidence leads to Harvey and his obvious guilt. But with two other bodies with almost identical MOs, do they have the wrong man? Or is someone close to Harvey helping him rid the world of streetwalking scum?
On the Homefront: Little Jimmy is born, and Judith makes Fitz swear on the blessed event to stop gambling. He reluctantly agrees. Penhaligon blames Fitz for not being there for her when she needed him and he gets what appears to be the final brush-off.
* "Best Boys": When young Bill Nash begins working for Stuart Grady in a local factory, the attraction is instantaneous...and very forbidden. Bill is 16. Stuart is in his late 30s. Still, when the boy has nowhere else to go, Grady takes him in. This does not sit well with his blustery, blousy landlord, and in a fit of angry, Bill stabs the sow. Hoping to help out his new "friend," Grady finishes the deed. Soon, both men are on the run. Another crime is committed. It is up to Fitz to get Grady to confess, not only to the homicidal acts the two commited, but the basis for these fiendish crimes -- the "closeted" feelings they have for each other.
On the Homefront: Jimmy's birth has driven Judith over the edge. Hoping to harass Fitz into being a caring partner in the relationship, she removes herself from all maternal duties, leaving our large lout holding the diaper bag while she explores independence.
* "True Romance": Fitz has a fanatical admirer, a lady who writes him letters of wounded wanting. Fitz even reads one of these missives to his lecture class at the University. One of the students ends up dead -- electrocuted -- and the police find a link between the stalker and the slayings. Turns out a lab technician in the school, a strangely sinister woman named Janice, is behind the crimes. In a ploy to lure her out, they make Fitz the fall guy for an investigative mistake. Sure enough, the crazed woman responds. She kidnaps another kid and prepares him for death. When Fitz gets Janice in the interrogation room, it's a race against time -- the boy she has imprisoned is none other than Fitz's son, Mark.
On the Homefront: Danny, Fitz's brother, makes his intentions clear. He wants Judith for his own. Judith is very moved and flattered. But Mark's abduction throws a wrench in the affair, especially after Judith overhears Fitz's true confessions about his life and wife during the suspect's Q&A.
In Annie Hall, Alvy Singer is tongue-tied, trying to find a way to tell his beloved Annie how much he loves her. But to him, the word "love" is too weak a sentiment. So he must invent a new one. Thinking quickly, he proclaims his "lurve" for her. He effuses his "luff" for her. The same goes for the G-man here, when faced with fornicating with Cracker again for the third time. New words of praise have to be devised for a show that seems to constantly redefine the genre and the dramatic standards it represents even throughout the course of a single show -- sometime within a single scene. After finishing the final three episodes (seven installments in total) of the last Series, it's a safe bet that Cracker will always be considered a classic glitch, a freak occurrence when actor, writer, and idea came together to create a supernova of a show. Even with the limited presence of teleplay titan Jimmy McGovern (responsible only for the "Brotherly Love" script) and the much-maligned one-off television special Cracker: Lucky White Ghost as part of the bonus material, after this Series 3 set Cracker becomes the greatest dramatic series this cynical DVD shite has ever seen. So this critic lurves Cracker. He luffs it. He wants to tattoo its talent on the tip of his toes and do an interpretative dance to its delights. If he were a stripper and Cracker was a customer, he'd be giving it some lap Olympics of such lusty linguistics that even the most jaded hookers would be moist with amazement. Cracker is just that good of a show, about as close to perfect as television can get without utilizing the talents of Joel Hodgson.
Looking at Cracker as a trilogy (hope you remember your lessons from the reviews of Series 1 and Series 2), Series 3 is a perfect final act. When Fitz first entered the bowels of British law enforcement, he was a behemoth bowling over the genteel formality of the process, a prickly pear cracking the criminal mind in a way never before imagined. But before Series 2, he had made a misstep, a near-fatal wrong turn, and the resulting splinter in the precipice spilled over into both his professional and his personal life. Fitz is a character filled with flaws and faults, all just waiting for a fissure to weep and seep out of. Series 2 was therefore all about upheaval, from the spiritual to the sexual and all paths in between. The mountains of madness that Fitz has had to deal with mixed with all the human errors he committed came cascading out and onto his world, permanently changing the interpersonal dynamics. Such personality shifts can't come without some residual rottenness, and the piper's bill of lading comes due in Series 3. The emotional battering you will take as a fan of Fitz and his fellow flawed friends will be intense and more satisfying than a thousand cold showers on a sweltering day.
We begin Series 3 with one of the best episodes ever, "Brotherly Love." It's a true emotional rollercoaster, with Fitz having to bury his mother while trying to tie up several loose ends revolving around the department. Between Beck's breakdown, Penhaligon's personal ordeal, and the addition of brother Danny and a jaundiced Judith, there would seem to be no room for criminality. But the prostitute murder story is equally sublime, giving Fitz a chance to show his tremendous verbal talents. "Best Boys" follows the same sensibility, using the chaos surrounding the police work to comment on and accentuate its power. The suppressed homosexual angle is handled very well (considering the ages of the platonic participants) and the ending is an "out of left field" shocker. About the only complaint one can possibly have with this excellent installment is that it marks a strange change in direction for the show, a McGovern-less desire to try and make the murders as emotionally compelling as the kitchen-sink storylines. It almost works. Still, when the result can be something as suspenseful and astounding as "True Romance," there is really not much room to grumble. Paul Abbott's amazing juggling act -- handling the vast majority of the character shifts and loose end legacies from the previous shows -- tries its best to knot it all together, and the scenes of the obsessed fan setting up her victims have a wonderful, wicked ambiance about them. Plus, "Romance" never plays it safe (not like Cracker ever did). This final episode offers an ambiguous, unclear finality to things, hinting that the anarchic world Fitz exists in, both off and on the case, is ripe for further exploration and enjoyment.
At least HBO got the hint this time around and didn't try to milk the fans out of one more purchase. Instead, the included the one-off special Cracker: Lucky White Ghost as a bonus feature -- it finishes off the box set releases in a very evocative, if holding-pattern style, manner. In this movie, Fitz is in Hong Kong on a lecture tour. When a prominent businessman is killed, the formidable foreign force is asked to help. Seems the Asian police don't believe in psychological profilers, but once Fitz figures out what is going on, they take an instant liking to him. For fans of the full Series, this stand-along movie must have been a letdown. No Penhaligon. No Judith or family furies. The only leftover from the previous pack (the movie was made a full year after the show ended) is DCI Wise, but even his blustering Brit wit is toned down here. What we get instead is a great, if somewhat standard, crime thriller set in the exotic world of the Far East. The Cracker brilliance is still in there, but it's buried in a lot of scenic showboating. Still, this critic found the final taste of Cracker as pleasing as the first, since the killer's motives are very original and the ending, again, bucks the trend to play it safe.
On the sound and vision side, we are still dealing with Series 1 and 2 presentation problems. The 1.33:1 full frame transfer has a tad too much grain and the overall levels are, perhaps, too dark. Maybe this was an artistic choice on the part of the creators, but it gives Cracker a far too murky feel. Sonically, the show is sensational. Subtle verbal cues can clearly be heard over background atmosphere, and the choice of musical accompaniment is always specific and sensational. Though the Dolby Digital stereo doesn't push the boundaries of aural antics, it's incredibly good.
And so, it ends. The best 20-plus-hour movie this critic has ever seen. Actually, one could have a near-religious, life-changing experience if one cuddled up to the TV set with all three box sets, a barrel of popcorn and a few liters of liquid refreshment, and just watched Cracker from beginning to end. Having to wait the months and weeks between release dates has been nothing but Hell, and the need for closure on many of the more cliffhanging episodes has been near impossible to endure. But the real reason for the single-day showing is to experience a true rarity in leisure activity -- the near-perfect entertainment experience. You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll be dragged to the edge of your seat and then pushed right off the chair with the overwhelming audacity of the show's storyline strategies.
While it's as repetitive as a revolver, this will be the last time it's said: Cracker is the greatest episodic crime series ever. As Fitz would say, "I drink too much, I smoke too much, I gamble too much, I am too much." You said it, Eddie. You said it.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 465 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Full-Length Feature Episode: Cracker: Lucky White Ghost