There was a time, before Line of Duty and Unforgotten, when television execs worried that long interrogation scenes would put viewers off. Now they’re par for the course; with Criminal, Netflix built an entire series around the format, ditching all the in-between bits where we see coppers either chasing suspects, or else drinking alone in their beige flats.
Interview scenes have also cropped up in various other guises. In Too Close, the usual standoff between detective and criminal has been given a twist: we follow Dr Emma Robertson (Emily Watson, leading the Too Close cast), a forensic psychiatrist who must assess a high-profile patient, Connie (Denise Gough), who claims to have no memory of the mysterious crime she’s committed.
Emma’s role is to judge whether or not Connie is faking her amnesia, but she underestimates Connie’s unnerving ability to get under her skin.
“Well don’t you sound pleased with yourself?” Connie says within seconds of their first meeting, before picking apart Emma’s “swishy bag” and “sensible shoes”. She makes calculated, brutal guesses about Emma’s middle-class home life and the state of her marriage, right down to her “once-a-month duty f***” with her husband. (All of which prove uncomfortable truths as we follow Emma home from the psychiatric hospital.)
The comparison with Hannibal Lecter’s cruel assessments in The Silence of the Lambs was apparently discussed on set, but the interview scenes in Too Close also reminded me of a more contemporary example: Killing Eve.
In that show, Eve (Sandra Oh) also becomes unsettled by, and later sympathetic to, a mysterious murderess. Jodie Comer’s psychopathic assassin Villanelle is, in turn, obsessed with her pursuer, showing her affection by sending gifts of impeccably tailored clothes: a material example of their twisted yet growing intimacy. Eve is unnerved by Villanelle’s perfect assessment of both her sizing and also her taste in clothes. In other words, Villanelle has not only noticed Eve, but she has truly seen her.
Too Close also makes the connection between clothes and intimacy explicit by having Connie try on Emma’s jacket. The moment is fraught with a kind of sexual tension, as are the scenes where Emma (sat in the quiet of her car) listens back to her tape recordings of Connie’s personal observations.
In both Too Close and Killing Eve, there’s also a stark contrast drawn between the highly observant female criminals (Connie and Villanelle), and the female protagonists’ clueless husbands (‘Si’ in Too Close, and Nico in Killing Eve).
After her first interview with Connie, we see Emma go home and initiate sex with her husband on their glossy kitchen island. (“Is it my birthday?” he quips.) Throughout, we hear Connie’s targeted assessment of Emma’s sex life play as voiceover. And the next day, Connie immediately guesses that Emma went home to have sex after their interview – to her amused delight, and to Emma’s clear mortification.
In Killing Eve, the way the two female leads closely (often covertly) observe each other is stressed. The same is the case in Too Close.
Flashbacks to Connie’s own middle-class idyll (the press have dubbed her the ‘yummy mummy monster’) reveal her obsession with her new neighbour and friend, Ness: a beautiful woman in a seemingly happy lesbian relationship, but who immediately begins imitating Connie, copying her delicate tattoos and her exact Jo Malone perfume.
Recalling the incidents, Connie reflects that she felt robbed of her identity – but also flattered. She felt truly, uncomfortably seen by Ness. Again and again, the female gaze is stressed. Ness closely observes her in the same way Connie later observes Emma.
And in turn, Emma immediately understands why Connie would be so upset that her friend copied her perfume – something that perhaps a male detective would not quite have understood in the same way.
Speaking at a press event, Emily Watson reflected on how different Too Close would have been if her character, Emma, had been a man. “It would have gone down a much more conventional route,” she said. “Two women are able to reflect each other’s experience in a way that’s a really, you know, a really creative thing.”
She continued: “If it had been a man and a woman, it just would have been a different thing, I think. And… the conventional chemistry of most dramas is a man and a woman.”
Watching episode one, I found myself almost ambivalent about whether or not Connie committed her heinous crime. I was far more interested in the meetings between Dr Emma and Connie, which by the end of the episode felt less like interrogation scenes – and more like a dance.