Law & Order: UK 1.02 “Unloved” Review

This week’s Law & Order: UK is an adaptation of one of my favorite Law & Order episodes, “Born Bad.” As the original title suggests, it poses the question of if we’re genetically predisposed to be good or evil. The subject of genetic predisposition to anything is likely to be argued for years to come, which makes seeing this plot 17 years later no less intriguing.

When the dead body of Danny Jackson is found by a local reverend, there’s no shortage of suspects – whether it’s his drug-addicted mother, her abusive ex-boyfriend, or local gangs. However, the investigation leads Ronnie and Matt to an even more disturbing source: one of the boy’s young friends, Jonathan Blake. When the Crown Prosecutor charges the thirteen-year-old with murder, the defense attorney (an old girlfriend of Steel’s played by Dervla Kirwan, whom Spooks fans may know as the better half of star Rupert Penry-Jones) argues that DNA made him do it. While it seems ludicrous, by the end even Jonathan believes he might be evil. He’s motivated to plead guilty to Danny’s murder, for better or for worse.

The highlight of this series for me has to be Jamie Bamber, whose Matt Devlin is equal parts ridiculously charming and believably dedicated, with subtle hints at a more complex character than the narrative will allow. Matt’s let off his leash here, and it’s cracking to watch. Bamber’s ably partnered with the veteran Bradley Walsh, who’s been compared to Jerry Orbach – a comparison that would rankle if both weren’t very good in their well-worn roles. There’s a marvelous scene in this episode where Ronnie must break the news of Danny’s death to his mother, while Matt waits outside; there’s not a word of dialogue, but the acting from Walsh and the reacting from Bamber is so good that it’s greatly painful and poignant.

Ben Daniels also gets some great material to sink into, and it has little to do with his character’s past affair with opposing counsel, but more Steel having to probe and struggle with the idea of genetic predisposition, not unlike the audience. He carries it well, his performance more interesting to watch than either of his current American counterparts. There’s not ever going to be a Law & Order DA on the level of Linus Roache again, but Daniels is the next best thing. Kirwan turns in a great guest star performance as his opposite number, who realizes too late that her idea of a defense has broken her defendant, motivating a touching scene in which Steel visits Jonathan in prison, literally pleading for the boy to let them help him.

Law & Order: UK remains head and shoulders over its stateside counterpart, Los Angeles. It’s ironic that as the American juggernaut fades (with that dismal spinoff and Criminal Intent coming to a close), the British spinoff is on the rise – and deservedly so. Law & Order: UK is must-see television, from the first frame to the last. It’s Law & Order as it was meant to be.

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