“Unsafe” is the adaptation of one of my favorite Law & Order episodes, 1993’s “American Dream.” That episode was not only well-done, but featured a great performance from Zeljko Ivanek (one of my favorite franchise guest stars), so I was expecting a lot from “Unsafe.”
The uncovering of a shallow grave that contains a badly decomposed body is the starting point for Brooks and Devlin. Thankfully, they’re able to identify the victim by his watch and the pin that was in his knee: David Ackroyd. There’s one major hitch: Steel had already convicted Luke Slade (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider‘s Iain Glen) of Ackroyd’s murder. Ronnie and Matt have to reopen Slade’s case when they realize that where they found the body isn’t where Slade’s accomplice testified that it would be, and the cause of death is completely different. When this gets out and the case is scheduled for an appeal, it’s up to the two of them to prove that Slade is still the guilty party, or risk him going free.
Needless to say, Steel is not a happy camper when he gets to start going through boxes of files to revisit his very first prosecution. He’s even more unsettled when he finds out that Slade is representing himself in court – and wants to have a friendly chat besides. The look on Ben Daniels’ face makes me believe that Steel would much rather take the man outside and hit him with something heavy. He starts to doubt himself, even as Alesha points out that she, Matt and Ronnie still believe in Slade’s guilt. The conviction is overturned, and a retrial is set, setting up a rematch that has plenty of vitriol in it and Steel’s reputation on the line.
Steel enlists Brooks and Devlin to start from the beginning, and it’s obvious where the near-decade has paid off; Matt is able to track Slade’s girlfriend’s vehicle, which the original cops never could. Forensic evidence proves that car was used to move the body, which makes Slade’s accomplice right about that part. (Although I have to giggle when Matt and DCI Chandler simultaneously inform Ronnie that “Forensicate is not a word.”) At the same time, the accomplice goes conveniently missing. Chandler suggests they interview Slade’s cellmate, and they dig up his ex-girlfriend. Awkward times are had by all, especially considering Slade was arrogant enough to write what time he’d be killing Ackroyd in his diary.
The retrial ends with a “not guilty” verdict, and Steel is obviously (and audibly) upset. Especially when he finds out Slade is trying to get him fired, adding insult to injury. Then he appears out of seemingly nowhere. The man is everywhere, like a crazed stalker. When Slade brings up Ackroyd’s daughter, Steel completely loses it in a way his American counterpart never would have dared. I love Ben Stone, but rarely did we get to see him come undone, and not with the ferocity that James Steel does.
After the confrontation, Steel understandably needs a drink. He confides in Alesha that something must have happened to the missing accomplice, and she says that after nine years in prison, there were probably plenty of friends Slade could have asked for help. Going over Slade’s prison file, she uncovers a complaint he filed on behalf of his cellmate. Steel squeezes the cellmate, who tells him who to talk to. After Law & Order: UK‘s first major foot pursuit, they find the body of the accomplice. This means a very gleeful Matt and Ronnie can arrest Slade for his accomplice’s murder. His grand plan has unraveled. Steel tells Slade that he’d better confess to both crimes, and Slade can’t believe he’s been beaten.
“Unsafe” hits many of the same high notes that “American Dream” did. Like Zeljko Ivanek before him, Iain Glen is smart and smarmy, compelling the audience to root against him; as with that episode, I really wanted to punch his character. Michael Moriarty gave a great performance in the American version, but I like Ben Daniels even better; he conveys Steel’s self-doubt and frustration perfectly, without being melodramatic. We even get to see more of Freema Agyeman as she tries to hold her boss together. While the first version was more focused on Stone, the UK version turns Steel’s fight into a team affair. As a result, the episode almost feels more complete.
Law & Order: UK continues to put itself head and shoulders above current American crime dramas. I can’t think of one that I enjoy more than this series. It’s been announced that ITV has asked for 13 more episodes, and I am excited for every one. Yes, it’s an adaptation of the American version, but damned if it isn’t done just as well, if not better. Quality television is quality television, whatever the pieces – and Law & Order: UK has all the pieces.