Monday, May 6, 2013

Am I the only one watching The Bletchley Circle?

I suspect I might be. And that's a shame. This series was originally produced for ITV, which is, to the
best of my Wikipedia, the British version of PBS. It's been airing on PBS (motto: "The British version of everything is better") in three parts, the third of which aired last night.*

The premise is thus: Four women who worked as codebreakers at Bletchley Park (like Downton Abbey but much, much smaller and wartorn) during WWII team up nine years later to solve a series of brutal murders in London, using the very mathematical and logical skills that they employed during the war. These women have been largely reabsorbed into civilian (i.e., domestic; i.e., patriarchal) life since the '40s, and additionally, they are unable to tell anyone, including their husbands, about their wartime service. Susan, the ringleader and pattern-finder, has a husband who thinks she's merely "the devil at the cryptogram." The other members of the "Circle" consist of Lucy, an ingenue with a photographic memory, who has married an abusive troglodyte; Jean, the former supervisor whose work as a librarian speaks to her uncanny ability to get information; and Millie, a progressive proto-feminist whose economic circumstances caused her to curtail her world travels and work as a waitress. The series manages to riff on post-war "getting the gang back together" movies, detective fiction, and procedural dramas, all with a feminist twist.

The serial killer is chilling, but what I find most compelling about this series is the way it argues for the pervasiveness of all sorts of emotional and physical threats against women in the post-war world. In addition to the domestic battery that Lucy endures, Millie is sexually harassed and Susan's aspirations to think are kindly, but firmly, dismissed by her husband. The Bletchley Circle argues that disregarding women in small ways creates a climate where it is more likely, if never excusable, that a sick man views women not as humans at all, but rather as playthings he can torture and violate while calmly smoking a cigarette.

In addition to the smart gender stuff, the clothes are fabulous. If you've missed this little bit of British methadone to the heroin of Downton Abbey, it's available on DVD!

* And I have NOT watched yet, so if I'm wrong and everyone on the planet has been watching this series, please spoil not.

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