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Series / Marcella

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Marcella is a British crime-noir detective series starring Anna Friel as DS Marcella Backland. After having left for a 7 year maternity break, Marcella returns to the Murder Squad of the Metropolitan Police when she learns that a serial killer she once investigated may have returned. Meanwhile, she attempts to manage a turbulent home life with her estranged husband and two children, all while coping with a mysterious condition causing her to black out and unknowingly commit violent acts.

The series is written, directed, and produced by Hans Rosenfeldt, creator of The Bridge. It also stars Nicholas Pinnock as Jason Backland, Ray Panthaki as DI Rav Singha, Jamie Bamber as DI/DCI Tim Williamson, and Jack Doolan as DC Mark Travis. In series 1, Nina Sosanya also stars as DCI Laura Porter and Charlie Covell as DC Alex Dier. Sophia Brown joins the main cast in series 2 as DC Leanne Hunter.

The first series premiered on 4 April 2016, the second on 19 February 2018, and the third on 14 June 2020. It is also available on Netflix.

Tropes Included:

  • Alone with the Psycho: Jason confronts Henry Gibson in his home when Marcella lets slip that he murdered Grace. Followed soon by Marcella, who follows him to the apartment. Again in series 2 when Edward is visited at home by Phil Dawkins, who seeks retaliation against Marcella for indirectly causing his wife to have a miscarriage after she tips off the press about the accusations against him.
  • Amnesiac Protagonist Catalyst: The show pulls a Bait-and-Switch with this trope. Marcella has blackouts that make her sporadically very violent. She fears that she may have killed her soon-to-be-ex husband Jason's mistress, Grace, during one of these blackouts and goes to great lengths to cover up her involvement. Grace was actually murdered by a serial killer and it was nothing to do with Marcella. However, in Season 2, Marcella comes to worry that her son is a psychopath who may have murdered his younger sister, causing her amnesia. She eventually learns that she killed her baby daughter, albeit accidentally, and that was what caused her amnesiac blackouts.
  • Actor Allusion: You may recall, this isn't the first time Jamie Bamber has played a British detective.
  • Awful Truth: Marcella accidentally suffocated her infant daughter, Juliet, while trying to quiet her. She has a full-on mental breakdown when she recovers the memory, and is almost Driven to Suicide.
  • Ax-Crazy: Marcella is a rare heroic example. She has a tendency to black out and do violent things she can't recall later on. It's later referred to as dissociative amnesia. She doesn't usually want to hurt people but loses control of herself during blackouts. She spends a lot of Series 1 believing she may have murdered someone. She didn't but she did shift the body for reasons unclear to her and nearly kills the real murderer.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality:
    • The good guys: Marcella - a Cowboy Cop who is extremely violent and entwined in every case; Jason (sometimes) - a corrupt cheater who gaslights and manipulates Marcella. Corrupt businesspeople.
    • The bad guys: sadistic serial killers.
  • British Brevity: Each series is 8 episodes long.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The DNA switch Marcella does in Series 1 comes back in Series 2 when that woman dies in a fire.
  • Cop Killer: Combined with Murder-Suicide and Character Death. Nigel becomes despondent when the police find Rosio dead, and shoots Mark, then himself.
  • Cowboy Cop: Marcella to a T, of the Hot-Blooded variety. She antagonizes suspects, tampers with evidence, and generally disobeys her superiors in order to pursue the perp on her own. Despite this, her superiors still believe she is a great detective.
  • Creepy Child: The killer of series 2 targets children who display violent tendencies, including Adam (who is quiet and draws bloody pictures depicting murder) and Edward (who, after dealing with the trauma of leaving his friend to be kidnapped and murdered, kills his own pet mouse and displays antisocial behaviors to his girlfriend).
  • Dead Man's Chest: Happens to May when the killer kidnaps her and leaves her body in the trunk of a car.
  • Detective Mole: Part of the suspense in series 1 is due to Marcella's suspicion that she murdered Grace during one of her blackouts. As a result, she tampers with evidence to hide her involvement...even though it turns out that Henry killed Grace and Marcella merely moved the body after waking up and finding Grace dead.
  • Dirty Harriet: Marcella. See Cowboy Cop.
  • Divorce Assets Conflict: This drives the conflict between Marcella and Jason in series 2 when Jason plans on moving to Singapore with his new fiancee and the children. He even uses Marcella's condition against her and gaslights her to threaten her into giving him sole custody.
  • "Eureka!" Moment:
    • Marcella finds evidence to incriminate Henry when she sees in a video that May bit her kidnapper, and Henry has bite marks on the same shoulder.
    • Happens again when Marcella realizes the Series 2 killer is a woman based on drag marks, the motive, and witness statements.
  • Evil Counterpart:
    • In Series 1, Peter Cullen who murdered his wife after she cheated on and left him, to Marcella, who is distraught and aggressive over Jason's affair with Grace.
    • In Series 2, Jane Colletti, the Big Bad, to Marcella again. She murders children who she thinks will turn out violent and abusive, which is exactly the problem Marcella is struggling with about her son, Edward.
  • Faked Kidnapping: Karim works with Eric to fake his kidnapping in order to extort money from Vince Whitman.
  • Faking the Dead: The woman who Marcella paid to hide her own DNA from the system during the investigation into Grace's murder was dies in a fire, resulting in Marcella being legally dead.
  • Four Lines, All Waiting: The format of each series follows the investigation itself, Marcella's personal conflicts, and a few of the secondary characters' lives.
  • Frame-Up: Vince finds out that his wife Maya was planning to frame him for embezzlement. He blackmails her into staying with him, and they instead use the documents to frame Tim, who was both sleeping with Maya and the chairman of her foundation.
  • Gaslighting: In order to gain custody of the kids, Jason injures himself in front of Marcella during one of her blackouts knowing that she will forget what happened and assume that she attacked him.
  • Glasgow Grin: Marcella gives herself one during the series 2 finale, after remembering that she suffocated her infant Juliet while trying to quiet her.
  • How We Got Here: Series 2 opens with Marcella's attempted suicide and then rewinds back to 12 days before.
  • Impersonating an Officer: Phil Dawkins does this in order to convince Edward to let him into Marcella's home.
  • Insane Equals Violent: Marcella has dissociative amnesia, and although she isn't the killer in either series, but she is extremely violent, hitting Jason and attacking Grace.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Rav talks Marcella down from leaping off the roof of the station when she finds out she accidentally murdered her own infant daughter.
  • Let Me at Him!: Marcella lunges for Phil Dawkins after officers escort him away when he assaults her son in her home in retaliation against her.
  • Mama Bear: Marcella, full stop. Kicks in full throttle when she believes her children are in danger, such as when she pulls Becky from her car and punches her when she believes she is kidnapping Edward, and when she rescues Edward from being lobotomized by Jane Colletti.
  • Motive Misidentification: At first, the police believe that the tokens the killer leaves in children's bodies are meant to keep evil out. But further research by their university consult reveals that the symbols are meant to keep evil in.
  • Mugging the Monster: Jason attacks Henry for murdering Grace, without realizing that he was the serial killer all along. He gets stabbed for this.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Series 2 features Vince Whitman, a businessman who arrives at work in his personal helicopter and engages in shady employment practices, including exploiting teenagers as a source of cheap labour and using "zero hours" contracts (employees on these types of contract only get paid when they're told work is available) for older employees. This is extremely similar to British businessman Mike Ashley, founder of Frasers Group plc who also travelled to his workplaces by helicopter and who's company notoriously underpaid employees and was found to have breached employment law multiple times.
  • Old Cop, Young Cop: The dynamic between Marcella and Leanne, who constantly butt heads. Tim even says that Leanne was Marcella ten years ago.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: The root of many of Marcella's issues and the reason she was on leave for years is due to the death of her baby daughter from SIDS. Marcella's mental issues began after Juliet died and she struggles to remember what happened that night. It's also a contributing factor in Jason deciding to divorce Marcella, as he wants to move on.
  • Predatory Prostitute: Downplayed. Series 1 has Cara, a young cam girl and sex worker who steals money and valuables from her clients while outwardly being very charming. While unethical, she didn't deserve to be murdered by a serial killer, and she's a rare example of this trope co-existing with Hooker with a Heart of Gold, as she is shown to be a good and loving friend, just not to her clients.
  • Pronouncing My Name for You: "Marcella" isn't pronounced "Mar-sell-ah", but "Mar-chella", as she points out to a suspect in Series 1.
  • Right Under Their Noses: The killer in Series 2 turns out to have hidden a body of one of their victims right inside the police station, inside the maintenance compartment of an elevator shaft.
  • Serial Killer: The culprits in both series. The first series' killer is Hedonistic while the second series' is Mission-Based.
  • Serial Killings, Specific Target: The series 1 killer is this. Henry Gibson only intended to kill Grace but covers it up by killing others to impersonate the plastic bag killer.
  • Sex with the Ex: Marcella and Jason have sex once after their separation.
  • The Smart Guy: Mark is the resident computer expert and researcher for the force.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Series 2 puts a lot of effort into suggesting that Marcella's son, Edward, or Jason killed baby Juliet. It turns out she killed Juliet, albeit accidentally.
  • Trauma Button: Marcella's is children, specifically when children are in danger or involved in a case.
  • Traumatic Haircut: Marcella gives herself one during her mental breakdown during the series 2 finale.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Marcella is called out multiple times on her behaviour by numerous people, unfortunately she mostly either shrugs off the criticism or argues that the results justify her actions. At the end of season 2 she finally seems to have realised that she can't always get away with her actions and leaves her old life behind entirely.
  • Woman Scorned: Marcella does not react well to the revelation that both Jason and Tim cheated on her. In the former's case, she vandalizes his car with a crowbar. In the latter's, she leaks information to a media site that Tim asked the team to stay silent about.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The killer in series 1 kidnaps and murders May. In series 2, this is the part of the killer's MO, as part of their Eviler than Thou comparison with Marcella.
  • You Are Too Late: When the police attempt to contact the killer in order to rescue Rosio. They find her dead on a rooftop across from the discussed meeting point, with the kidnapper gone.
  • You Leave Him Alone!: Marcella finds Jane Colletti after she has kidnapped her son Edward, just as she is about to lobotomise him. Marcella responds by taking Colletti's own daughter hostage at knifepoint and demanding with white-hot fury she gets away from her son.