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Series / Strike (2017)

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"You and me
Me and you
Somehow we made it through"
— "I'll Walk Beside You", opening theme

Strike (known as C.B. Strike in North America) is a British Detective Drama by the BBC based on the Cormoran Strike Novels written by J. K. Rowling under the Moustache de Plume Robert Galbraith. It tells the adventures of a war veteran turned private detective named Cormoran Strike, who with the assistance of his eager secretary Robin Ellacott, applies the experience and skills he acquired as an Special Investigation Branch investigator to solving high profile crimes in a London which have eluded the police.

The series stars Tom Burke as Strike and Holliday Grainger as Robin. Kerr Logan (Alias Grace, Game of Thrones) has a recurring role as Robin's fiance, Matthew Cunliffe, and Natasha O'Keeffe as Strike's erratic, extremely high-strung ex-girlfriend Charlotte Campbell.

The first five seasons adapted each of the Strike novels in turn:

  • The Cuckoo's Calling in Season 1 (three episodes): When supermodel Lula Landry falls to her death from her luxury apartment, the police write it off as a suicide. Her brother John Bristow believes Lula was murdered, however, and hires Strike to prove it. Guest stars included Tara Fitzgerald as Tansy Bestigui (one of Lula's neighbors) and Martin Shaw as Tony Landry, Lula's uncle.
  • The Silkworm in Season 2 (two episodes): Leonora Quine, long-suffering wife of egomanaiacal author Owen Quine, hires Strike when Quine goes missing, because she believes Owen is having another affair. When Owen turns up dead, and Leonora is arrested for his murder, Strike has to find the real killer. Tim McInnerny plays Daniel Chard, Owen Quine's publisher.
  • Career of Evil in Season 3 (two episodes): Strike receives a severed leg in the mail. The sender of the leg is a Serial Killer who is stalking Robin. Strike fears the killer may be Niall Brockbank, who basically got away with raping his daughter in a case Strike investigated in the army; or it may be Jeff Whittaker, once Strike's father-in-law, who probably got away with murdering Strike's mother. Meanwhile an unexpected revelation roils Robin and Matthew's relationship, even as their wedding approaches.
  • Lethal White (four episodes): A mentally ill young man claims to have witnessed the murder of a child when he himself was a child. Strike's investigation leads him to the family of Jasper Chiswell, a haughty aristocrat and the Minister of Culture. The investigation takes a turn when Jasper is himself murdered. Nick Blood appears as Jimmy Knight, and Adam Long as Jasper's Black Sheep son Raff.
  • Troubled Blood (four episodes): Strike is approached by a woman, Anna, whose mother, Margot Barnborough, disappeared in 1974. Robin and Strike embark on their first cold case. Fionnula Flanagan plays Oonagh Kennedy, Margot's old friend back in the day. Kenneth Cranham appears as Dennis Creed, a serial killer who is a prime suspect in Margot's disappearance.

It was first broadcast on BBC One on 27 August 2017, after receiving an advance premiere at the British Film Institute on 10 August. The series premiered on 1 June 2018 on Cinemax in the United States and on HBO in Canada. Starting with Lethal White, the series moved to HBO in the US after a corporate restructuring at Warner Media.

The series provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: In the book Career of Evil the ultimate fate of Brittany Brockbank remains a mystery, with the only thing Strike learns being that she was not the owner of the leg he received in the mail. The Lethal White TV show ends with Strike tracking down Brittany, who now lives in a hippie camp in the woods.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Book Strike is described as looking like Beethoven with a boxer's broken nose, as well as curly "pube hair". Tom Burke is considerably more handsome.
  • Adaptational Context Change: Since the subplot about Jack's appendix rupturing is cut out of Lethal White, Robin and Strike's accidental kiss gets changed in context. In the book, it happens after they say goodbye after she came to keep him company at the hospital. In the show, it happens when they have their heart to heart after Robin has a panic attack while driving.
  • Adaptational Curves: Inverted with Robin, as Holliday Grainger (while gorgeous) is nowhere near as tall and curvaceous as the character is described in the books.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: Strike himself in Lethal White, in regards to Lorelei. We're never told about his conversation with Lorelei at the beginning of their relationship in the book, in which he tells her straightforwardly that he isn't interested in a serious relationship or long-term commitment. Thus in the show he comes off as far more purposely misleading, even cruel, to Lorelei, rather than her ego and longing deluding her into thinking that her appeal to and feelings for him will change Strike to become what she desires him to be.
  • Adaptational Name Change:
    • For some reason, in The Silkworm author Michael Fancourt is named Andrew.
    • Noel Brockbank is renamed Niall in Career of Evil.
  • Adaptation Expansion: A few scenes that happened off-screen in the books are shown in the series: notably Shanker's scenes in The Cuckoo's Calling (see Early-Bird Cameo) when Strike asks him to 'borrow' and investigate a suspect's car and him reporting the results, and early in Silkworm we get to see the painfully awkward result of Robin trying to get Strike and Matthew to be friends over after-work drinks.
  • Adapted Out:
    • With some pretty long books getting boiled down to much shorter TV programs, most of the side cases get cut. Examples include "Two-Times", the guy with a weird cuckold fetish who keeps calling the agency to prove his girlfriends unfaithful, and "Tufty", the adulterous husband from the Troubled Blood novel who turns out to also be bigamous.
    • Tertiary characters adapted out of this version of The Cuckoo's Calling include John Bristow's bitchy girlfriend, Tansy Bestigui's sister Ursula May, and Briony the gossipy makeup artist.
    • The Silkworm cuts out Strike's girlfriend, who works for Roper Chard and gets him into the party; in the show Daniel Chard invites Strike and he takes Robin. It also cuts out Strike's childhood friend Dave Polworth, who helps him find a crucial piece of evidence.
    • Career of Evil cuts out the whole amputee fetish angle and with it the people from the fetish website that Strike met as part of his investigation. It also cuts out the whole plot about the killer being a Serial Killer (except for the refrigerator stuffed with ghastly trophies) and the scenes where the killer attacks other victims.
  • Age Cut: A flashback of teenaged Cormoran on the St. Mawes ferry, as his aunt and mother argue, cuts to grown-up Cormoran on that same ferry, heading back to the mainland where Robin waits.
  • Answer Cut:
    • Leonora Quine says that she can't afford to pay Strike but Owen Quine's agent Liz Tassel will. Cut to Strike in Liz's office as she says "Absolutely not. Let her find her own damn husband."
    • Margot Barnborough's daughter Anna tells Strike her mother's story, then asks if he will take the case. Cut to Robin, on a job, getting a call from Strike telling her that he's taken the Bamborough case.
  • An Arm and a Leg: What does Robin receive in the mail at the beginning of Career of Evil? A severed leg, that's what.
  • The Artifact: Career of Evil cuts out all the business about amputee fetishism, and how the unfortunate girl who got murdered wanted to cut off her own leg; in the show she's just a teenager who had "a crush" on Strike. But the camera still catches the message board that she subscribed to, and the posts where some of the users wonder if Strike did it to himself.
  • Badass Longcoat: Strike often tools around London wearing a long, dark topcoat that only serves to make him look more intimidating. The first season ends with a slow motion shot of Strike walking away as his coat billows dramatically.
  • Bikini Bar: While searching for Niall Brockbank in Career of Evil, Strike visits the typical TV Bikini Bar where the strippers wear bra and panties.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: Jasper Chiswell's marriage to Kinvara was a disaster. Then after Jasper's death an entire scene is devoted to Kinvara and her four stepchildren, demonstrating how much they all loathe each other, ending with Kinvara throwing the Chiswells out of her house. On the way out Cormoran wonders if Jasper Chiswell really did kill himself, just to get away from them.
  • Black Bra and Panties: Lula Landry is clad only in these in the first scene of the first episode, as she's pondering putting on a slinky cocktail dress. The fact that she opts for a simple sweater and jeans is subtle foreshadowing of whom she's really meeting.
  • British Brevity: The first season adapts the first three novels in the series into seven episodes of sixty minutes each. The second season was a four-episode adaptation of Lethal White.
  • Call-Back:
    • The green dress that Cormoran bought for Robin way back in The Cuckoo's Calling pops up in the first episode of Lethal White. Matthew, who knows where the dress came from and what it signifies, tells her to wear her gray dress instead.
    • In a later episode Matt tears the dress in an unsuccessful attempt to have sex with Robin, then gets it mended and gives it back to her, symbolic of how Cormoran came between the two of them.
  • Casting Gag:
    • Robert Glenister, who appears in Lethal White as Jasper Chiswell, is the reader of all the Cormoran Strike audiobooks.
    • Anna Calder-Marshall, who plays the older version of Janice Beattie (the killer) in Troubled Blood, is Tom Burke's mother.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The random reference in Season 1 to the fancy handbags with detachable linings. That's where Lula's last will and testament is hidden.
    • One single uncomfortable conversation between Robin and Sarah Shadlock in the first episode of Lethal White plants two Chekhov's Guns. Sarah points out her earrings, which will eventually be how Robin figures out that Matthew has cheated on her once again. In that same chat Sarah says that she has sold a painting by Stubbs for some twenty million pounds; that is also crucial to the climax of the story.
    • Among the items of Margot Bamborough's which Anna hands to Cormoran and Robin, knickknacks and photos and such cleared out of Margot's office in 1974, is a box of chocolates. That's how Margot was killed, by first slipping her a box of drugged chocolates.
  • Chiaroscuro: Strike's office only has two windows that seems to be on the wrong side for sunlight and he has a red neon sign in the window, thus usually bathing his office in dim, reddish light. He also largely eschews indoor lighting, using only a couple of scattered desk lamps, which adds to the effect.
  • Combat Pragmatist: At the end of The Cuckoo's Calling, Strike gets into a fight with the murderer, which is full of this. John Bristow uses the bottle of Scotch he'd brought as a gift to try and hit Strike, who dodges; Bristow then slashes at him with the now-broken bottle end and knocks him to the ground. Cormoran unfastens his prosthetic leg to escape Bristow's grip. Just then Robin comes into the outer office; while Cormoran's warning her to run, Bristow tries to hit Cormoran with the prosthetic leg and shatters the interoffice window instead. Robin then picks up the prosthetic leg and thrusts it through the broken window to hit Bristow over the head with it, sending him to the floor so that Cormoran can use his fists to beat him to a bloody pulp.
  • Continuity Nod: Izzy Chiswell, Robin and Cormoran's client in Lethal White, pops back up for one scene in Troubled Blood. The well-connected Izzy manages to get Cormoran an interview with Dennis Creed.
  • Crash-Into Hello: Strike and Robin meet for the first time when she is coming to his office as the temp just as he is breaking up with Charlotte Campbell. Strike comes bursting out of his office to catch Charlotte, crashes into Robin, and very nearly sends her on a fatal Staircase Tumble. He saves grabbing her breast.
  • Crime Reconstruction: In-Universe, when Robin learns some details about the Margot Bamborough case—like how a witness saw two people in raincoats struggling on the sidewalk—by watching a true crime documentary on YouTube with scenes labeled "Reconstruction".
  • Dead Sparks: Robin and Matthew in Lethal White. She tells him flat out that she doesn't love him anymore and she would have probably broken up with him nearly a decade ago in college if she hadn't been raped. She even says the real problem is that she doesn't care if Matthew cheated on her again.
  • Dies Wide Open: The unfortunate Rochelle Onifade in episode 1-1 when Strike comes to her apartment and finds her drowned in a bathtub.
  • Dramatic Drop: Robin in episode 3-1 when she opens up a package and finds a severed leg. She doesn't scream, but she does drop her cell phone.
  • Driven to Suicide: The adaptation of The Silkworm begins with a woman committing suicide by sticking her head in an oven. This is later revealed to be a long-ago flashback and key to the mystery
  • Drowning My Sorrows:
    • Strike gets trashed in a pub after finding out that Charlotte is getting married to Jago Ross.
    • Robin does the same in Career of Evil after finding out that Matthew cheated on her when she dropped out of college, after she was raped.
  • Dutch Angle: Used when Strike wakes up with Hangover Sensitivity in Season 1 after Drowning His Sorrows following the news that Charlotte is engaged.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Fan favorite character Shanker doesn't actually appear in the books until Career of Evil; however, his off-screen appearance in Cuckoo's Calling becomes a full-fledged scene.
  • Fan Disservice: The first bit of nudity ever seen on the show comes in Troubled Blood, in a horrifying scene where the old home movie Robin and Cormoran found turns out to be a Snuff Film of a mostly naked woman getting murdered.
  • Fatal Family Photo: Played with. Anstis shows Strike a photo of his wife and newborn son in episode 1-3, right before their truck hits the IED. However, Anstis survives the explosion, and it's the guys in the front seat who die.
  • Flashback
    • Cuckoo's Calling has a flashback to the moment in Afghanistan where Strike lost his leg.
    • The Skilkworm has a flashback to the nasty argument Strike had with Charlotte in which she claimed to be pregnant.
    • Career of Evil includes a flashback to the fateful moment where Niall Brockbank tried to swing a bottle at Strike and Strike responded with a punch to the face.
    • The season based on Troubled Blood has tons of these, as Cormoran and Robin are investigating a 40-year-old cold case, and the stories that the people from those years are telling them are illustrated in flashbacks.
  • Foreshadowing: One clever example that doesn't show up in the books: in The Cuckoo's Calling the novel, Lula Landry dies wearing a Guy Some dress. In the adaptation, she tries on and discards several glamourous designer frocks, before settling on a simple jumper and jeans. It's a clue about who she was expecting to visit her that night; not her on/off boyfriend Evan or potential suitor Deeby Mac, but someone she didn't want to look glamourous or sexy for - her long-lost half-brother.
  • Glasses Pull:
    • Liz Tassel does this in the second episode of The Silkworm when Strike confronts her about once being in love with Fancourt.
    • Janice Beattie does this at the end of Troubled Blood when she decides to stop pretending and confess to Strike. Then, after putting her glasses back on to contemplate all the pictures of her murder victims on the wall, she pulls them again to look Strike straight in the eye and say that it would have been "real special" to kill him.
  • Goth: Robin, the very picture of an English Rose and a strawberry blonde to boot, goes goth for an undercover assignment in Lethal White, complete with black wig, heavy black eyeliner, and a fake lip piercing. Strike is pretty clearly turned on when he sees her in this disguise in the office.
  • Hate Sink:
    • Noel Brockbank is an incestuous paedophilic murderer who preys on little girls. He is one of the most vile characters in Rowling's entire body of work.
    • Elizabeth Tassel is a snobbish, rude, controlling businesswoman who nobody likes and that's before we learn she is the murderer.
    • Michael Fancourt is a sexist prick who has a massive ego. His only redeeming feature is the love for his late wife (and one has to wonder if he drove her to suicide).
    • Jeff Whittaker Strike's stepdad who may have killed Strike's mother. He is extremely selfish, entitled, narcissistic and sexist. He also hates anyone more famous than him and is shown to have zero redeemable qualities.
    • Jasper Chiswell is an elitist snobbish politician who was so hated that nobody was upset when he was assassinated. He treated his daughters very badly and his one redeeming feature is his love for his equally unsympathetic son. Speaking of...
    • Freddie Chiswell was a bullying, narcissistic scumbag who strangled a teenage girl into unconsciousness, took pictures of her and posted them online, after which said girl killed herself. He was so disliked in the military that everyone suggests his own men killed him when he dies in combat. Only his father and sisters honor him, everyone else including his brother remembers him as the scumbag he was.
    • Donald Laing, a former soldier who served in the King’s Own Royal Border who went to jail for extreme domestic abuse.
  • Headbutt of Love: Tony Landry and Tansy Bestigui do this, while Strike watches from across the street, catching them in an affair.
  • Hideous Hangover Cure: In Season 3 Robin is served the typical nasty "tomato juice and raw egg" concoction.
  • Hitler Cam: Combined with P.O.V. Cam in the Season 1 flashback where Strike remembers losing his leg in Afghanistan. Strike remembers the boy who loomed above him with a gun, then looked over and saw Strike was missing a leg. The boy winked and walked away.
  • Immediate Sequel: As with the novel, the series version of Lethal White picks up within minutes of the end of Career of Evil, in the aftermath of Robin and Matthew's wedding.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Gloria Conti makes a surprise visit to the Strike detective agency. She tells Strike and Robin that "I think Margot Bamborough died because of me." Strike reacts to this bombshell by offering Gloria a drink, and she says "Something strong, please."
  • Intro Dump:
    • Almost all the characters in the adaptation of The Cuckoo's Calling are introduced to Strike and the audience when Robin shows him her printouts of everyone who attended Lula Landry's funeral. The only one who isn't is John Bristow, who has already hired Strike.
    • Everybody in Margot Bamborough's practice in Troubled Blood are introduced at once when Cormoran shows Robin and DI Layborn a group photo of the office, and then Cormoran flips the slide show to photos of Margot's husband Roy Phipps and her last patient Steve Douthwaite, and introduces them. So that's basically all the suspects except for Margot's ex-boyfriend Paul Satchwell (previously introduced when Oonagh Kennedy told her story) and Serial Killer Dennis Creed.
  • Ironic Juxtaposition: The opening montage of the first episode begins with paparazzi cameras photographing Luna Landry, and ends with crime scene cameras photographing her body.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Elizabeth Tassel is a rather cold, unpleasant person, but she isn't wrong when she says that anyone who would kill themselves over a parody, like Fancourt's wife did, shouldn't have been writing in the first place.
  • The Lestrade: DI Eric Wardle. He's not at all incompetent, just massively overloaded. When Rochelle Onifade dies, he says outright that he has six cases on his desk and doesn't have time or energy to investigate a long-time junkie's overdose. When Strike goes to him with pertinent information, though, he listens.
  • Match Cut: One scene in Season 3 cuts from a lonely country road in English farmland as our heroes are coming back from investigating Laing, to a busy road in London, along the Thames at night with the whole city lit up.
  • Mathematician's Answer: When Guy Somé rather snottily asks "What's Jonny Rokeby's son working as a private detective?", because after all Strike's father is super-rich, Strike calmly answers "Because it's his job."
  • Never Suicide: Did Lula Landry kill herself in Season 1 by jumping off the balcony of her apartment? Of course she didn't!
  • No Dead Body Poops: Discussed Trope in Lethal White. Billy claims the little girl he saw strangled wet herself. Jasper gets a harassing phone call from Jimmy Knight, in which Jimmy says "I hear they piss themselves when they die. Is that true, Chiswell?" Robin and Cormoran misunderstand the context behind that comment later. In the next episode, when Robin finds Jasper Chiswell with a bag wrapped around his head, the wet stain on his pants is an indication that he's dead.
  • Obfuscating Disability: It turns out that Donald Laing's arthritis isn't as bad as he makes out and he doesn't need that walker.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: A very interesting example, as it's done deliberately by Holliday Grainger in-universe. In Cuckoo, in several of her scenes at home with Matthew, Grainger's normal voice is replaced by Robin's childhood Yorkshire accent. In Silkworm, Robin's Yorkshire accent comes out again - only this time in a conversation with Strike about her becoming an investigator and more of a partner in the business. It signifies her initial intimacy with Matthew, and later her growing closeness with Strike. In Silkworm and Career of Evil it doesn't show up in her private conversations with Matthew, foreshadowing their growing apart.
  • Playboy Parody: In the Troubled Blood book, Margot and her friend Oonagh Kennedy were Playboy Bunnies together back in the '70s. Apparently the show didn't want to pay for the trademarks to the Playboy logo or the Playboy Bunny outfit, so instead Margot and Oonagh work at some generic cat-themed restaurant. They were what's basically the Playboy Bunny corset but with cat ears and a cat tail instead of the Playboy Bunny cottontail.
  • Precision F-Strike: Charlotte Campbell scrawled "ARSEHOLE" on the box of Strike's belongings that she sent to his office in the first episode.
  • Product Placement:
    • What search engine does Robin use to look up Cormoran Strike in the first episode? Microsoft Bing, of course!
    • Robin searches with Bing again in Career of Evil when looking up info on Leda Strike and the man who may have killed her, her scumbag husband Jeff Whittaker.
  • Pronoun Trouble: A rather awkward instance of this near the end of The Silkworm. As the gang reviews the supposed Bombyx Mori manuscript, and how it resembles the infamous 1986 parody but not the published works of Owen Quine, Strike says the minor mistakes in style are what tripped "them" up. The only reason that he says "them", of course, is that if he said "her" he'd reveal to the TV audience that the killer is Liz Tassel, one scene too early.
  • Revealing Hug: Robin's Thousand-Yard Stare, when Matt is embracing her and talking about how their wedding was the happiest day of his life, demonstrates how she is mentally checking out of their marriage. If that wasn't clear enough the scene cuts from said stare, to Robin's memory of Strike blundering into her wedding and knocking over the flowers.
  • Serial Killer: Dennis Creed, a serial killer with seven known victims, who may or may not have killed Margot Bamborough.
  • Shell-Shock Silence: Silence in the Season 1 flashback where Strike is lying on the ground after an IED in Afghanistan has blown up their jeep and cost him a leg.
  • Streetwalker: A woman on the street offers Strike a handjob for £5. This establishes that the hostel where Rochelle Onifade was staying is in a rough neighborhood. Strike doesn't purchase her services but he does pay her to help him find Rochelle.
  • Summation Gathering: Strike brings together three of the four suspects—Chard, Fancourt, and Tassel—for his reveal of the killer at the end of The Silkworm. Lampshaded by Robin who says "It's like a Bombyx Mori reunion."
  • Table Space: Robin's interview for a new job in The Cuckoo's Calling takes place with her at the end of an overlong conference table with the three people interviewing her on the other end. This isn't because the interview's intimidating—she's offered the job—but to demonstrate Robin's discomfort as she's realizing she doesn't actually want the job. She prefers to continue working for Strike.
  • Time-Shifted Actor: Most of the characters in Troubled Blood, who appear as both their 1974 selves and their 2014 selves.
  • Time Skip: A "ONE YEAR LATER" time skip after the wedding reception in the first scene of Lethal White finds Robin back at the agency, the agency with an unsatisfactory new secretary in her old job, and Strike with a girlfriend. Robin's not happy about that last part.
  • Title Drop: Jasper Chiswell idly shows Robin and Cormoran one of his paintings, that of a horse mourning a foal with "lethal white syndrome"—a disease of horses in which foals are born seemingly healthy, but with a non-functioning colon that causes them to die within a few days. This is also a Chekhov's Gun as the painting of the mare and foal turns out to be very important.
  • TV Telephone Etiquette: Lampshaded in episode 1-3 when Strike's hanging up the phone without saying goodbye stops Robin from telling him that she wants to work with him permanently.
  • The Voice: Cormoran's estranged rock star father Jonny Rokeby finally appears in Troubled Blood as a voice on the phone, asking Cormoran to come to his big party and finally revealing he has cancer.
  • Voiceover Letter: As Robin reels from discovering Jasper Chiswell's body, the camera catches a letter on the table, which voiceover reveals is a letter from Kinvara seeking a divorce.
  • Vorpal Pillow: How Janice Beattie killed Margot Bamborough back in 1974. Margot was just coming back to consciousness on the floor of the Athorns' apartment when Janice noticed, and smothered her to death with a pillow.
  • Writing Indentation Clue: Lampshaded in the first episode of Lethal White. After a disturbed young man named Billy writes down his address, then picks up the paper and takes it with him, Strike scribbles over the page beneath to get the indentation of the address.
    Robin: I didn't know people still do this.
    Strike: It's a classic.