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Series / Wire in the Blood

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Wire in the Blood was a British crime thriller series, based on the ''Tony Hill'' novel series by Val Mc Dermid, that ran for six seasons from 2002 to 2008 on ITV. The central character is an eccentric clinical psychologist named Tony Hill (played by Robson Green). Tony has such great insight into the minds of the criminals that he often seems sympathetic to them. He is able to mentally become the killer for the purposes of catching him.

There is often tension between Tony and members of the police in the fictional town of Bradfield: Many don't trust his methods, others are put off by his manner. Sometimes Tony himself manages to get himself suspected of a major crime.

Tony is paired with DCI Carol Jordan in seasons 1-3, and Detective Alex Fielding in 4. Both women command the Major Incident Team and act as something of a foil to Tony's flights of deductive imagination. There is an ongoing low-boil romantic tension between him and both women.

The crimes in the show are high-level horror: The investigation of the killer's mental world is prolonged and exacting. The tortures, mutilations and murders are often viscerally sadistic and have a twisted sexual element. They are depicted with meticulous realism, yet depend on the imagination of the viewer to provide the worst elements.

Unlike most television dramas, which run at 44 minutes per episode, Wire in the Blood runs at 90 minutes per episode. Given the immense detail used in the stories, the show simply wouldn't work with shorter episodes.

The series was cancelled in 2009 due to ITV's financial troubles.

Book-only tropes go on the book page.

The series contains examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: Tony and Carol's Unresolved Sexual Tension in the series.
  • Abled in the Adaptation:
    • In the book, Jacko Vance had one arm due to a car accident decades previously, and he crushed the right arms of his victims as a result. This doesn't happen in the series, and he has both arms.
    • Tony is impotent in The Mermaids Singing and his struggle with erectile dysfunction gets mentioned occasionally in later books, but is completely Adapted Out of the series.
  • Absent-Minded Professor: Tony, who takes this archetype and runs with it.
  • Adaptational Modesty: Tony is impotent in the first book, which is how he meets Angelica. Although it receives much less emphasis later on, it still remains part of his character, which is Adapted Out in the series.
  • Adaptational Villainy: An interesting inversion... the show was an adaptation of Val McDermid's book series, with many changes along the way. Perhaps the biggest was the elimination of the Carol Jordan character when Hermione Norris decided to leave the show. She was replaced with Simone Lahib's Alex Fielding, who became the new heroine/ co-lead for the remainder of the TV series. However, after the TV series ended in 2008, McDermid introduced Alex Fielding into the books in 2013's Cross and Burn... this Alex Fielding looks and sounds like the TV version, but is a completely awful person, and a major antagonist in the book, even believing Tony is a killer and arresting him.
  • Alone with the Psycho: Tony ends up alone with serial killers several times. These highly-charged scenes see the physical edge of the serial killer set off against Tony's intelligence and his weaponized empathy.
  • Anonymous Public Phone Call: Props up a few times, especially when dealing with killers who like to taunt the police:
    • "Still She Cries" the Serial Rapist calls to the police to taunt them after abducting each victim which keeps being traced back to payphones in which he leaves a naked barbie doll. As the episode attempts to track keep getting harder with the rapist somehow managing to keep moving around undetected and the police always arriving just to late no matter how close they are. Until they eventually get their mid call and discover the box is empty. It eventually transpires that the rapist is a phone company engineer who's really been simply tapping into the phone lines to make the calls.
    • The Bradfield Sniper from "Synchronicity" calls the police twice during his killing spree, first to mock them about never being able to stop him, next to demand an enormous ransom (which he doesn't even intend to collect its just a distraction whilst he kills someone else), with both calls being traced back to payphones on different sides of town.
  • Bald of Evil: Peter Vancliff in "Nocebo."
  • Benevolent Boss: Brandon in seasons 1 and 2. Carol becomes one upon her promotion to DCI.
  • Big Secret: Often a suspect in an investigation has a Dark Secret, usually something deeply personal or that they don't want to share with the police, sometimes completely unrelated to the crime at hand. Typically Tony will be busy into uncovering it when he realizes the real game is miles away and about to go bad.
  • Bondage Is Bad: When bondage is addressed, it will be associated with debauchery at best, and with torture, madness and murder at worst. Surprisingly, this isn't because the bondage or BDSM is approached as something bad or unnatural... it's just that somehow it always ends up being used in ugly ways.
    • For example, in one episode a killer uses BDSM as a smokescreen to kidnap, imprison, abuse, rape and finally kill his victims - all of whom seemed to be amateur enthusiasts who didn't understand the lifestyle and hence could be manipulated.
  • Brains and Brawn / Odd Couple: Tony and Carol. The tiny blonde will kick your ass, and the unassuming professor type will kill you with his brain.
  • Break the Cutie: Tony in "The Mermaids Singing" (both book and show).
  • Break Them by Talking: Tony excels at this.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Tony weirds people out, but he gets results! Tony doesn't really understand or care about social niceties and will do whatever it takes to get into the heads of serial killers.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Tony, who likes to visit reality only when it fascinates him. Expect him to get distracted by a stray thought.
  • The Coroner: Vernon.
  • Death Equals Redemption: Occurs with Maggie Thomas in "Still She Cries". Maggie talks to Tony and helps him with cases because she's obsessed with him and thinks he's in love with her, but she reveals that as she's beginning to regret what she did in killing those people, she's starting to become tormented by their voices. She commits suicide, but uses her final moments to draw Tony a map with her own blood of where he'll find the bodies of her victims.
  • Demonic Head Shake: A hospital orderly appears like this in the cold open of 'Torment', to establish Derek Tyler's insanity.
  • Dirty Cop: Plays with the trope in regards to DS Kevin Matthews/Geoffries. In "The Mermaids Singing", Kevin is sleeping with a reporter and leaking case details to her. Both the books and the show deal with his betrayal and his path of returning to Carol's good graces.
  • Enemy Mine: In "Justice Painted Blind", Maggie Thomas teams up with Tony to catch a serial killer.
  • Evil Counterpart: Mack the Knife from "Bad Seed" is basically evil!Tony.
  • Exposition Victim: Tony is the very worst at this. When he gets cornered by a psychotic killer about to torture him to death, his first priority seems to be figuring out why, rather than trying to defend himself. That this is completely in-character for Tony, of all people, makes this a rather unconventional use of this trope. The fact that questioning the killer, getting into their head and manipulating them is the one way Tony is likely to survive gives us quite a few Moments Of Awesome.
  • Expy: The cannibal psychiatrist from the final series seems to be an Expy of Hannibal Lecter.
    • Taking the police to a lonely, bleak, desolate moor in order to help them locate the bodies of her five victims? Maggie Thomas gives off a serious Myra Hindley vibe.
  • Foil: The women in Tony's life tend to serve as both Greek chorus and conscience to him, as well as highlighting his darker flaws. His scenes with Carol and Alex, as well as Angelica, Maggie, Laura, and Kate, all serve to contrast him with them.
  • Forensic Drama: Uncovering forensic evidence often sets up elements of the plot.
  • Friendly Enemy: Tony actually stays cordial with a few of the serial killers he has put away; most notably Maggie Thomas and Angelica Bain. He goes to chat with them whenever he is feeling stumped about a case.
  • Gay Cruising: The opening two-parter "The Mermaids Singing" has a serial killer apparently preying on closeted gay men and dumping their bodies in cruising spots. This leads the police to put Don undercover as a cruiser to try and see what the world on the street is. While cruising is depicted, it is actually a misdirection by the real killer, a gay man who "believes" he's a woman and sexually tortures straight men.
  • Ghost Extras: The Major Incident Team is quite big, but only six or so of them speak regularly. The other cops keep firmly stum.
  • Hannibal Lecture: Killers are given unusually long periods of screentime to give speeches on their worldview.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Tony has acknowledged he has reached this point, though in "Bad Seed", Carol worries she's becoming one as well.
  • Identification by Dental Records: Necessitated by the gruesome nature of some killings.
  • Indirect Serial Killer:
    • "Bad Seed" see's Tony facing up against William McAdams aka Mack The Knife, a budding serial killer back in the seventies who was caught after disembowelling two women, and has been recently released as he's supposedly cured. In reality, Mack is just as evil as ever, and now unable to carry out his own murders has found a vulnerable young man who is convinced is his son, and is using him to carry on his killing spree.
    • "Torment" is an adaptation of the book, The Torment of Others, and as such shares the same killer: Jan Shields, the police officer who manipulates and brainwashes weak-willed and mentally ill men into brutally torturing and then killing prostitutes. The killer is given a Freudian Excuse, though: she murders by proxy because she herself was raped as a teenager and she demands the men enact the crime that was done to her.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Tony, all over.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: When crimes go into other jurisdictions, you can imagine how well a maverick like Tony goes over. Carol — and later Alex — both encounter internal Jurisdiction Friction from ACC's Brandon and Eden. In "Nothing But the Night", Carol sticks her foot in it when she tells off Yorkshire CID's DCI.
  • Just Between You and Me: happens occasionally, usually when the killer feels the need to brag or let the victim know exactly how he's going to suffer. Notably in "right to silence" Tony turns this into an Engineered Public Confession.
  • The Killer Was Left-Handed: Often. The standard Wire In The Blood killer would be an impotent left-hander.
  • Left Hanging: While the last episode ends on a somewhat fitting climax, namely: Tony killing his Arch-Enemy, Michael, in self-defense, a lot of tension is still unresolved since killing someone has been Tony's biggest fantasy, and the fact that he has fulfilled it would certainly have some severe consequences for him. It is very unlikely that we will ever know what these consequences would turn to be.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: Subverted in the series, played straight by the books, where Tony is impotent. It receives a Shout-Out in Still She Cries when Laura, who really wants Tony, tries to have sex with a man at uni who turns out to be the killer and can't get it up.
  • Loud of War: Tony's paranoid neighbour played loud music all night as a way of getting back at Tony.
  • Mama Bear: Alex (with her son, Ben) and Carol (with her team).
  • Married to the Job: Carol.
  • Murder By Proxy: "Bad Seed" involves Tony dealing with a series of murders by mutilation that he suspects is the work of William McAdams aka Mack The Knife, a budding killer back in the seventies who's now supposedly been cured. However, McAdams has an alibi for each murder. As Tony discovers, McAdams has secretly been in communication with a vulnerable youth whom he's convinced is his son, and is using him to carry out the murders.
  • Murderer P.O.V.: One way for the show to start seeing the murder from the murderer's point of view. Alternatively we get to see a highly significant but cryptic action taken just before or just after.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Angelica Bane.
  • Necro Cam: Sometimes, when Tony is doing The Summation and has revealed the guilty party, we will get a Flash Back of the crime being committed, this time with the perpetrator in shot, showing how they did it.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Val Mc Dermid confirmed that Jack Vance, a beloved TV personality and charity fundraiser who also tortures, molests and murders under-age girls, was based on Jimmy Savile, whom she interviewed during her tenure as a journalist in 1977 and found him deeply unsettling.
  • No Social Skills. Sometimes Tony acts as if he lacks all social skills, particularly when he's preoccupied. Even at his best he gives the impression that ordinary social interaction is something he has written a paper on: he knows what it looks like but not what it is.
  • Nothing Nice About Sugar and Spice: Angelica Bain, the killer in "The Mermaids Singing", is a pre-op MtF transperson, but everybody treats her like a gay man. However, her house is a nightmarish pink blur, she is a prostitute and erotic caller who lets her victims get Aroused by Their Voice, and she dresses up in fetish wear to torture and kill her victims.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Tony is cleared of the crimes he's suspected of, but he's weird enough that everyone suspects he could be guilty. Mack the Knife in "Bad Seed" points out that Tony really isn't all that different from "the nutters he studies".
  • Oop North: Of course. Fulfils this trope by being extremely bleak, violent, deprived, and unsafe.
  • Predatory Prostitute: "The Mermaids Singing" adapts out Angelica having prostituted herself pre-transition, but keeps that she was a phone sex operator and that was how she met her victims.
  • The Profiler: Tony.
  • Put on a Bus: People tend to get mysteriously reassigned on this show.
    • Annie Reiss between seasons one and two.
    • Don Merrick between seasons two and three.
    • Carol Jordan between seasons three and four.
  • Rape Leads to Insanity: All mention of Jan from "Torment" (The Torment of Others in book form) being a Psycho Lesbian is excised from the TV adaptation. She's given a Freudian Excuse of having been raped when she was a teenager, which she repeatedly and sadistically recreates.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The sniper in the 2005 episode 'Synchronicity' is clearly based on the 2002 D.C./Beltway sniper shootings, down to leaving playing cards at the scenes of the shootings.
  • Room Full of Crazy: Towards the end of these movie-length episodes it is fairly common to unearth a Room Full of Crazy that synergizes in with the other horror elements and often redirects the team's attention towards a left-field suspect. It also usually implies someone known to the team is in great danger of being the next target.
  • Scare Chord: Constantly. Don't turn your sound up too high while watching this show.
  • Serial Killer: Visionary, vigilante, hedonistic, power-needy and more.
  • Serial Killer Baiting: In "Torment" the team is looking at an utterly bizarre case of murders involving prostitutes being bled to death that exactly resembles a previous killing spree committed by a convicted mental patient. In an attempt to be proactive DC Paula McIntyre volunteers to pose as a prostitute hoping to bait the killer. Unfortunately it goes horribly wrong and ends with the killer somehow abducting Paula as in reality both killing sprees are being masterminded by Vice Officer DI Shields who knew all the details of the sting.
  • Sex Is Evil: Bedrock assumption for setting the mood.
  • Shown Their Work: the realistic aspect to the psychology and criminology is stunning.
  • Spared by the Adaptation:
    • Angelica dies in the book but lives in the show.
    • So does Donna, Jacko Vance's most recent victim in The Wire In The Blood.
  • Start of Darkness: Explored in some detail and often key to cracking the case.
  • Student/Teacher Romance: Laura wants one with Tony in "Still She Cries." Tony of course, is completely oblivious until it blows up in his face.
  • Talking to the Dead: Tony does a lot of this. It can be exceptionally unnerving when the in-world visuals seamlessly drift into what Tony is seeing and who he is talking to.
  • To Know Him, I Must Become Him: Tony goes way beyond dry analysis to a form of channelling, and there are even scenes where he imagines himself killing — these scenes are emblematic of the series.
  • Torture for Fun and Information: Tony, of all people, in "Synchronicity". He convinces a suspect that porridge and jam from the canteen in a plastic bag is actually human brain tissue, and makes the kid vomit. Clearly, the kid is not their sniper.
  • Trans Equals Gay: Angelica Bain, the killer in "The Mermaids Singing", is 'revealed' to be a gay man who wishes to change genders to have a straight relationship.
  • Truth in Television: All over the place when it comes to the crimes themselves, particularly the psychology and profiling of the serial killers, which is almost brutally accurate - sometimes even to Reality Is Unrealistic lengths.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Tony and Carol.
  • Unsettling Gender-Reveal: Angelica Bain, the killer of 'The Mermaids Singing', is believed to be a man. When she holds Tony hostage, she's revealed to be a pre-op Mt F transperson. Tony believes she's actually a Depraved Homosexual man, but she's played as a deeply disturbing sadist, and Sissy Villain.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Carol gives Tony hell in "Bad Seed" for withholding information that almost got a team member killed and might lead to their killer committing suicide.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Of course Tony gets this, especially considering how he immerses himself in the minds of violent killers.
  • Who's Laughing Now?: Killers get their hands on the cops that are hunting them, leading to such scenes.
  • Vomiting Cop: Tony gets a variation.