John Murphy (Rio Fanning) is a regular at Hartley police station. A widower with a young family of four, his fondness for a drink coupled with his inability to hold it means that he’s often to be found overnight in the cells. When he attacks his teenage daughter Maeve (Rebekah Blair), social services – in the form of Tom – are brought into the picture. It quickly becomes obvious that Jean and Tom view Murphy’s case very differently ….
Family Unit opens with a tracking shot showing a sizeable chunk of Hartley. Although it’s set up to establish a specific plot point (Jean notices smoke coming from the chimney of a house that should be empty) it helps to once again remind us of the sort of environment Hartley is.
The stuttering relationship between Jean and Joe is teased out a little more during the opening few minutes. Although they’ve been on a fairly even keel since the third episode, there does seem to be slightly more bite to their conversations here. Was this script originally planned to air earlier in the run?
Jean sends Joe out to look at the house, but doesn’t tell him why. When he radios in to query, she then suggests he walks across the street – once he does so, he spies the smoke and the penny drops. During their dialogue, Joe is the model of stolid efficiency, but there’s something about the way he pauses every so often which borders on the insolent.
Hiding in the house is a bruised and battered Maeve. Whilst Joe escorts her to the hospital, the character of Murphy is developed. It’s striking that Jean and Tom see very different sides of his character. Resident in the cells, Murphy views Jean with extreme disfavour (wondering how such a terrible woman could have snared a lovely man like Tom).
But when Tom later runs him down, he’s contrite and tearful as he explains the reason for the attack (he came home to find Maeve playing records in her bedroom with a Pakistani boy and snapped). Murphy’s racial hatred is never far from the surface – later he confides to a drinking buddy that he’s going to track the boy down and “descend on him, mangle him and give him a biblical pasting”. The irony that Murphy – as an Irishman – would also be viewed as an outsider by many isn’t overtly commentated upon, but the inference seems to be there.
We do later see Maeve’s friend (he receives a few punches from an incensed Murphy before she intervenes). But since he never speaks he serves no other purpose than to illustrate Murphy’s simmering anger. Maeve herself is similarly never really developed as a character in her own right – she exists purely to bring her father to both the police and the social sevices’ attention.
If Jean’s job sees her interact with Murphy once he’s broken the law, then Tom’s working from the opposite end. This explains why they’re on very different sides – Tom doesn’t want to see the family unit broken up and the children placed into care, whilst Jean isn’t prepared to let a potentially unstable father continue to live with them. Both, of course, are right in their own way, and this conflict helps to generate the main drama of the episode.
A little extra spice is added by the fact that Jean is concerned about the possibility that her confrontation with Tom, once it becomes public knowledge during the court hearing, might have a negative impact on her career. She worries that an enterprising newspaper reporter could spin it into an embarrassing story, thereby damaging her reputation at Headquarters. This isn’t something which shows Jean in a very good light, although as the script was written by series creator Ian Kennedy-Martin it’s not possible to argue that it’s the work of a writer unfamiliar with the series or characters. Clearly this is a side of Jean’s character that Kennedy-Martin was keen to touch upon.
Just a couple of episodes after another female office was attached to Hartley, Sergeant Margaret Cullinane (Maggie Ollerenshaw) turns up for a short transfer. She’s a very different proposition from the naïve WPC Hannah Maynard though. Experienced, confident and plain speaking, she wastes no time in telling Jean that she’s keen to take her job! Jean responds with icy politeness. Unlike Hannah in Expectations, Margaret is a fairly peripheral character, although the pair do have a brief late-night conversation in Jean’s office (this is after she’s had yet another run-in with Tom and is feeling somewhat emotionally bruised).
George Parrish might continue to play second fiddle to Joe Beck, but Noel Collins is gifted a lovely scene in which he harangues the ever-hapless Roland (Mark Drewery). Roland’s complaint that he doesn’t think it’s fair he has to make the teas and coffees for everybody (it’s not what he joined the force for, he says) is viewed with a definite lack of compassion by George. The scene is capped by George sending a severely ticked Roland out to the shops to buy some biscuits!
The court hearing is an uncomfortable experience for both Jean and Tom. Tom especially, who finds himself as the sole Social Services representative. Jean continues to paint Murphy in the worst possible light – acidly commentating, after his appearance in the witness stand, that he’s “a better actor than Laurence Olivier”.
After making an impassioned plea that he’ll never drink again or hit Maeve, it’s easy to see her point though (especially when a jubilant Murphy invites Tom to join him for a victory drink). In addition to this, the way Murphy brusquely instructs Maeve to take the other children home suggests that his contrite statements in court will prove to be worthless. Jean and Tom both witness this scene, with the inference being that Jean was in the right all along, although a more philosophical Tom is of the opinion that there were no winners, only losers.
What might happen to Murphy’s family in the future is left dangling, but from Jean’s point of view this case has damaged her relationship with Tom. “I can’t count on you 100 percent in the future, count on your 100 percent support”. Tom considers this to be a good thing though, the fact that they both have principles and are prepared to stand by them.
Rio Fanning gives a good performance, but it’s really the Jean/Tom dynamic which is the main focus of another decent series one episode.