You can tell that the six-part British miniseries Thorne was adapted from crime novels, in this case written by Mark Bellingham, as the two sections, “Sleepyhead” and “Scaredy Cat”, both have the pacing and melodrama of the literary form. David Morrissey, a British television series veteran who is growing more well-known for his menacing performance as the Governor in The Walking Dead, again exhibits his impeccable acting chops as Detective Tom Thorne, but the secondary characters and even the plot lines themselves are rather unremarkable, especially by comparison.
In “Sleepyhead”, the first three episodes of the six-part series, the brooding Detective Thorne investigates the deaths of young women killed by induced strokes. One victim, Alison (Sara Lloyd-Gregory) survives, but suffers from locked-in syndrome, completely paralyzed but fully mentally aware. As Dr. Anne Coburn (Natascha McElhone) explains, “her brain works. She can hear you, she can understand everything, but she can’t move. It’s like waking up in your own coffin.” The viewer is forced to share this terrifying existence by seeing through Alison’s eyes and hearing her inner monologue, imbued by Lloyd-Gregory with a palpable frustration at her inability to communicate. But the use of voice-over, however expertly delivered, is a little overdone, and the persistent voicing of the character’s inner thoughts teeters “Sleepyhead” into the realm of melodrama.
“Sleepyhead” is still certainly the better of the two parts of Thorne, however, not only because “Scaredy Cat” suffers from a painfully predictable story of partner serial killers, whose pattern involves two concurrent murders, one cruel and violent, the other reluctant and weak, but also because this first half delves into the complex character of Thorne himself. The investigation gradually reveals itself to be deeply connected to a dark secret in Thorne’s past, the details of which are only known by his one friend, the sardonic pathologist Phil Hendricks (Aidan Gillen).
Indeed, it’s refreshing to see more of Thorne’s past, especially because we don’t learn much about his personal life besides his curious love of country music and that his aging father (Jack Shepherd) has a penchant for corny jokes that seem to exasperate his humorless son. In fact, this lack of humor also characterizes the miniseries as a whole, with only brief and limited reprieves in the form of Phil’s sarcastic remarks and the less-than-chuckle-worthy puns of Thorne’s father.
Morrissey imbues Thorne with all the tortured reticence the complex character demands, all the while attracting sympathy in spite of his imperfections. His incredible intuition as a detective is depicted in ghostly cut-scenes in which he is able to visualize the crimes themselves just by looking at their aftermath. At one point, for example, he counts under his breath as he envisions a victim being stabbed repeatedly, accurately reporting the count for how many it took before death took hold, even though the killer continued stabbing. In these scenes he is transported into the past as he coolly observes the brutality unfolding before him in distorted visions, revealing Thorne’s disturbing ability to enter the mind of the killer—a gruesome skill required of all the best crime drama investigators.
The brooding Thorne sometimes taps into this brutality housed in his thoughts and bursts into shouting fits, most notably when he viciously screams at the locked-in Alison, commanding her to find a way to communicate with them. The violence and rage this man is capable of is frightening as he yells so menacingly and fervently that spit froths from his mouth and the vacant doll-like eyes of the woman stare back helplessly. In this scene, probably the most unsettling of the entire series, Morrissey’s portrayal of Thorne is both terrifying and moving, revealing his ability to play a dangerously flawed but endearing character as he wipes away the single tear from Alison’s cheek after his shouting causes her to blink voluntarily for the first time.
The side characters pale in comparison to Morrissey’s performance, and he is decisively the driving force behind Thorne. Perhaps most surprising is Sandra Oh’s underwhelming portrayal of Sarah Chen, a passionate but wayward detective struggling to work her way up the ladder. Oh seems uncomfortable in the role, awkwardly feigning a British accent and producing a disjointed character with mixed and unclear motivations. Perhaps the unease she exhibits and instills in the viewer is simply the unfortunate result of how deeply identified she is with her character on Grey’s Anatomy, but whatever the cause, this award-winning actress seems far out of her depth.
While Thorne as a whole is nothing exceptional, Morrissey’s marvelous performance still gives the DVDs some worth, despite the lack of bonus features. Perhaps it’s the fact that Morrissey’s performance as Tom Thorne so far outshines the other characters and even the story itself that makes this miniseries seem merely adequate, and while Stephen Hopkins’ direction aptly highlights and enhances his star’s performance, it’s unfortunate that his excellence could not be matched in the other aspects of the production.