‘Grantchester’ Season 6 Premiere: A ‘Merries’ Holiday Turns Murderous (RECAP)
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the Grantchester Season 6 premiere.]
Lots of television shows made fewer episodes during the pandemic, but not the popular PBS historical mystery series Grantchester. It increased in volume, producing eight installments for its sixth season instead of the usual six.
The success of this compassionate, but not quite cozy, show about a veteran police detective and a young vicar who solve murders and soothe troubled souls is a testament to the onscreen chemistry between stars Robson Green and Tom Brittney as well as the work of the entire ensemble and series creator, executive producer and head writer Daisy Coulam. In the charming yet foreboding season premiere, set in 1958, Coulam sends her characters away from the titular English village for a summer frolic at a holiday park called Merries.
It’s a playful scenario more than a little reminiscent of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Season 2 trip to the Catskills. Hopefully, no one back in Grantchester will need spiritual counseling since the whole vicarage is on holiday: busy-as-a-bee reverend Will Davenport (Brittney), curate Leonard Finch (Al Weaver) and even housekeeper Mrs. Chapman (Tessa Peake-Jones) with her husband Jack (Nick Brimble). Who the dickens is looking after poor pooch Dickens?!
Inspector Geordie Keating (Green), a reluctant holiday-maker, is there with wife Cathy (Kacey Ainsworth) and their kids. Even Leonard’s boyfriend Daniel (Oliver Dimsdale) has come along, although due to the times they’re living in, they’re officially staying in different cabins. (Unofficially, it’s a different story.)
Let the forced cheerfulness commence! Will has no problem shedding his collar, pulling on some jeans, and having a go at hula-hooping. Geordie, on the other hand, wears his usual brown suit even on vacation. Maybe he loosened his tie a bit.
But it’s Leonard who wins the award for chief grump. “If someone has to tell you something’s fun, it generally isn’t,” harps the man who brought along a Maxim Gorky book to read.
Then again, a tome by a Russian Marxist may be more stimulating than the stand-up act delivered that evening by Merries proprietor Roy Reeves (Andy Nyman), which borrows heavily from the Henny Youngman playbook. Sample joke: “I had my checkbook stolen the other day. I didn’t report it to the police. The thief spent less than the wife.”
OK, I admit I chuckled at that. Still, it’s no great loss to comedy when Roy’s body is discovered the next morning in the same ballroom where he performed his routines. So much for Will and Geordie’s R&R! The two waste little time inserting themselves into the investigation. Good thing, too, because the local detective is ready to write it off as death by natural causes because Roy had a bad heart. But Geordie and Will find dirt — literally, in this instance — indicating he was dragged, and an empty vial of painkiller lidocaine.
They sneak into Roy’s office and discover a large collection of compromising photos. It seems Roy was getting female employees to seduce Merries’ male guests, photographing them and then blackmailing the men. And they see two familiar faces among the pics: Margie (Rachel Stirling) and Sid (Nick Holder), a couple who are also vacationing at Merries and whose relationship seems strained at best.
Will and Geordie question the pair, who admit that what started as blackmail ended in a trip to the altar. Strange they should choose to return to the scene of the crime, isn’t it? “To rub the bastard’s nose in it,” Sid replies. “He tried to ruin me. I got the girl.”
Meanwhile, Leonard is bonding with Bryan (Michael Abubakar), a Merries employee who’s also a photographer, and keeping the same secret as Leonard. “Being different isn’t so terribly bad,” Leonard reassures him. “Better than being something you’re not.” They seem like kindred spirits — until Bryan leans in to kiss Leonard and the curate makes a beeline for the door. Awkward “sorrys” ensue.
Will has a better time with another Merries employee, Sunny (Jordan Alexandra). They quickly strip down to their underwear and dive in the water. Later, they kiss and look to be heading for a night of passion — until Geordie interrupts.
He’s found filmed footage of Sunny tempting a male guest among Roy’s things, and wonders if she killed him to keep it under wraps. “Is that all this was to you? Just a way to blackmail me,” says a glum Will as Sunny denies she killed Roy.
Geordie can’t resist commenting on Will’s taste in women: “From a nun to a prostitute, it’s almost biblical.” But it’s Will who notices Roy’s reflection in the film and realizes someone else must have shot it.
Then it’s Leonard and Daniel’s turn to attempt a night of passion. But just as they’re getting close in bed, Bryan walks in — and promptly walks out!
Bryan turns out to be the one who shot the footage of Sunny, and he assures Will and Geordie that she never had sex with the men. But he’s not so kind to Leonard, tattling to Will about seeing him in bed with a man. “He has to be dealt with,” the photographer commands.
Will tries to make amends with Sunny, who’s disappointed that he showed such little faith in her. Then, in further homage to Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Sunny gets onstage and performs a bold stand-up set using her real name, Pamela Smith.
Her jokes are the antithesis of Roy’s, and even more scathing: “I’ve been doing some decorating lately. Do you know how many men it takes to wallpaper a bedroom? Depends on how thinly you slice them.”
Geordie sees her taking sips from a glass and realizes someone put the lidocaine in the beer Roy was drinking during his set to kill him. He assumes it was Sid, who is seen in another film Bryan shot standing next to Roy at the bar. But Will concludes it was Margie, who intended to kill Sid, but ended up offing Roy when he took her husband’s pint by mistake.
Margie confesses. When she went out later that night and saw Roy stumbling around, she realized her mistake and dragged him into the ballroom, where he was found the next day. Sid, who appears to suffer from a savior complex, is befuddled as to why she feels worthless and would want him dead. “You were nothing but a whore when I met ya,” he muses cluelessly.
“And you still make me feel like one,” she replies.
So much for having a merry good time!
Leonard and Daniel share a quiet moment alone before returning to Grantchester, but unbeknownst to them, Bryan has snapped photos of the pair. He’s busy in his darkroom developing them as everyone heads for home. In one it looks like Leonard is leaning in to kiss Daniel, although he was actually wiping ice cream from his face.
It appears that what happened at Merries isn’t likely to stay at Merries.
- If you thought Andy Nyman, the actor playing murder victim Roy Reeves, looked familiar, it’s because — spoiler alert in case anyone still hasn’t seen Unforgotten Season 4 — he played the murderer on that Masterpiece Mystery! series this past summer.
- How lovely that our first shot of Reverend Will this season shows him in his undershirt, with spots of grease here and there, helping a woman with car trouble. Never let it be said Grantchester doesn’t know what its viewers want to see.
- After all those announcements about the conga line, we never got to see the conga line! Most likely not something the show would have been able to pull off during a pandemic, unfortunately.
Grantchester, Sundays, 9/8c, PBS (check local listings at pbs.org)