'Grantchester' Shows a Darker Side in the Season 5 Premiere (RECAP)

Diane Snyder
Tom Brittney Robson Green Grantchester Season 5 Premiere
Spoiler Alert Kudos/ITV/Masterpiece

What happens when TV series that we turn to for comfort shows a darker side, especially as the world around us is mired in change? Without cozy nostalgia, do they become irrelevant, or can they resonate even more sharply than before?

The latter was the case for me when British mystery series Grantchester returned to PBS on Sunday, June 14, for a fifth season of crime solving and clerical guidance, set in 1957. After replacing original star James Norton last year, Tom Brittney starts his first full season as Will Davenport, the cool young vicar of the titular Cambridgeshire village, by helping his old-school police detective pal Geordie Keating (Robson Green) look into the death of Jessica Hall, a student at an all-female college, following a night of revelry at a ball.

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When her body is found floating face-up in the river, suspects include the young woman’s classmates, a pack of male Cambridge students oozing poshness and privilege from their pores, and a young black waiter at the university.

Will and Geordie learn about the body while they’re in the presence of a new character, pesky young reporter Ellie Harding (Lauren Carse), who is meeting Will for the first time. Her eyes light up at the sight of the attractive vicar, but Geordie advises her not to get her hopes up. “I wouldn’t bother, he’s celibate,” he warns Ellie. Her reply? “Oh, you’re that Will. Should change your name to Won’t.”

Brittney has compared Will and Ellie’s relationship, which will unfold over the season, to Ross and Rachel’s on Friends. I hope he wasn’t overselling it because that’s a high bar to reach. Plus, comparisons to Fleabag seem inevitable, even though for Will, celibacy isn’t a requisite part of his vows.

Another woman in Will’s life, his upper-crusty, recently widowed mother Amelia (Jemma Redgrave), comes to the vicarage for lunch and is full of complaints about the noise and light in her posh new London pad. But Will isn’t having it. “I saw a dead girl today,” he tells her. Top that with your curtain problems, Mom!

Of course goodhearted Will feels responsible for his mother’s happiness — an admirable quality, but not one that’s bringing out the best in him. In the next scene, he engages in that familiar TV trope of breaking tableware to show his anger when he smashes a cup. But at least he goes to the gym to take out his feelings on a punching bag. And Will should be careful what he wishes for. By the end of the episode his mum is in better spirits, but only because she’s latched onto another wealthy guy.

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The pain of not being able to connect with those we love was palpable in another storyline. Gay curate Leonard Finch (Al Weaver) is trying to maintain a relationship with photographer Daniel (Oliver Dimsdale), but they look wretched when they return from a vacation in Marrakech and have to go their separate ways with only a handshake.

As if that weren’t hard enough, Leonard goes back to the vicarage and feels he can’t tell housekeeper Mrs. Chapman (Tessa Peake-Jones) where he’s been and who he’s been with. He claims his robust tan came from a trip to the English seaside town of Bognor Regis.

On the case, Geordie and Will question a gaggle of Jessica’s classmates. Then they find university waiter Matthew Butler (Jim Caesar) roughing up some posh boys. He flees, but not before punching Will. Still, when Geordie and Will eventually interrogate the young man, it’s Will who’s patient with him while Geordie threatens Matthew with charges.

To further their investigation, Geordie and Will decide to attend the ball the women’s college is holding. (Didn’t Brittney look like he was auditioning to play James Bond in that scene of Will donning his tux?) Not only does this interlude offer viewers some lovely summertime scenery, but we can now add seeing a woman holding a condom to the increasingly long list of things that make Geordie uncomfortable.

And they finally close their case, after again running into Matthew somewhere he shouldn’t be. Geordie and Will find the female students in the woods and learn that women can be the equal of men when it comes to debauchery. Members of the female students’ drinking club, the Valkyries, were collecting trophies from guys they had sex with! That’s why one of the women, Veronica (Sorcha Groundsell), hit Jessica over the head with a bottle. She hadn’t intended to kill her, but she rolled her body into the water when she realized she was dead.

Tom Brittney Robson Green Grantchester Season 5 Premiere

(Kudos/ITV/Masterpiece)

Veronica’s reason? Jessica let her down by leaving her alone with the posh boys. No one uses the words “rape” or “sexual assault,” but it’s clear what happened. Veronica is arrested for murder, Matthew is charged with withholding evidence, and nothing happens to the posh boys.

But Will is determined to make something good come out of all this. He convinces Geordie to help Matthew turn his life around by sending him to the boxing gym instead of detention. “Let’s at least try and fix one little part of this,” Will says. We haven’t seen the last of Matthew either.

And I’ll be curious to see how this season unfolds over the remaining five episodes. Even with a slightly darker tone, Grantchester seems intent on remaining a show that provides nourishment for the soul. As Will says in a sermon that bookends the episode: “We can be forgiven, and we too can forgive. And in turn find the hope for the world we want to live in.” Words that are good to hear right now.

Grantchester, Sundays, 9/8c, PBS