For the past three weeks, I’ve marvelled at the acting of Alun Armstrong in New Tricks. In tonight’s episode, Armstrong’s last as Brian Lane, he is given the floor once again as Brian’s story takes centre stage. Despite being let go from UCOS last week, it appears as if Brian’s abilities are still in great supply though they are continuing to get him in trouble.
It appears as if Brian isn’t enjoying his second retirement as much as he possibly should be and he isn’t exercising his brain cells in the way he once was. Esther presents him with a way of continuing the work he was doing for UCOS, by helping her book club acquaintance Margaret Kirby find her long lost brother. Margaret’s accountant brother Peter Sale was wrapped up in the murder case of Florence Epstein, one of his clients who was murdered by her husband Jonathan in order to get all of her life savings. While attempting to solve the case, Brian is continued to be harassed by a journalist who has been sent to him by Embelton’s men in an attempt to discredit any statement Brian brings against him. An angry Brian visits Strickland who tells him that there’s nothing he can do and that Brian will have to keep a low profile. Of course he does the exact opposite and goes to visit Jonathan Epstein in jail who informs him that he was introduced to Peter Sale through another of his dental clients Lawrence Archer, as Sale himself needed a lot of work done due to a degenerative bone condition. Epstein also informs him that he’s still desperately in love with Annabel Skinner, his mistress who presumably took off with all of the money he stole from his wife. Epstein is able to give Brian enough information to track down Archer and later Brian arrives at Archer’s office. However, he finds a dead Archer on the floor and he himself is soon knocked out by an anonymous assailant. He is later revived by his former UCOS colleagues who have also come to talk to Archer following a mystery call. It is revealed that Archer is simply an alias for conman Larry Gofton who was involved in some way with both Annabel Skinner and Peter Sale.
After he is questioned by Sandra and the tea, Brian meets up with Margaret who claims that she didn’t realise that her brother was involved in anything dangerous. She tells him that she did meet both Archer and Skinner, at one of Peter’s Christmas parties, and didn’t like the look of either of them. Brian then remembers that, just before he was knocked out, he saw a notebook with a phone number on it. The number is for the Longbow Cleaning Company, an organisation set up by Archer who would use his employees to scope out the houses of their wealthy clients. It is revealed that the company was once investigated for its part in a number of high-profile burglaries, but nothing was ever proved. As Brian gets to the former offices of the company, he sees the UCOS gang just leaving and bides his time till they’ve departed. Once inside the offices, he hears somebody skulking about and then answers a ringing phone only to discover that it’s Steve on the other end of the line. Brian then confronts the other person in the building, who turns out to be Esther, before they are forced to hide once again as the UCOS mob return. On leaving the offices themselves, Esther spots a business card belonging to building contractors Ennis and McRae, which was a front for two renowned gangsters in the world of organised crime.
Meanwhile, Sandra is unsure why Brian was put on the missing persons case on the same day that they got an anonymous tip-off about Archer. They learn nothing new after questioning Margaret; however it later transpires that Archer and Sale may have been scamming money away from Ennis and McRae, before using the money stolen from the Epsteins to pay it back. Elsewhere, Brian connects the numbers on the back of the Ennis McRae business card to that of a storage unit company however when he and Esther find the unit in question, they’re in for a nasty surprise. As Brian begins to connect the dots, with help from his now enthused wife, he discovers that not all is as it seems. While the UCOS team finally track down Peter Sale, Brian finds out they may be heading into a trap set up for them by an unlikely source.
In some ways I found Brian’s final edition of New Tricks to be a fitting tribute to the character. It showcased his ability to connect the dots between seemingly random pieces of evidence and his awkwardness in social situations. In addition it highlighted the strong bond that exists between he and his wife, with Esther becoming more involved in tonight’s case as it went on. At the same time I would’ve like to have seen a bit more resolution, especially when it came to the Embleton case. Though the journalists finally left the Lane alone, I personally would’ve like to have known what happened between Brian and Embleton. I’d also like to have seen more with Brian and his son together to see how their relationship is coming along. Though there were a few mentions of Brian’s grandchild, it would’ve been nice to have seen father and son together once again. As regards the central mystery, I found it quite engaging, but at the same time I’d worked out the twist a long time before UCOS had.
It’s a shame that this is Brian and Esther’s final appearance as both Alun Armstrong and Susan Jameson shone as the loveable Lanes. Armstrong and Jameson make such a fantastic double act and I feel it was right to get Esther involved in the case, seeing as she’s leaving the series too. Their husband and wife crime-solving antics almost seemed like a set-up for a spin-off in which they go around the country to help more people with their problems. I feel that Armstrong will be missed greatly and I hope the show doesn’t suffer too much moving forward.
As a whole, I found this episode of New Tricks to be an enjoyable instalment though most of that was down to the involvement of Brian and Esther and the actors who play them. Indeed Gerry, Sandra and Steve almost felt like they were surplus to requirements here as they played second fiddle to the Lanes. It will then be interesting to see how the new look UCOS team functions when they return next week with a brand new member in tow.
What did you think to this episode of New Tricks? Will you miss Alun Armstrong?
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