Weekend Binge

Dive into a queer murder mystery with one of the world’s great actresses

Prime Suspect

Welcome to the Weekend Binge. Every week, we’ll suggest a binge-able title designed to keep you from getting too stir crazy. Check back throughout the weekend for even more gloriously queer entertainment.

The Whodunnit: Prime Suspect Season 3

Dame Helen Mirren dabbled in this police drama for over 15 years, making it one of the great detective dramas in television history. Prime Suspect follows detective Jane Tennison, a chief inspector for Greater London’s Metropolitan Police Service. Each season, Tennison tackles a new case while struggling with her personal demons and facing the usual sexism of the male-dominated environment of law enforcement.

For the best season of the show–and for a great queer mystery–look no further than the third season of the show, released in 1993. The season opens with Tennison landing a promotion and meeting an old lover, only for a new case to consume her life. The murder of a teen rentboy leads Tennison into the world of London’s queer underground, and to a disgraced police investigator who just so happened to have her job. When Tennison senses a link between the two, she encounters sudden resistance from her superiors. Fearing a killer on the loose, Tennison then joins forces with Vera Reynolds (Peter Capaldi of Doctor Who fame), a transgender woman who knew the victim, and who may be able to identify the killer.

Make no mistake, doing a season revolving around the gay underground, transgender people, teen prostitutes, and police closet cases was a very big deal back in 1993. Presenting queer heroes–which the show does–broke with the tradition of seeing LGBTQ characters cast only as victims. Moreover, though viewers today might wince at Capaldi’s casting as a transgender woman, Prime Suspect actually shows remarkable sympathy and humanity to its trans characters. Tennison never condescends to Vera, respecting her gender identity. Compare that with other shows of the time, notably the Law & Order franchise, which threw the “T-word” around with total abandon. Prime Suspect didn’t just see queer people; it afforded the community dignity.

Mirren, of course, commands the screen every moment the camera focuses on her, and in a show like this, that’s a lot. Capaldi too gives a dignified, empathetic performance as Vera, and while his casting may seem dated, his acting choices do not. A rich supporting cast, including turns by Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds and David Thewlis also helps. Viewers will have fun traversing a labyrinthine mystery like this one, which offers a rare look into the world of early-90s queer culture, and which keeps us guessing right up until the final reveal. Transgressive, empathetic and bold, we recommend Prime Suspect for its innovation as much as for its compelling whodunnit.

Streams on Hulu & BritBox.