After keeping us waiting for the end of series 20, ITV has immediately granted us the first episode of Midsomer Murders series 21. In ‘The Point of Balance’, Barnaby must contend with dancers and his family, but some script issues mean that a promising start doesn’t deliver a satisfying conclusion.
Midsomer is buzzing with excitement at the arrival of the annual Paramount Dance Extravaganza, but things are quickly soured when Rosa Corrigan (Faye Tozer), a dancer and investigative journalist, is found dead. Barnaby and Winter investigate, keen to discover whether the motivation for her death was one of the stories she was researching, or whether the passions behind the sequins could have caused her demise. Why was Corrigan killed, and how is her death linked to a robotic research centre led by dying businessman Andrew Wilder (Nigel Havers)? As Barnaby attempts to solve the mystery, he must also contend with his home life, which has been disrupted by a visit from his father, Ned (Christopher Timothy).
‘The Point of Balance’ is nicely plotted and unlike some of the other themed episodes, the dancing never feels superfluous or random (although it did clash with the robotics story, which felt like half of a different episode entirely). I feel like the show must realise what viewers expect of it now – the moment we see a robot arm and are told that man and machine don’t mix, you’re just waiting for the inevitable (and surprisingly gruesome, for the show’s standards) murder.
Timothy was too often side-lined for the subplot to really warrant inclusion
However, I began struggling to follow towards the episode’s climax, and I’m not entirely certain as to the solution of some of the minor mysteries (like who bugged a room). This really came to a head in the denouement, as the solution was fabricated seemingly out of thin air. It’s not new for Midsomer to produce a murderer from random, but it was frustrating that we saw Barnaby actually do some detective work for a change, only for it to be immediately rendered meaningless. Although it was well-acted, it was still really frustrating.
On the acting, ‘The Point of Balance’ boasts the typically strong Midsomer guest cast, with a lot of familiar faces from series of Strictly Come Dancing past. Danny Mac is a lothario dance instructor, and Natalie Gumede and Tom Chambers share a lovely chemistry as dance partners with the hint of much more (I found Chambers particularly charming here, and a scene in which he teaches Barnaby how to dance is a comedic highlight). The cast stand-out is probably Havers as the dying patriarch, which is really rather touching without being saccharine or overkill. I must complement the dancing, too, as it is really fantastic, and it never feels unnecessary.
I’ve been enjoying the Winter-Barnaby dynamic in the last few episodes (it was touched on again here), and I was hoping that we’d get to see Barnaby develop a bit more by bouncing off Christopher Timothy as his father. Sadly, and despite a fun portrayal, Timothy was too often side-lined for the subplot to really warrant inclusion. There were some tender scenes, with the very last one a good example, but it feels a shame that ‘The Point of Balance’ didn’t have enough time to really develop Ned and his relationship with his son. Perhaps we’ll get to see Timothy return, but I suspect this story is played out already, and that’s the show’s loss. Some of the best scenes of the John Nettles era were with the depictions of family life.
‘The Point of Balance’ has one of the show’s best casts in recent episodes and an awful lot of promise. A disappointing conclusion with a seemingly random killer and the waste of the Barnaby subplot do dampen the experience somewhat, but it’s still an accomplished start to this run.