Image: ITV

‘Midsomer Murders’: The Sting of Death

With only one episode of McDonald & Dodds left, ITV decided to pull the rug and replace it with Midsomer Murders instead, a decision motivated in large part by the slot going up against Line of Duty. I thought it was making Midsomer into a sacrificial lamb but, having watched ‘The Sting of Death’, I now suspect that they were trying to hide it away. On paper, ‘The Sting of Death’ should be a good episode – a strong cast and a unique story – but it drowns in its poor script.

The Deddington’s thriving bee empire has put the village of Granville Norton on the map, but it appears not everyone is too fond of the insects. After a late-night rendezvous, Ambrose Deddington (Griff Rhys Jones) finds his hives being attacked and is wounded as he attempts to protect them. Barnaby and Winter are called to Apley Hall, tasked with finding both the assailant and the missing bees, but their investigation takes a turn for the fatal when a village resident is found stung to death the next day. The detectives must discover the motive for the murder – is it linked to the Deddington’s honey business, or something else entirely?

The visuals of the murders are really solid, and the second one will stay with you – it’s madcap in a way only Midsomer can get away with

There was a lot of promise in ‘The Sting of Death’, and the show continues to play to its strengths: the production value is high, and the score’s enjoyable, managing to be both fun and sinister at the same time. The visuals of the murders are really solid, and the second one will stay with you – it’s madcap in a way only Midsomer can get away with. It sees the usual side-plot about Sarah nudging Barnaby to do something (in this case, yoga) and although it’s not too funny, it’s nice that it’s actually involved in the episode to some extent. Of course, ‘The Sting of Death’ also boasts a customary solid supporting cast, full of faces you’ll recognize; proof that Midsomer, even twenty series in, can still get the names.

But it’s here that the episode starts to falter, because very few of the actors get anything interesting to do. Griff Rhys Jones and Imogen Stubbs (as his sister Tamara) are the big-name signings, but a little too hammy and barely involved in what happens anyway. Viewers of a certain age got very excited on Twitter about seeing Play School’s Derek Griffiths as what I understood to be a bipolar vicar, but it’s all very cliché and nothing we haven’t seen done better on Midsomer before. Not everyone suffered – I believed Wendi Peters as a bitter cleaner and Nina Toussaint-White as the vicar’s daughter, but they stretch to make characters out of nothing.

It was exciting to see Midsomer back on the schedule, but ‘The Sting of Death’ didn’t live up to my expectations

I love Midsomer Murders, but I can’t sugarcoat how weak a lot of the writing is here. Very little of interest happens in the first hour or so, and then the final half-hour is so absolutely bonkers I found it hilarious. Three – three – separate villagers go a bit murderous, one after the other, and then the solution to the case is given to Barnaby via a load of gibberish through which he makes very weak parallels to the case (genuinely), and the revelation that a weapon is the least likely thing you’d take with you on a crime. This culminates in a very hammy confrontation with the murderer, and it’s all so lazy and silly. In one of the most frustrating moments, we’re told the motivation for one of the murders is that the victim did something, but, in the episode, it’s even vaguer than that.

It was exciting to see Midsomer back on the schedule, but ‘The Sting of Death’ didn’t live up to my expectations. There’s something inherently silly about the show, but it needs a bit of grounding to make the more bizarre elements work, and that anchor just wasn’t there. As the result of a weak script, a good cast was wasted and the whole episode meandered before ramping it up to eleven into supreme silliness.

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