First broadcast January 31, 1998
Written by David Renwick
Directed by Sandy Johnson
Key Guest Cast
Dermot Crowley who plays the time-obsessed Norman in this episode has been a recurring character on Luther since its first season playing Martin Schenk.
Deborah Grant who plays Norman’s wife played a recurring part in the long-running crime show Bergerac.
I have some issues with aspects of the conclusion but the explanation of what happened is clever.
The second season of Jonathan Creek opened with a really strong impossible murder and continued in a similarly impressive vein with this story which is a version of the person seen in two places at once impossibility. The titular Norman is a time-obsessed man who is so concerned with the idea that it is being wasted that he insists that all of the clocks in their home have their hands removed. His working time is split between two offices – one in Britain and the other in the United States – and he has worked at both locations long enough that everyone knows him well.
Norman has just returned to his home in the UK when he and his wife Antonia receive a visit from an employee at a Wimpy Burger. That man produces Norman’s wallet and insists that he had dropped it the previous morning while eating a burger – something that would be out of character for him. The wallet is definitely his but Norman claims that the man is talking nonsense and when she calls her husband’s office in the US Antonia is told that he had been in a meeting at exactly that time. Not knowing how to explain it, Antonia reaches out to Maddy for advice and she, in turn, solicits Jonathan’s help.
One of the things that appeals to me most about this story is that it seeks to broaden the scope of the show’s impossibilities. Each episode of the first season had involved a murder, as had the opener to this second season, so it made for a nice change to be dealing with something odd rather than deadly. It makes for a nice change of pace and tone as those somewhat lower stakes allow for a little more of a focus to fall on the will-they, won’t-they relationship between Maddy and Jonathan.
Renwick’s script does a very good job of laying out the details of the sightings and establishing that the US office genuinely exists (although the rather odd accent that the first person Antonia speaks with may have you doubting that fact) and that multiple individuals remember Norman being at the meeting that day. With lying excised as a possibility, we know that the answer to what happened has to be something more inventive than simply “they lied”.
When we get that explanation it does mostly satisfy me, although like most tricks there is always a sense of deflation when you realize how easily it is worked. While this went over my head when I first saw it I think anyone who approaches it logically may very well be able to work out what happened from just my summary above. For once I think the more interesting question here is not how but why and I think the answer given to that feels broadly credible.
I am less convinced by the episode’s secondary plot which features Jonathan finding himself entangled in an uncomfortable relationship with a woman he feels unable to break up with. While I recognize its purpose in being used as a reason to provoke jealousy and explore Jonathan’s discomfort, the actual content of those scenes falls flat for me and fails to make me laugh – hardly ideal for a plotline whose main purpose is comedic. I would also add that I don’t think those scenes ever really do a good enough job of exploring how the woman feels about the way she is seen and treated which ought to be a consideration.
The other characters fare better however and I think the reason that this episode works is because of the characters of Norman and Antonia Strangerson. These characters not only have interesting backgrounds and personalities, you also understand how the mistrust between them has begun to simmer and why Maddy and Jonathan need to uncover the truth.
Does that mean I love the ending? Not at all. In fact I think that once we get past the explanation of what happened, the episode really struggles to put forward a clear idea of how the viewer should be feeling or reacting to what they have seen. While I think that there is something realistic and honest in its conclusion, there is also something quite unsatisfying about how the episode ends.
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In spite of those complaints, I do appreciate the cleverness of the problem’s solution and I think both Crowley and Grant are excellent guest stars. Is it quite as good as I remembered? Well, no. But the clever ideas are really clever and make this one of the better Jonathan Creek adventures.