Channel: BBC One
Recurring Cast: Suranne Jones, Bertie Carvel, Tom Taylor, Jodie Comer, Victoria Hamilton, Prasanna Puwanarajah
There is something quite satisfying about watching a series realise it’s actually better than it thought it was during a season break. The first season was a character study about a woman who realised her husband was cheating on her, which evolved into a bittersweet road to revenge. Women loved the love rat getting what was coming to him and even blokes could find fun in the character development, especially in the final throes of the season, when perhaps Suranne Jones’ titular Doctor Foster, went that little bit too far.
Season Two is instantly better for the simple reason that this time both ex-husband and wife are on the same page. In the first season, the devious games were entertaining, but the battle was slightly one-sided. Bertie Carvel’s Simon didn’t realise the trap was there, until it had sprung. His comeback plan was more damage control than a counter-strike. Here, both players start on the same page. Simon and Gemma Foster are both aware that each one of them is up to something and therefore the cunning nature of the programme is even more gripping. Doctor Foster concocts a delicious plot that will totally pull the rug from under Simon. But then he sees it coming and beautifully plays the situation into his own hands. The show is so much better, when an episode features both characters getting up to no good and the audience has no idea who is going to come out on top. The writers also continue the idea that Gemma Foster isn’t entirely blameless in this show. Last time, she was arguably guilty of crossing the line, the room for argument part of the fun. Here, Foster fans will find it harder to paint Simon as the total douche of the show. Despite Gemma’s best efforts, Simon and Kate didn’t break up after their affair was rudely uncovered, but two years later, they are married. Somehow Simon has worked us way up the business ladder from nothing once again and is fairly wealthy. With a daughter in tow, he wants to move back to his hometown and start again. Gemma’s initial motivation for wanting Simon to pay is simply a slight bitterness that her husband wasn’t utterly destroyed last time round. Her first acts of cruelty are little more than kicking a man while he is down. Even when Simon begins to push back, it is hard to see him as a totally clear-cut villain. A lot of his early moves are down to watching his back around Gemma, making sure that she isn’t in a position to catch him unawares like last time. Also, seeing as last season, she tricked him into thinking his son had died, you cannot help but admit the man is allowed a small dose of vengeance on the ex-wife who left him with nothing. The playing field does level out in the midway point of the season, as a surprising plot point, concerning their son (the writers are outstanding when it comes to Tom’s character, as well as Tom Taylor as the actor who lands this impressive character arc), crops up, throwing new light on both mother and father. As a viewer, your loyalties might find themselves wavering with each plot point. Is Gemma’s role as a mother strong enough to forgive her for some of her crueller actions? Is Simon looking at the bigger picture or looking out for himself? Season One was good fun, but the second season definitely picks up the ante, a lot more consistent in terms of entertainment.
Well, until it’s not… The first four episodes are truly great, both wicked fun watching two people who hate each other chip away at their armour and emotionally riveting. However, then, with one episode to go, the writers take a totally new direction with their show. The cliff-hanger in between episodes was frustratingly juicy as well. Just when you think the game is over, one of the characters seems to rise from the ashes (less ‘rise from the ashes’ and more ‘refuses to admit defeat’), and the show leaves its final episode anywhere to go. Maybe that was the problem. When the world was their oyster, they were given too much freedom; too much rope with which to hang themselves. The show stops being about ex-spouses hating each other and more a sad reflection about the damage they have caused. The message was nice, but it is played far too heavy-handed. The show gives up on the simple fun and becomes a grimly depressing contemplation about their failures as parents. The actors relish the chance of stripping away the supporting cast (who always hover between mildly interesting to being a tad useless anyway), and delivering some great performances. Bertie Carvel in particular brings his A game, a heart-wrenching display of emotion. But it’s not quite what we want, meaning that when the show ends, it feels slightly flat. That last sucker punch isn’t quite there (it tries its hand at a final shock, but it doesn’t quite work), meaning that two wonderful seasons end in a bit of a pickle. Oh dear…
Final Verdict: Doctor Foster’s second season feels a bit like an amazing gymnast, wowing us with their talent, and then stumbling on the landing. Good until the end, but the end is just too important to breeze over.