Law and Order UK series 1, episode 3 rewatch: Vice

Law & Order UK -- Courtesy of Acorn TV
Law & Order UK -- Courtesy of Acorn TV /

Law and Order UK series 1, episode 3 commentary.

While waiting for Dick Wolf‘s franchises to return to NBC, we’re taking a look back at an outstanding Dick Wolf series you can watch now but likely haven’t discovered—the British import Law and Order UK.

LOUK, as it’s referred to for short, brought the original Law and Order to British audiences starting in 2009, while also lining up an all-star cast including Bradley Walsh (Doctor Who), Jamie Bamber (Strike Back), Freema Agyeman (New Amsterdam) and Ben Daniels (The Exorcist).

SPOILER ALERT: This commentary contains spoilers for Law and Order UK series 1, episode 3. You can watch this episode on IMDb TV.

Note that this commentary corrects our earlier announcement that LOUK would be available on Acorn TV beginning in November 2020. Acorn TV has delayed their premiere until an unspecified time in 2021, so episodes are only available on IMDb TV.

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Series 1, episode 3: “Vice” (originally aired March 9, 2009)

Matt Devlin and Ronnie Brooks (Jamie Bamber and Bradley Walsh) find the body of former Vice cop Frank McCallum in the back seat of his own car, prompting questions of not only who killed him but why—was it because of something he did during his police career or something that happened since?

A local prostitute has the victim’s wallet and phone in her purse, but says he was already dead when she took them from the car, and forensics back up her assertion. Ronnie and Matt speak to some of McCallum’s ex-colleagues, and find out he’d had dealings with a company called Velvet Holdings. The mysterious company is traced back to a children’s clothing store which itself is a front for an escort service.

And it all makes sense now.

The duo confront Emma Sandbrook (Juliet Aubrey, Primeval) and her business partner Kate Barton (Deborah Cornelius) about their real business and arrest them for McCallum’s murder. Kate cracks easily, explaining how the two got into prostitution to pay for their families’ enormous debt, while Emma holds firm. Unfortunately, her DNA and her makeup are all over the crime scene, confirming that she’s the sole killer.

But there’s an immediate pitfall that presents itself to prosecutors James Steel and Alesha Phillips (Ben Daniels and Freema Agyeman): Emma can easily claim self-defence.

To prove otherwise, James and Alesha begin probing into her personal life and find out that Emma had a relationship with McCallum’s business partner Josh. He was the one really connected to all this, and had asked McCallum to find Emma after their affair went bad. So if Josh was the one with Emma, how did Frank end up dead?

Emma’s lawyer Phyllis Gladstone (Lesley Manville, The Crown) brings her client into their office, where she confesses to the crime but claims she did it because McCallum tried to blackmail her and force her into sleeping with him. Given the victim’s checkered past while working in Vice, it seems like her defense might actually have merit. Gladstone paints a picture of a selfless family woman taken advantage of by a bad man.

However, Alesha discovers that there was no saliva found in the lipstick marks on McCallum’s body, therefore proving that the makeup wasn’t from a forced encounter but applied after the fact. And Steel gains the upper hand when Kate admits on the stand that Emma’s husband never knew about her activities. When he cross-examines Emma, he points out that she hit McCallum more than a dozen times—far beyond what would constitute self-defense. She wasn’t trying to save herself; she was ashamed, enraged and had a target.

Emma is convicted of McCallum’s murder, and Alesha wonders why she didn’t take a plea deal when she originally confessed. Steel tells her that theirs was the right verdict for Frank McCallum, while pointing out that there’s always more than one victim of every crime.

What’s interesting about “Vice,” as was true of the episode it was based on, is that everyone comes out looking kind of terrible. Frank McCallum may have been a good cop at one point, but threatening to blackmail two women shows he wasn’t a great guy anymore—and his wife’s assertion that being a Vice cop changed him seems like an easy out.

Emma Sandbrook might have gone onto the wrong side of the law for good reason, trying to look out for her family, but that doesn’t justify or excuse the murder she committed or the way she lied about it. She’s gone down a pretty dark rabbit hole herself by the end of the episode. It’s one of the classic Law and Order moral quandaries where the audience doesn’t have a “right” answer.

At the same time, that means the audience is kind of left with an empty feeling. Justice has been done in the sense that a murderer has been convicted, but like Alesha, you come away feeling a bit awkward about the whole thing. Compared to the two previous episodes, it’s not quite as crackling but there’s one of the all-time greats just around the corner.

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