Prey opens with police officer Marcus Farrow (John Simm) emerging from a crashed police van: not in his professional capacity, but as a prisoner. He swiftly makes an escape after helping the other victims of the crash in a bold opening that quickly sets the tone for the remaining episode. Flashback to three days earlier, Farrow is helping his colleague and friend, Sean (Craig Parkinson), with an investigation into a body that could be a missing Turkish gangster, the key to which could be on a couple of floppy disks which hold the original case files (it's been a long time since I've seen a floppy disk as a crucial plot point).
What initially begins as a conventional murder investigation soon descends into something more sinister as Marcus' family is threatened by a witness from the earlier case. Marcus is already on the slippery slope to a life unravelling as he is separated from his wife, though still maintaining a strong relationship with his two sons. With the audience knowing that Marcus will end up in the back of a police van, screenwriter Chris Lunt uses those opening moments to maintain a slow sense of dread throughout the following scenes.
Each event carries its own unique tension as the anticipation builds to the revelation of just what he is doing in that van. However, the pieces quickly slot together. All it takes is that threat to the family and poor Abby's death warrant was signed. Despite the predictability of this plot point, the scene in which he discovers his wife slowly dying on the floor of their home is no less affecting. Director Nick Murphy allows Simm to do the emotional heavy-lifting, which he does brilliantly, opting more for a movingly quiet panic instead of the histrionics that can sometimes overshadow this type of scene.
In terms of the biggest emotional shock of the episode for both Marcus and the audience, it is the discovery that his youngest son, Max, has also been murdered along with Abby. Simm's performance again excels, as does DCI Reinhardt's (Rosie Cavaliero) cold manner with him, making it particularly harrowing after it becomes clear she didn't believe him. The pacing of the episode is also particularly good here, allowing for a couple of quieter scenes to let the emotional fallout settle before the narrative takes on not only a faster pace, but a whole new genre.
This narrative shift comes with the depiction of the opening van crash. It barrel rolls in like a shot of adrenalin, explaining smaller details such as the pen in the shoulder injury and the severity of the crash itself. It's an impressive sequence that feels like it belongs in an action movie rather than a Monday night ITV drama. Murphy's kinetic camera work plays into the brutality of the crash; windows smash inches away and the shots roll with the van itself. This movement marks Prey's shift into another genre, leaving behind the quieter police/family drama to take on an atmosphere more akin to that of a conspiracy thriller.
Now that Marcus is on the run, Lunt's script can start to play up the more thriller aspects of his lead character's plight, which unfortunately makes the unfolding plot a little easier to forecast, particularly with reference to aspects of the crime scene such as no unforced entry, the disappearance of Marcus' key. All of these suggested that there is someone impeding Marcus from within, though I must admit, I wasn't expecting the reveal in the first episode. That it was Sean was something I should have seen coming, because Craig Parkinson never really plays morally sound characters when it comes to ITV dramas.
The acting Detective Chief Inspector, Reinhardt, is a worthy, complicated antagonist for Marcus. An interesting parallel is created between them early on as they meet for the first time at a vending machine and have a rather ominous conversation about them both having 'one of those days'. Like Marcus, Reinhardt's home life is seen in glimpses and seems to be more than a little chaotic, creating a tension between her work and her domestic life. Her colleague, Ash (Benedict Wong), even asks condescendingly if she will be able to cope with taking on Marcus' case. The conflict between work and home is something that clashes violently for Marcus and by creating this parallel with Reinhardt, it establishes a potential future common ground between these two characters.
The parallel is drawn once more at the end of the episode in the brilliantly framed staring contest as Marcus escapes Dale Lomax's house with the floppy disk containing crucial information about Hassan. Reinhardt and Marcus stare each other down through the bars of a gate. It's a simple yet very effective sequence that sees Marcus cemented in his role as the prey of the title. The chase has firmly been established and, if it continues at the breakneck pace that dominated the latter half of this episode, Prey will be one breathless mini-series.
Written by Pedro on Apr 26, 2015