'Flesh and Blood' Episode 1: Is Vivien's late-life romance too perfect? Familial skeletons are tumbling out
You can't help but be protective of Vivien (Francesca Annis), the still glamorous widow living in her cozy cottage. She seems to surrounded by slightly strange people — be it her new lover, Mark (Stephen Rea), her three adult children, or her creepily intrusive neighbor, Mary (Imelda Staunton).
At least her children's problems veer on the "normal" side of things. The youngest Natalie (Lydia Leonard) has been having an affair with her boss for years. Things finally seem to be moving after he puts down a downpayment for a house but soon after, his wife tells her in a hissed whisper, she'll never succeed. When Vivien tells the children that their dad was "no angel" over their protests of her having found a new man so soon after his death, Natalie digs a little deeper. She comes to know that Vivien had to contend with a mystery "other woman" but she had successfully shut down the affair (that had gone on for years) by threatening her husband that she would tell the children.
Natalie, who is the "other woman", in her own romance scenario believes her boss's wife, Clara, also holds the same trump card, confirmed by a "test" she conducts. She promptly throws her phone so hard that it cracks, showing she is quite capable of anger. Is it possible that could sublimate this anger towards Clara to her own mother because of the similarities of her situation to the woman her dad spurned? Jake (Russell Tovey), the middle child, has a gambling problem for which he is paying dearly. He is living separately from his wife and kids, according to his wife's ultimatum, until he pays back everything. Waiting to reunite with his family, he is trying to earn money any way he can — from being a handyman, a fitness trainer and, wait for this, a kept man to a rich woman.
In the meantime, he is living in a miserable, poky flat and is pretty inquisitive about his mom's finances, who he thinks "is loaded". He believes Mark is after his mother's money and is resentful that he can't get his hands on any of it. Helen (Claudie Blakley), the eldest, is a workaholic, who has just fired people who seem extremely disgruntled and quite capable of taking a spot of revenge on her or her family. Her husband George is a put-upon husband, who is more her lackey, and occasional sex-provider, than an actual partner — something he resents. She is also an alcoholic who hasn't admitted she has a problem.
But the two most sinister characters in Vivien's environment are Mark and Mary. Mark, the retired surgeon, is the sort of attentive and loving partner who seems to have stepped out of a romance book. His behavior seems too good to be true, and also a bit off. Despite knowing Vivien only six months, he whisks her off to France on a private two-seater plane on moment's notice to propose to her. Just before that, we are witness to how he goes through her stuff to get her passport. Vivien refuses his proposal because she likes being independent but doesn't rule out marriage entirely. Soon after, she falls ill and Mark, the doctor, conveniently, moves in to take care of her, making her dependent on him. When she is in the hospital, he isn't researching treatment plans but the quickie marriage destination of Gibraltar — very suspicious indeed.
And finally, there is Mary. Strange, strange Mary who has known the family ever since Vivien and her husband settled there. She has seen the birth of the children and seen them grow up. A spinster, who lives alone, all her energy and amateur sleuthing is fixed on the house next door. The way she spies on Vivien (with binoculars no less) all the time borders on an unhealthy obsession and Mark even spots her peering at them when he is romancing her under the moonlight.
But you could dismiss this all as general busy body behavior if it weren't for the incident with the silk housecoat. When Mark sends a package over, Vivien isn't home. Mary takes the delivery, steams it open, and then wears the gift — a silk housecoat — around the house (till she drops some food on it). After washing it and adding a pink bow, she tosses Mark's "With all my love" card, reseals the package, and gives it to Mary. This behavior borders on stalking and Mary doesn't seem to have any concept of boundaries. She also seems resentful of Mark taking up all of Vivien's time just when she and Vivien were supposed to be spending time together after Vivien's husband's death.
But the central question of the series, for now, is who is the mystery person battling for their life in the hospital after being thrown of Vivien's terrace with a strategically placed rock under it, which is stained with blood in the opening scene? Watch the second episode of 'Flesh and Blood' on Sunday, October 11, at 9/8c on PBS to find out.