April 29, 1994 at 04:00 AM EDT

Prime Suspect 3

TV Show
Current Status
In Season
Helen Mirren, David Thewlis

Thank goodness life hasn’t gotten any easier for London’s Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison as we rejoin her in the latest Mystery!, Prime Suspect 3. One of the great pleasures of this character-created by writer Lynda La Plante and embodied by Helen Mirren-is that she makes her harrowing, brutalizing profession and her aimless, drab personal life seem like the most fascinating things in the world.

PS3 is gratifyingly grim, as DCI Tennison seeks the murderer of a 17-year- old ”rent boy,” a young male prostitute, whose body is found in the apartment of a very nervous drag queen who calls himself Vera Reynolds (Peter Capaldi). The prime suspect? James Jackson, a weaselly procurer of boys played by David Thewlis, who also did some powerhouse weaselling in the recent feature film Naked.

Questioning Jackson, Tennison can barely disguise her contempt for this violent little pimp. Yet one of the best things about PS3 is the way Mirren and La Plante make it clear that, as the case gets slimier-pedophilia and rape seep to the surface-Tennison remains more unemotional and level-headed than virtually all the male police officers around her. And once again, Tennison is immersed in office politics and sexism, trading hard-boiled insults with her old foe Sgt. Bill Otley (Tom Bell).

Although it’s beginning to seem absurd that a person as intelligent as Tennison continues to work with such hostile clods-in the tradition of detective fiction, isn’t it more likely that Tennison would quit the force and become a private eye or a crime-solving academic?-her dogged brilliance is exhilarating. PS3, better than Prime Suspect 2 and just a cut below the superlative original, is the foreign import that gives our cop-show bests-NYPD Blue and Homicide—a lesson in toughness.

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