While Fear does address a controversial and provocative issue with Silent Witness’ usual intelligence and brutal realism, it is rather wibbly-wobbly in terms of structure and writing; and at the episode’s close, leaves you wondering precisely what you’ve just experienced in a way that has nothing to do with the deliberate engagement of an audience’s bewilderment.
Following his break-up with Janet, an awful-looking Leo is press-ganged into taking some time off by Nikki and unwilling fellow-conspirator Harry (both once again rather lamentably under-represented in the proceedings) and ends up with his friend Sean, the psychiatrist who treated him following the deaths of his wife and child. Leo soon discovers that Sean is wrestling with the death of fifteen year old Eve, a pro-bono patient with whom he shared a deep bond (in an entirely non-creepy way) and whose death has been put down to Long QT Syndrome, a heart condition that is undetectable post mortem, leading to Sean himself refusing treatment for cancer. As a result of a subsequent deal between the two men that Sean will seek treatment if Leo investigates Eve’s death, Leo is soon half-drowning in a sea of Catholic guilt and violent family frustration that eventually boils down to Eve having died of stress following an exorcism.
The episode’s ultimate strength lies in shining a spotlight on an issue that most of us, particularly non-Catholics, don’t even think about outside the movies. Exorcism’s complexity is revealed to us by cold, statistical fact in Leo’s assertion that each Catholic diocese is equipped with an exorcist, as well as the rather alarming number of exorcisms that take place each year; and in its opposite, the portrayal of what actually goes on during such rituals. Jodie Comer as Eve is all intense sincerity and cold hysteria (when you see her, you’ll see what I mean) in portraying a young teenager convinced she’s possessed, and the episode’s centerpiece is without doubt her exorcism itself, a deeply upsetting and frankly horrifying couple of minutes that seem like hours.
Fear also somehow finds time to bring us back to the question we’ve been circling around for the whole of series 15: do pathologists understand death? Ultimately, when Leo’s self-assured question that ‘if we don’t understand that [death], then what do we understand?’ is met by an uncomfortable, almost pitying silence by Nikki and Harry, we realise, for sure, what we’ve known all along. Pathologists don’t know anything more about death than the rest of us. In Leo’s words, ‘we’ll never understand why.’
All through this episode, however, you can’t quite shake the idea that the writers are making it up as they go along. The episode whizzes here and there without much explanation, drags inexplicably and often leaves you struggling to ascertain precisely how a certain conclusion was drawn, or how we’ve ended up where we are. The script is a primary school scribbling compared to Death Has No Dominion and Redhill, the presence of two screenwriters not doing much to allay the general confusion.
All in all, despite the wibbly-wobbly script and the somewhat odd ending, Fear accomplishes what it meant to do in terms of showing the many faces and motivations behind exorcism, and could have been the best episode in the series with just a little more effort.