Chasing Shadows is part of a growing trend in mystery series–the detective with Asperger’s Syndrome or some other state on the autism spectrum. In recent years, sleuths who are suspected of having such conditions, though they rarely receive an official diagnosis, have proliferated on the television screen. They range from Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the title character in Sherlock—Lestrade suggested he had Asperger’s in The Hound of the Baskervilles—to Dr. Temperance Brennan on Bones, Detective Sonya Cross on the American version of The Bridge, and Will Graham on Hannibal (self-diagnosed as being on the spectrum). These detectives are known not only for their intellectual brilliance and keen analytical and investigative powers, but also for their social ineptitude.
Now, Reece Shearsmith joins these ranks as DS Sean Stone, a detective with no social niceties, a habit of saying precisely the wrong thing to victims’ families, and a knack for spotting patterns in criminal behavior. Shearsmith’s performance straddles a difficult line: he has to be infuriating in one scene and borderline lovable the next, in a characterization vaguely reminiscent of Jim Parsons as Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory.
In the opening minutes, Stone is able to identify a serial killer but instead of being lionized for his brilliant deductions, he is swiftly relegated to the supposed career purgatory of the Missing Persons department. The reason? He was brutally honest at a press conference and said the police ought to have caught the killer sooner. Apparently, the British police force prefers that their detectives be masters of public relations skills rather than skilled investigators.
The yin to Stone’s yang is Alex Kingston’s Ruth Hattersley, a veteran of Missing Persons and an extremely empathetic woman who can connect emotionally to almost any suspect or victim. Hattersley is a single mother whose son Bryan (Alfie Field) is remarkably like what Stone might have been like as a teenager: obsessed with crime and the study of serial killers. It should be noted that Stone insists on using the umbrella term multiple murderers as he feels that the phrase serial killers has come to glamorize some human monsters.
The investigating team is rounded out by DCI Carl Pryor (Noel Clarke), an effective and intelligent detective who immediately clashes with Stone, though he gradually warms to his colleague and learns to work more effectively with him.
Chasing Shadows is composed of four episodes (each approximately 45 minutes), consisting of two two-part mysteries. In the first, Stone investigates a series of runaway youths and determines that their suicides are actually murders. In the second, a long-missing man may be an undiscovered victim of a now-institutionalized serial killer (sorry, multiple murderer), and Stone eventually starts to wonder if the man imprisoned for horrible crimes was actually framed. The fourth and last episode is the best, as about half a dozen different suspects are proposed as the villain and, in the last 20 minutes, the viewer is convinced that each in turn is guilty, until the finger of suspicion is rapidly pointed elsewhere and eventually the true murderer is identified.
Chasing Shadows is the promising start to either a series or a complete miniseries. The future of the show is in doubt, so viewers will have to wait and see if the cliffhanger that ends the final episode is ever resolved. Chasing Shadows is a very good series that never quite achieves greatness but could do so in future episodes.