Traces episode 1 review: Reverse operating procedure

Traces Season 1 -- Courtesy of Des Willie/UKTV/BritBox
Traces Season 1 -- Courtesy of Des Willie/UKTV/BritBox /

Traces will appeal to Wire in the Blood and CSI fans.

Traces, which had its U.S. premiere on BritBox this week, hails from Val McDermid—whom TV crime drama fans know as the woman behind Wire in the Blood and the Hill/Jordan novels that the long-running series was based on.

McDermid came up with the idea for the series, and also has a co-creator and executive producer credit. She even makes an appearance in the first episode.

Once you’re aware of that connection, the show makes perfect sense.

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Traces has a few stylistic things in common with Wire in the Blood: its dark shots, its slow and ponderous pace, the main character being an academic.

Emma (Molly Windsor, Three Girls) returns to Scotland when she lands a job as the new lab assistant at the Scottish Institute of Forensic Science and Anatomy. It’s a bit close to home, as Emma’s mother was murdered when she was young and the case remains unsolved.

Just as her new colleagues begin investigating a suspicious nightclub fire that killed three people, Emma discovers that the practice course they have her taking bears a disturbing similarity to her mom’s death—and she’s off to the races, digging into the past that, naturally, might be connected to the present.

This is the “hero with a tragic past comes home and confronts said past” trope that has been played out in many a TV crime drama, and when you pack in all of the character and scientific explanations that the first episode has to get in, Traces isn’t going to be for everybody.

What will hook many genre fans is the cast. Windsor, who was so good in Three Girls, is likeable enough as Emma while Laura Fraser (aka Lydia Rodarte-Quayle on Breaking Bad and its spinoff Better Call Saul) is her new boss Sarah. Martin Compston, in the first thing U.S. viewers will have seen since his phenomenal turn in The Nest (but which was actually filmed before it), starts his arc in episode 2 as Emma’s love interest.

These are actors who could read a take-out menu and make it interesting. However, the first hour doesn’t reveal enough about the characters to make them interesting.

Emma is the type we’ve seen before; aside from the tragic past, she’s also the protagonist who’s spunky and rough around the edges. There’s nothing about her that makes us care about solving her mother’s murder. The other characters don’t get a lot of initial development either, so the initial hook is the whodunit.

Come for the unsolved murder, stay for the actors—because with this cast, it stands to reason Traces should pick up some steam in week 2 now that the introductions are out of the way.

Next. Watch an exclusive clip from this episode. dark

Traces episode 1 is now streaming on BritBox. New episodes premiere weekly.