The second offering of this season’s return of Silk was unimaginative and uninspiring. Six weeks from her appointment to the rank of Queen’s Counsel, Martha Costello is plying her trade not at the Old Bailey or the Royal Courts of Justice but instead at a Court Martial. A welcome change of scenery perhaps, except the Court Martial lacks personality. Martha is rebuked by a colleague, asking ‘How long have you been a QC?’ and the Judge Advocate attempts to rein in the civilian barrister. Neither event is particularly specific to Courts Martial. Colleagues in competition may have unkind words to say in order to get a competitive edge and judges will try to maintain order in their courtrooms. The location may be different but the challenge Martha faces is exactly the same.
What a fine choice for defending a Court Martial; indeed, Ms Costello gets to grips with understanding military terminology as you would expect any brief to grapple with the minutiae of their case. When it comes down to the crucial piece of the puzzle, however, it isn’t Martha with her years of experience of Courts Martial (if she does have such experience, it’s not mentioned and it’s not explored in Season 1) but instead her friend and defeated opponent, Clive Reader, that supplies the necessary missing piece. For a series that tries so hard to sell the idea that Martha is a strong, independent, ‘me against the world’ barrister, it is odd that for the success of this case she needed help from Clive (which she also needed last week). Perhaps it was added in as a moment of victory for Reader that the audience can enjoy, after an earlier exchange between Reader and Shoe Lane’s new clerk:
‘Should have been me really. Big Court Martial like this.’
‘It’s a Silk’s case, sir.’
Saucer of milk for the clerk.
The development of Shoe Lane storyline also progresses. In North Square, the new chambers tries desperately hard to acquire work from the criminal underbelly of Leeds. In Silk, seemingly only the clerk Billy wants to push Shoe Lane into the realm of high end criminal defence, which now seem at odds with Martha’s values, Head of Chambers’ financial eye, and Clive Reader’s career aspirations. It’s too soon really to say much about the storyline other than Billy is right about one thing: it is necessary for Shoe Lane to figure out its identity.
So too is that a metaphor for the show. Martha finally won the prize and it’s all her. Except for when she needs help from Clive. Aside from Martha getting the work and the title – there seems to be a conflict between who is the Silk. It seems like Martha is content to carry on as she has done for the entirety of her career, her against the world, defend her clients even if they won’t defend themselves and go out swinging. Reader’s rejection for Silk has made him hungrier; he’s entertaining new ideas and from what we have seen of him in court, he has a desire to do well.
If this season is supposed to be about Martha’s challenges at QC level, then it’s confusing to the audience to place her in a Court Martial. It’s all very interesting but it doesn’t develop her as a lawyer or as a QC and it doesn’t give us someone to root for against more experienced QCs to whom she could conceivably be an underdog because she’s off playing in the barracks, swooning over a man in uniform (Jamie Parker). It’s not to say either that Courts Martial aren’t serious affairs or that female lawyers shouldn’t enjoy themselves as opportunity arises but, from a storytelling perspective, she’s not better off having done the case. Unless this is an overture from the military to try and get her to specialise, in which case perhaps she is. It’s more likely that it’s a plot device thrown in to keep things fresh rather than push Martha’s character along.