The Mad Woman in the Attic (Cracker)

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"'The Mad Woman in the Attic'"
Cracker episode
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 1 & 2
Directed by Michael Winterbottom
Written by Jimmy McGovern
Original air date September 27 - October 4, 1993
Episode chronology
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"To Say I Love You"

The Mad Woman in the Attic is the pilot episode of Cracker, divided into two parts.


Part One[edit]

Dr. Edward "Fitz" Fitzgerald listens on the telephone to a horse racing match, and moans as the horse he made a bet on does not win. As he is called in to give a lecture in the University, he instead picks up a pile of books by different psychologists and throws them at the audience in his frustration, but he delivers a brief speech for the students to look inside their hearts for their innermost desires and true feelings. Once they have done that, he says, it will be time for them to read.

A young woman is found dead on a train, having been slashed with a razorblade, and the police are called in to investigate. As DS Jimmy Beck and DC George Giggs question the passengers, DCI David Bilborough and the Pathologist examine the woman's body and recognise the M.O. as that of a killer named "Sweeney", and this is apparently his second victim.

The amnesiac, Thomas Francis Kelly.

At Fitz's home, it is shown that he is alcoholic, a chain smoker, addicted to gambling and extremely foul-mouthed and sarcastic. While having dinner at a restaurant with his wife, Judith, and two friends, he behaves rudely by questioning them about their income and belittling them constantly to the point that Judith splashes a glass of cold water in his face. On the way home, Fitz reveals that he has lost seven thousand pounds in gambling, among it five thousand for the mortgage, and he forged Judith's signature to get it from the bank. Judith leaves Fitz and takes their daughter, Katie, to her parents' house, leaving their adult son, Mark, with Fitz. The next morning, Fitz notices a bulletin on the news about the murder of the young woman, Jacqui Appleby, and is distraught, as Jacqui was one of his former students and a friend.

Bilborough holds a press conference and announces that Jacqui's murder is similar to that of Patricia Garth, who was killed a few months earlier. During a search on the railway tracks, an injured, unconscious man is found lying in nearby bushes, with Jacqui's blood on his clothes. He is taken to hospital, where Bilborough questions him, but the man claims not to remember anything, not even his own name, even under a truth serum. Bilborough remains convinced that the man is faking it, as he appears to have no head injuries, and has him arrested as soon as is allowed to leave the hospital. Nevertheless, the man promises to confess if Bilborough proves he killed the two women.

Meanwhile, Fitz visits Jacqui's parents and offers his condolences. Fitz requests that Bilborough let him join the case, as he knew Jacqui, but Bilborough turns him down after he suggests that the man's amnesia may be genuine. Fitz also tries to reconcile with Judith, but she refuses to listen, and he takes his anger out on Mark, who he finds still lying in bed in the afternoon. Bilborough and Beck interrogate the man, but he still claims no memory, so Bilborough contacts Fitz to question him. Fitz gives the man a multiple choice test on general knowledge about Britain, and the man gets them all wrong. Fitz begins to doubt the man's amnesia, claiming that the chances of getting them all wrong are very low. He tries to crack the man into confessing, but the man merely retorts that Fitz is the one who needs a psychologist. The man, however, remains as a loss for words when Fitz implores him to confess so that Jacqui's parents can bury her body peacefully.

Part Two[edit]

Fitz suggests to Bilborough that the man may be innocent: he had asked the man what the time was, and the man automatically began looking for a clock on the wall instead of looking at his wrist, meaning he's never worn a watch, and "Sweeney", who kills women on trains, would likely wear one in order to keep track of train schedules. Bilborough releases a picture of the man to the public and he is identified as Thomas Francis Kelly.

As the police are forced to release Kelly due to lack of evidence, Kelly puts himself in Fitz's care. While at a dog race, Kelly notices a man whom he appears to remember in the crowd and chases after him. Kelly asks the man to tell him who he is, but the man merely assaults him and flees. Later on, a woman claiming to be Kelly's wife contacts the police. Fitz and the police take Kelly to meet her to see if he recognises her, but it turns out she was just a stranger who had taken a liking to him for his supposed killings. She is subsequently arrested and Kelly is left dejected.

Meanwhile, a man phones the police anonymously from a train station, claiming to be a Catholic Priest. He speaks to Bilborough and tells him that Kelly is in fact "Sweeney" and he knows this because Kelly confessed to the murder of one Astrid Reynolds two months ago, adding that Astrid is at the bottom of Clayton Wharf. Kelly is arrested again. Fitz demands to speak to Kelly again, but Bilborough refuses. Fitz secretly asks DS Jane Penhaligon, who he has taken a shine to. Though she initially refuses, she eventually agrees to let him join in for one more week without telling Bilborough.

Fitz subdues Michael Hennessy, the true killer.

Bilborough and Beck play a recording of the priest's claims to Kelly. As Beck verbally thrashes Kelly, Kelly admits that he wanted "Sweeney" to kill again so that they would know Kelly was innocent, but it backfired. Fitz, still unconvinced that Kelly is the killer, arrives and begins angrily accusing Kelly of murder and desire to kill again in a desperate attempt to jog his memory. As Kelly begs Fitz to stop, his memories begin returning: he witnessed a man arguing with Jacqui on the train and looking out of the window under pressure. Kelly offered him a cup of tea and went to get them, but when he returned, he found the man just after killing Jacqui in her compartment. He fought with the killer until he was thrown off the train and left for dead, and while he was down, he was briefly awake long enough to see the man from the dog race take his wallet from his pocket (instead of calling for help), leaving him with no identification or money.

Fitz tells Penhaligon that the man who called could not have been a priest, as repeating a man's confession would be the biggest sin a priest could commit, and theorises that the caller is the true killer, given that he knew exactly when Astrid was killed and where she was. After looking through a list of Catholics who frequently take trains, they come across one Michael Hennessy. They visit his home, and find a razor identical to the one used in the murders in Hennessy's bathroom. This, combined with Hennessy's father attempting to provide a fake alibi for his son, leads them to the conclusion that Hennessy is Sweeney, and they learn that Hennessy is boarding a train to Leeds. Fitz and Penhaligon rush to intercept Hennessy on the train just as he is on the verge of killing another woman. In the ensuing fight, the train stops and Fitz and Hennessy fall off the train onto another track. Fitz frightens Hennessy out of his mind by holding him on the track where a train is passing, although the train switches onto the other track. Hennessy is arrested.

Fitz and Penhaligon drop Kelly back at the monastery where he was raised (thus explaining his lack of knowledge of world events). Fitz and Kelly part ways as friends, and Fitz and Penhaligon begin discussing each other's private lives as they drive off, marking the beginning of their attraction to one another.