"Prime Suspect 7"
I've never seen Masterpiece Theatre's Prime Suspect, but the series' last installment, "The Final Act," doesn't require knowledge of the previous six chapters to enjoy.
Helen Mirren plays Jane Tennison, a London Metropolitan Police detective superintendent in her late fifties. She's been a cop since she was 17 years old, and retirement is just a month away. She's also hardcore alcoholic -- blackouts, vodka instead of food for breakfast, drinking on the job -- but she's also an excellent detective, which just might be why she drinks so much. She has become so emotionally involved in her work that she uses alcohol to numb the pain.
And the pain comes in bucketloads for poor Tennison. During the course of her investigation to find out how a working class 14-year-old girl was murdered, she absorbs so many bad vibes it would drive Carrie Nation to throw her axe away and belly up to the bar with the rest of the miserable punters drowning their sorrows.
Her father is dying of cancer, and she feels a tremendous amount of guilt for not having lived up to his expectations (he wanted her to be an artist, not a cop). Her co-workers treat her with a mixture of awe (for her brilliant detective work) and revulsion (for being a drunk). The father of murdered girl spits in her face and calls her a "bitch." The suspect she's investigating threatens her with a gun and calls her a "bitch," too. Like a grim Rodney Dangerfield, she can't get no respect.
Four hours is a long time for any drama to unfold, but the tension escalates with each tick of the clock, making this one of the most thrilling police dramas I can remember watching. As you'd expect from Masterpiece Theatre, the acting is top-notch, but Helen Mirren and a teenage girl she befriends stand out as absolutely superb actors.