The spectacles don’t really cut it if the intention were to hide the look, because this serial killer doesn’t hide anything. He stares at you and, speaking calmly and with a politeness and education that’s deeply unsettling as he confesses his crime, or crimes to be more precise. The actor is Scotsman David Tennant, and he’s packing a “Mindhunter” level of serial killer magnetism in the series in question; “Des”, a British mini-series production released on Starzplay platform. The character is based on a real-life individual named Dennis Nilsen who went from anonymity to infamous after a plumber was called in to fix a blocked drain in his building. Our overalls-clad friend would soon discover that what was actually blocking up the pipes was in fact human remains; bones and rotten flesh, above all. The plumber immediately called the police, and it wasn’t long before the polite and mild mannered neighbor became suspect number one. Unlike other dramas of the same genre, in this case finding the culprit was a piece of cake. He himself admits to the police where the remaining corpses and body parts are stored and yes, there were more corpses. Twelve or thirteen more, according to Nilsen.
In fact, if it were up to Dennis, he’d never part with them and the only reason he was caught is because he began running out of storage space and had to start getting shot of them. Hence the clogged pipes, a somewhat novel method of pre-garbage disposal times that would result in his timely downfall. Or maybe not. Because even though the character is willing to confess, it’s still not clear that his confession will be enough to secure a conviction. The cops need names, some way for them to confirm that what he’s saying is true and thereby ensure he doesn’t get off scot-free. For a while, it appears that Nilsen knows perfectly well that his version of events won’t be enough as if he were toying with the police. The miniseries relies heavily on the detectives gumption to scrupulously investigate, peel back the layers, and uncover the truth behind the killer’s tale, and the more they peel, the more lurid things get. All the while, audiences will be left wondering what exactly Nilsen is up to offering up so many gory details and then dispensing with his lawyer. So, why then did he confess? Was it fame he sought? Did he feel a burning desire to unburden himself and share his secret with someone else? Does he expect the police to decipher the psychological conundrum that might explain the reason he committed such appalling acts that not even he himself seems to understand? All three answers are correct. As the storyline of “Des” develops, we begin to understand that our failed amateur disposal expert is getting just as much from the investigation as the detectives are and that he actually needs this exam as much as they do.
His excellent disposition makes him a fascinating character and the screenwriters work wonders merely by allowing the terror to permeate his words, without relying on too many graphic details, although there are some. The writers room consists of two lesser-known names among those of the guild: Kelly Jones (who appears in thee writing credits on a variety of shows and several episodes thereof, including “Gunpowder”) and Luke Neal (who also featured in the cast of “Gunpowder”), as well as Lewis Arnold and Brian Masters. Together they have formed a solid crew demonstrating covetable talent in sustaining the tension, dosing out the details of the case in well-measured perfection. The work is primarily based on the novel “Killing for Company”, penned by another member of the writers room, Brian Masters and in which he points out that Nilsen’s principal motivation for killing was born out of loneliness. He was looking for someone to talk to on those grey streets and bars of Thatcher’s London. A smog-filled city with no shortage of young, unemployed and homeless men, whose vulnerability was easily exploited by any stranger willing to offer them a hot meal or a place to lay their head for the night. A context of misery that could only be exploited by vermin like our protagonist in this series, which happens to be one of the most repulsive we’ve seen on the screen in quite some time. One which David Tennant demonstrates he knows exactly how to take advantage of, ensuring every additional line of dialogue sends a fresh chill down the spine.