Helenmirren_primesuspect_240Is there a better actress than Helen Mirren working today? I think not. And you won’t find stronger proof than in Prime Suspect: The Final Act, airing in two parts Sundays Nov. 12 and 19 on PBS.

Fans of Mirren’s Detective Superintendent Jane Tennison will relish every moment of this final installment of the Prime Suspect series, which premiered in 1991. In the intervening years, Jane has solved her share of horrific cases, battled the male power structure at Scotland Yard, had a series of ill-judged romantic flings and generally lived a life of total dedication to her job. The result is not pretty. She’s alone and nearing retirement, emotionally estranged from her dying father and her more conventional sister. She’s worn out, with neither the energy — nor the need — to take on her detractors. And she’s a drunk who is finding it increasingly difficult to hide her problem.

Do not miss the opening scene of Part 1, which cuts between desperate parents searching for their missing 14-year-old daughter and Jane, fully dressed, waking from what obviously has been a night of over-indulgence. She finds herself on the sofa of her London flat, hung over, phone off the hook, a bruise on her forehead. What follows is an exquisite sequence in which she shambles toward her bathroom, notices the toilet seat is up and turns anxiously to her bedroom, where she finds the bed tousled but empty. You can almost hear the sigh of relief when she realizes she has, perhaps, dodged a bullet. Is it any wonder she needs a stiff vodka to get herself out the door and off to work?

In the previous installments of Prime Suspect, attention was on the cases, the killers, the victims and the workplace tension surrounding Jane. But the usual seedy suspects are missing from Final Act. Jane is the darkest character we meet; she’s the perpetrator who must be called to account. When her nemesis from her first case back in 1991 shows up all these years later, even he is somehow above her. And the impact he makes is almost heartbreaking.

If you haven’t yet discovered this gem of a crime series, set your DVR now. Then watch it at least twice — sober. You’re not likely to see anything better.

Posted by:Rebecca Baldwin