Anne Buist is determined to put the psychology back into psychological thrillers. There has always been a ring of truth around her character Natalie King’s work as a psychologist and no more so than here, where much of the action takes place in her consulting rooms and in the courtroom.
King is drawn into a custody dispute involving five year-old Chris, the son of Jenna and Malik and eight year-old Chelsea, Jenna’s daughter by another man. King starts as a consultant providing evidence on Jenna’s fitness as a mother but the case quickly spirals out of control as Jenna accuses Malik of sexual abuse of Chelsea. With little to no evidence, King is then asked by the Court to explore the possibility that this is the case.
Meanwhile, King herself is pregnant and unsure who the father is – police detective Damien or prosecutor Liam, now separated from his own wife after his earlier affair with Natalie. Besides providing the romantic and sexual tension into the mix, these two characters also shine a different light on the issues that Buist is exploring. Liam’s perspective comes from his new job as a prosecutor with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which ran across Australia between 2012 and 2017.
The subject matter of This I Would Kill For allows Buist to explore a range of issues around child protection, sexual abuse and the custody system in Australia. She is particularly interested in exploring the various positions lining up in the traditional and social media around the role of fathers and the way in which the interests of the children tend to be lost in the push and pull between the parents and their various supporters. King is supposed to be impartial, and has to keep reminding herself of that as the evidence swings from side to side.
But this is not polemic in any sense. Biploar, rock-singing, fast car driving psychologist King with her own issues to deal with now connected to her pregnancy, continues to be a fascinating and conflicted character to hang this series around. And Buist has become more comfortable with her as the series has progressed. So that it is just as interesting watching King at work with the parents and children at the centre of this dispute as dealing with her family or the various men in her life.
So This I Would Kill For is not a “psychological thriller” in the current sense of the term, which tends to involve serial killers and grizzly modes of death. Instead it uses psychology intelligently as a window into a number of complex social issues. The thrills themselves take some time to arrive but they are really just icing on what is a very different cake.