“Run everything by us from now on”: how this scene in ITV’s Karen Pirie nails workplace sexism

ITV’s Karen Pirie is the female-led crime drama that’s not only tackling a cold case at its core but it’s also an on-screen demonstration of how tiring being a woman in a male-dominated workplace can be. 

Warning: this article contains spoilers for ITV’s Karen Pirie.

Throughout the course of Karen Pirie, you quickly get the sense that the case at the heart of the show is one of massive contention. Although only three episodes long, each one is filled with enough historical context, current ruminations on the state of the police force and back-handed comments about female detectives that it’s clear to see that the murder of teenager Rosie Duff is one that this police force would rather not have to deal with.

Twenty-five years on, the flashbacks to the past and the spotlight placed on the present day only further shows how the treatment of women – whether in a professional or personal environment – leaves a lot to be desired. And that’s putting it lightly.

Karen Pirie (Lauren Kyle) is obviously the lead detective on the case, but as soon as she’s drafted in to help, it’s clear that she has been brought in not for her talent and skill, but for the simple fact that she’s a woman. 

Lauren Lyle stars as Karen Pirie in the new ITV crime drama.

“Given the angle of the podcast, I think it would help the optics if it was a female officer. You got one of them?” asks DCS James Lawson (Stuart Bowman), one of the senior police officers.

Referencing a female officer as “one of them” is just a drop in the ocean when you tally up the multiple passive-aggressive acts, the constant infantilisation and condescension when it comes to every one of Pirie’s actions.

She’s a woman born to do the job she’s been tasked with, and yet she still has to contend with men – of higher and lesser ranks – making comments about the validity of her work on the case. It’s a sentiment that many women watching will surely sympathise with and it’s just another reason why this female-led series is a refreshing take on the genre.

But a specific segment of the second episode highlights how infuriating it can be to work under these conditions.  

All episodes of Karen Pirie are now available to stream on ITV Hub.

After questioning Duff’s biological daughter and going back to her senior ranking officers to debrief them, Pirie is met with aggression and anger over her actions. She explains her motives for questioning Duff’s daughter, to which DI Simon Lees (Steve John Shepherd) responds: “I don’t even know if I have the words.”

Before she can finish her sentence, he interrupts: “You have sabotaged this case so profoundly. I am in one mind to take you off it completely.”

He goes on to explain that Pirie’s actions could have had detrimental effects on Duff’s daughter, and whether or not she wanted to know who her biological mother was. He even goes so far as to say that Pirie could have “ruined her life”. It’s a dramatic sentiment that neither Pirie nor DCS Lawson immediately knows how to handle, but Lawson quickly sides with the other man in the room, stating: “You shouldn’t have gone against our orders.” 

He goes on to say that he understands why she went down the investigative route she did, but the whole scene reads like a father telling his young daughter off. It’s awkward, emotionally charged and you almost forget that we’re supposed to be in a professional working environment – but that’s the point. 

Karen Pirie continues on ITV this Sunday 2 October.

And just when you think the whole affair couldn’t get any worse, he then delivers the most condescending of blows to Pirie. “This is your first murder case. You’re learning the ropes. Just… run everything by us from now on.”

“Should have been doing that anyway,” Lees chimes in afterwards.

Although Pirie remains cool, calm and collected throughout the majority of the series, after this interaction, she goes back to her desk and asks Mint (Chris Jenks) what her nickname was when she started on the case. He tries to lie, but eventually tells her it was “Ticker” – “as in box”, he explains. “It was just banter. Some of the guys in the office wanted the job, I guess they were butt-hurt. They thought you got it because…

“Because I tick the bloody woman box?” Pirie shouts, but no sooner has she had time to process all of this, she’s called to question someone else about the case.

Although Pirie is investigating Duff, it’s clear that both women rattled the men in the worlds that engulfed them. For Pirie, she has to continuously fight against the slow-moving rationale of her senior male officers in order to actually action any change in the case. While many of us won’t directly be able to place ourselves in that scenario, seeing instances like this play out on screen is the unexpected sliver of sympathetic viewing we didn’t expect to see in a crime drama – but we welcome it all the same.

The second episode of Karen Pirie airs on Sunday 2 October at 8pm, with episodes airing weekly on Sundays and available to watch on ITV Hub.   

Images: ITV

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