We are now at the stage in Unforgotten where, if you have been following the fates of our four suspects and have come to feel affectionate towards them, you need to stick your fingers in your ears and chant: “La la la – not listening!”
NB: Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers
We really needed hankies at the ready because this soul-stirring dénouement is a dramatic tour de force that engages the head as well as the heart, and could almost serve as a modern reworking of Crime And Punishment. Indeed, Dostoyevsky would have approved of its psychological rigour as writer Chris Lang’s antagonists strive to outrun their sins – and Cassie (Nicola Walker) and Sunny (Sanjeev Bhaskar) negotiate a moral maze.
After Cassie deduced last week that precisely because of the compelling alibis put forward by each suspect there must, perforce, be more bodies, the cops are in a sprint for evidence.DS Andrews warns her not to be cavalier with the Met’s budget. That’s a tough one, because she has to traipse up to Scotland.
Sara’s dated tickets and snapshots of Italy would seem to give her a watertight alibi – she has the documents to prove it. “There’s no way she could have killed him – question is, is it too good?” asks Cassie, nailing the McGuffin.
Sara (Badria Timimi), she reasons, had collated this information to obviate any chance of her being implicated in murdering David Walker years after he abused her in Brentford. She would have had to plan his death. “Stop me when it gets too mental,” says Cassie, before delineating her theory to colleagues.
At this point it acquired a bit of a Hitchcock Strangers On A Train vibe, with an unholy trinity emerging. Had three suspects – all dysfunctional with psychological profiles consistent with childhood abuse, who had tried too hard in the nick’s waiting room not to look as if they knew each other – at some point come together to hatch a plan to kill the three people who had abused them?
Cassie’s thought process was impeccable here – three suspects kill someone unknown to them at different times, thereby having built-in alibis. Walker was the first victim, having met sex worker Sara as a punter. Marion (Rosie Cavaliero) murdered him while Sara was in Italy and Colin (Mark Bonnar) was on a mental health ward. (Although how did someone so small murder Walker, stuff his body into a suitcase near the river? Did she bring the case and stab him on the bank? Never mind, she probably had method to aid her madness.) Sara would have had to kill Colin’s abuser, and Colin killed Marion’s tormentor.
Working backwards to prove this theory of a historic connection and who the other abusers might have been – never mind finding the bodies – looked like an impossible undertaking. Where did the trio meet in London between 1985 and 1990? The police were really notching up the miles – Colin’s dad lived north of the border. And how much do they tell the families while keeping the suspects on the back foot? Again, the diligent DS Boulting came up trumps: Colin and Sara, it transpired from NHS records, were both inpatients at the Ealing Hospital psychiatric unit during 1987-88 – and Marion, before moving in with her IRA girlfriend – had lived in Ealing.
Thus the hospital unit became their ‘railway carriage’ where, like Patricia Highsmith’s noir characters, they ‘traded’ murders.
Although Cassie’s revised lines of inquiry implicated DI Tessa Nixon (Lorraine Ashbourne) less, she is grilled once again by her superior, who knew that Cassie’s squad could place her at the Brentford house where her husband conducted his ‘parties’.
Her obduracy shattered, Tessa admitted that she followed Walker to the rape house once, presumably wresting teenager Ellen Price from his clutches. “He told me she was 16 and willing, and he begged me to forgive him – and I wanted to.”
To slightly paraphrase LP Hartley, the past was a foreign country; they did things differently there. The 80s was, says Tessa, an era when “a rock star could go on telly and be interviewed about his underage girlfriend without getting arrested. We all bought into that – until we didn’t.” We won’t kick over that stone.
Tessa’s professional ‘walk of shame’, hauling her belongings past colleagues at the nick, formed a tragically ignominious end to a solid police career.
The one pinprick of hope in her life happened on Oxford railway station just as her son Jason (Will Brown) seemed about to fling himself in front of a speeding train. His shy, puppy-like neighbour Cath (Bryony Hannah), who had been leaving food in Tupperware outside his flat, called to him in the nick of time to have a cuppa and declared her affection for him – a moment that may just have turned this poor boy’s life around.
Colin’s dad (a welcome cameo by Bill Paterson) hadn’t considered sexual abuse as the cause of his son’s personality change. The horrible realisation hit him that it may have been Len Paxton, a “work pal” of his.
Elise (Holly Aird), on the other hand, pinpointed for Sunny exactly when sister Marion’s deranged behaviour began – at 11 when they moved to Cork, where Marion grew aggressive with everyone – “Dad was only one who escaped her ire”. But he had died at the suspiciously young age of 57 in 1991, hanging himself in Highgate Woods despite having no history of depression or mental illness. Sunny looked queasy at this discovery and had to rein in his urge to push for details.
Cassie’s own anger mounted as she dug up these torments, especially when quizzing youth worker Mark Roberts (Tom Mannion), who at first claimed he didn’t recall Paxton, who had been imprisoned in 1988 for assaulting two boys from his platoon. He dismissed it as ancient history. Wrong move. “I am really getting pissed off with that expression,” said Cassie, almost incandescent with fury.
Roberts told her Paxton died in 1992 – reckoned to have committed suicide during a trip on his yacht, the wreck of which was found a few days with no sign of the body. “Although I’m not sure anyone looked too hard,” he adds.
Roberts told her, “it’s changed, we’ve changed – people like that don’t slip through the net anymore”.
“I hope so,” said Cassie. “I just pray they won’t be saying it in 20 years about today.”
Certainly, cops were as culpable as anyone else who turned a blind eye to child sexual abuse back in the 70s and 80s; Sara’s husband Hassan (Adeel Akhtar) told DI Fran Langley (Caroline Main) that the police had told Sara’s father they couldn’t bring her home because it had been Sara’s “choice to become a child prostitute”.
Only the saintly Hassan was keeping faith with wife Sara; the other three families seemed comprehensively trashed. And that knowledge weighed heavily on Sunny and Cassie, who were now racing against time to apprehend the trio.
Tailing Marion’s car in what constituted the most unlikely TV car chase ever, Cassie walked in on them at their rendezvous pub to witness their damning conversation.
Colin told Cassie that Paxton used to come round to the house to play with him – and he’d been happily living “Enid Blyton for real” for the first six months, but descended into Hell when they went camping for a weekend. The detail in Colin’s confession was terrifying in its sheer banality and Mark Bonnar’s performance was transcendent. “You can’t judge me unless you’ve had it done to you,” he told Cassie, whose eyes were like saucers as she vacillated inwardly. By the end of his tale we could almost taste the bile in her mouth.
Cassie’s own dam burst when her father Martin (Peter Egan) showed her a letter from her mother’s lover about how she had rejected him. Martin had wanted not apologies but to understand; now he had the truth that his wife spurned her lover for her marriage, which he fiound cathartic. At last Cassie could weep – let’s hope she too found it emotionally purgative.
Without any bodies it was going to be hard to connect any of the trio to the deaths because they were “not going to confess”. Cassie admitted to Sunny she could not prove their connection to the CPS requirements because she had met them alone and with no corroborating CCTV footage.
Sunny pointed out that they had all been rehabilitated and had “all been very valuable members of society”. Cassie agreed: “For me, I think their whole lives have been one long, indescribably brutal punishment. And I just can’t see why we would punish them any further. I can’t see who would benefit.”
Our heroes faced a moral dilemma with the sort of trust only true friends could muster. The terrible weight of their decision was palpable – but guys, you know you made the right one. Group hug?
The idea of a three-way murder pact might sound too ‘Hollywood’ for a series that so prides itself on its verisimilitude, but in such consummate hands every twist and turn of the plot was believable and the characters will stay with us for some time – certainly for longer than it takes for the credits to roll.
As we have observed, Unforgotten is imaginatively framed and shot compared to other crime procedurals (excepting the intentionally English Heritage-type series such as Endeavour or Midsomer Murders). The final dramatic rising aerial shot of Cassie walking away from her decisive meeting with Sunny looks like one of the best uses of those pesky drones we’ve seen. As it pans out we see a city full of unknowable possibilities – good and bad. No one is walking around in hackneyed 50s-style London smog. This is a recognisable world of colour, light and shade full of people like us, which makes the narrative all the more enjoyable for bucking the trend in most crime dramas – there are no easy answers. Occasionally, as in real life, a compromise must be struck not to pursue a case. And sometimes, just sometimes that is the ethical, even virtuous, thing to do.
For our episode one review go here
For our episode two review go here
For our episode three review go here
For our episode four review go here
For our episode five review go here