REVIEW: Deadwater Fell (S2 E4/4)

Every whodunit lives or, if you’ll pardon the pun, dies on its well-constructed puzzle, its red herrings and, ultimately, its reveal. So many crime dramas have been excellent right up until its reveal, falling at the last hurdle.

You can make a solid argument that Deadwater Fell did the same.

For three episodes the series had been framed as a domestic noir and whodunit, and a search to find the killer of doctor’s wife Kate and her three children. We were presented with one prime suspect and perhaps thought that others might come to the fore, as most crime dramas have a habit of doing. We even thought that a suspect external to the main character group might emerge at the very last minute.

None of these things happened.

We questioned whether Dr Tom – on the outside the perfect man but inside a simmering brute and domestic abuser – could actually be the murderer. It’s one thing to systematically abuse, but to murder? Could he have done it?

The short answer is yes. Very much so yes.

I’m always interested in series that present themselves as whodunits and how and when they reveal the culprit, and here in this final episode I was waiting… and waiting… and waiting… until I realised, with a jolt, that the classic reveal would not be happening.

What did happen? At the end of episode three, we saw Steve – who had seriously endangered his career with some misjudged malpractice – was on a bad run. He was feeling the guilt from shunning Kate’s plea for help (when she told him she feared one day Tom would kill her), and was then shocked and dismayed to find his young son begin to show signs of self-harm.

His partner Jess, who had once slept with Tom, was also feeling it. Her latest round of IVF had failed, and her relationship with Steve was on a knife-edge. It took his son’s attempt at self-harm to shake them out of heir mini-war and get their act together.

But what of Tom? He was experiencing some serious side-eye from the villagers, especially at a fund-raiser for his daughters’ burial garden. And, when he told Jess that he was abused as a child, we almost began to feel sorry for him. Almost.

But it wasn’t long before his true colours were confirmed.

And how.

The final act told us exactly what happened in that big house on that fateful night, almost scene-for-scene. After all his abuse, Tom had found out that Kate had planned to divorce him, which precipitated an awful chain of events. Abusers crave control, so when he saw his slipping away, he decided to take action. He watched Kate as she spoke to the headmaster at the barn dance, and took it to be flirting. He confronted her, furiously accusing her of an affair.

The next day, he methodically and calmly retrieved medicine and syringes from his cabinet in the surgery, telephoned Kate and asked her to pick up a padlock from the local hardware store because the one on the shed had broken and needed replacing.

That evening he said goodnight to the girls and injected them with the substance. When Kate came in she was horrified to find that they would not wake up, and began to panic. He coldly told her that she didn’t deserve the kids.

We next saw her lying in the hallway, motionless and glassy-eyed. It was a harrowing, terrifying moment.

Tom telephoned his mother – a crucial moment – and left a voicemail stating the ‘he only tried to do his best’. He then went upstairs, injected himself with the same substance he had injected his daughters with and lay down to die.

Except he did not die.

In the present day, his mother eventually came forward to hammer the nail into her son’s metaphorical coffin, and that was that. Although it should be noted that as this flashback segment told us the full story, it was intercut with Tom cutting his nails to point of making himself bleed. It was a powerful juxtaposition.

Many people have already come forward to offer their opinions, and have expressed disappointment at the lack of a twist and the fact that it was Tom all along. I understand their argument because if it was being presented as a whodunit, you expect a pay-off, some thrills and spills even. But all the way throughout this series, writer Daisy Coulam has written rich, affecting characters that have acted authentically to trauma (from feeling guilt to suffering from PTSD). The fact that Coulam chose not to let it play out as a traditional whodunit was a brave and bold decision.

To me, this added to the piece’s authenticity. Yes, this was a crime drama, but in the end, it wasn’t quite the whodunit as it was dressed up to be. It was a study of domestic abuse and our perception of it. As one character asked during this episode, “why didn’t Kate just leave him?” It’s a question so many ask when faced with situations like this, and unknowingly, almost pushes the blame on to the abused and not the abuser. In the end, we were forced to look elsewhere and almost refused to believe that Tom – the perfect man, don’t forget – because… he couldn’t do such a thing, could he?

In the end, so many cases of domestic abuse mirror this perception, when in fact the person who is meting out abuse is the person who is guilty of so much more. It’s sometimes really that simple.

Deadwater Fell was a clever, involving and harrowing study of this heinous kind of abuse.

At the beginning, we were shown a perfect little town and the series had a strong sense of place. But as the episodes ticked by, the focus narrowed – this wasn’t a story about the town, it was a story about what happens in rooms, in homes. It could have used the town to create an almost locked-room mystery, but it just wasn’t that kind of show.

Some viewers will feel cheated at the lack of twists and turns and a big reveal (I mean, there was a reveal), but this was a drama that wanted to tackle serious subjects, once again proving that crime drama is a great vehicle in which to do so.

Paul Hirons