“Why aren’t the streets full of wrecked people?”
Many people judge the endings of thrillers as an overall gauge of what a whole series is like. What is the big reveal like? Is there a killer twist? Is there a happy ending for the main characters?
When it comes to ITV three-parter, Too Close, all of the above were revealed. I had perhaps thought there would be a conventional twist – perhaps Karl and Vanessa cut the break cables in the car, or otherwise somehow conspired to frame Connie Mortensen for the attempted murder of two children.
After all her memory was impaired – anything could have happened in that car.
However, there wasn’t your straightforward unmasking or twist in this finale. Instead, the series – adapted from the novel by Natalie Daniels – stayed utterly true to its heart and presented us with a stunning, harrowing and heart-rending study of psychosis and mistreatment.
At the end of episode two, Connie had set fire to her psychiatric unit room. While this was happening, Dr Emma Robertson decided to go to a school reunion and let her hair down, fired up by seeing her husband with another woman and her own need to break free from the shackles of a grief- and guilt-ridden existence.
But this story – or at least this finale – was all about what really happened to Connie on that fateful night. The resulting fall-out from the fire brought it all back to her, and to us an audience.
What proceeded was one of the most disturbing and emotional hours of television I’ve seen in a long time. We saw Connie prior to the incident in extreme distress and holding on to reality by her fingertips – she was drinking more, taking more of the anti-depressants and was ravaged by grief for not only the loss of her recently deceased mother but her own marriage.
She really was a woman on the edge.
Encouraged by her husband Karl, she went to stay with her father and decided to abruptly stop her meds in a bid to straighten herself out. This led to disastrous consequences.
She began to descend into a whirlpool of psychosis and paranoia, and saw literal hissing demons all around her. The depiction of mental illness can be all to cliched and inaccurate in TV dramas, but here, as Connie completely unravelled, it felt terrifyingly, disturbingly real.
Some of these scenes were very hard to watch, make no mistake.
She began to hallucinate her late mother, she saw Karl and Vanessa as tongue-flicking, scaly-skinned devils… everything was crumbling around her.
In fear of her and her children’s lives, Connie took her daughter and Vanessa’s daughter and drove them out into the storm. Even the traffic lights on the bridge looked like the face of a monster to her, and, beckoned by the apparition of her mother on the other side of the gates, she ploughed through and down into the water.
Now, I’ve seen a lot of people – talked to a few people, in fact – who have struggled to take this story seriously because of the privileged life that Connie led. Toddler groups, SUV in the drive, wine-for-breakfast days and olives for little Jemima’s lunchbox. In this case it led to middle-class ennui and then into inexplicable psychosis.
It’s easy to take potshots at Too Close, but I challenge anyone not to have been affected by this extraordinarily powerful episode.
There was no big twist or bad-guy or girl reveal here. Events happened exactly as they were explained at the start – Connie Mortensen drove herself and those two children off a bridge, nearly killing them all (the two children did survive, mercifully).
So this story has been a whydunnit rather than a whodunnit, and the whys of this tale had an equally plausible feel to them. Nothing sensational here – Connie driving that car off the bridge was not because of murderous urges, but because of a doctor’s malpractice, over medication and her own mistake of coming off the meds too quickly, too soon. No one looked after her, and no one cared – perhaps precisely because of the area she lived in and the affluent life she led.
In some ways, the achingly middle-class setting that some have complained about was crucial to the story and the reacition of those around her.
As for Dr Emma, we’ve seen her own life unravel as soon as she began to spend time with Connie. We found out what happened to her daughter, she found the courage to meet the man who had knocked her down, her marriage finally crumbled… it was as if she needed this case with Connie in order to confront and move on from her own demons.
While the central mystery absolutely concerned Connie, make no mistake… this was all about Emma.
To my mind, Connie existed and represented a part of Emma’s psyche; a hidden, repressed part of her personality. Someone angry, crazed and devil-may-care who said all the things Emma wished she could say. An archetype.
For too long Emma had constructed a conscious personality that was meant to survive rather than process or heal. Dealing with Connie was like looking into a mirror and seeing a side to herself she had kept buried for too long.
Too Close wasn’t perfect (there were a few head-scratching moments and there was perhaps too happy an ending) and some will lament the lack of real, juicy twist many domestic noirs usually deliver. But I found it to be an extraordinarily powerful, haunting and devastating study of fragility and grief, all underpinned by a frankly astonishing performance by Denise Gough and the usual excellence from Emily Watson and director Susan Tully. If you see a better performance than Gough anywhere in the world this year , please let me know.
Not every crime drama or thriller has to have a moustache-twirling villain – sometimes the truth is scarier and hits home harder.
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE ONE REVIEW
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE TWO REVIEW
Too Close is available to watch on ITV Hub in the UK