Sherwood has been just terrific so far, expertly weaving an intricate murder mystery into an engrossing tale of a fraying community pushed to the very edge of its sanity.
But as terrific as it has been, a crime drama often lives and dies by how it lands. So far, writer James Graham has paid close attention to his characters, giving them deep, rich histories, and to his community that is still suffering the after-effects of the miners’ strike back in the 1980s.
Such gnarly and dense social context has been truly great for this drama, giving it a depth that we’ve not seen for a long time.
It changed slightly from a whodunit into a cat-and-mouse and, to some extent, a whydunit as the story evolved. We knew fairly early on that lone crossbowman, Scott Rowley, killed Gary Jackson and was the man wreaking havoc around Ashfield. But why?
Graham also gave us a compelling and intriguing mystery concerning a ‘spy cop’, one of five undercover Met police officers sent to Ashfield to infiltrate different groups, cause trouble and sow seeds of mistrust. State agitators, sent to heighten the conflict and who were content to sit back and let the two warring groups tear themselves apart.
In episode five, we found out that the spy cop who stayed in the town was Daphne Sparrow, now the matriarch of a crime family.
Such a fantastically delicious juxtaposition.
In fact, Sherwood has been full of these terrifically drawn characters, and I’ve really marvelled at how Graham has managed to keep all the plates spinning. I cannot tell you how difficult it is to create a compelling, addictive murder mystery – with all the beats, and with all the cliffhangers that we come to expect and demand – that is given equal weight to a really meaty character drama. One often overshadows the other – procedural snuffs out character, or vice versa. Rarely are they balanced.
But they are here.
Let’s just take a moment to list some of the amazing characterisation and stories explored in this six-part series. Ian St Clair – the white-knight cop – and his relationship with his wife Helen, his community, and what happened with his dad and brother in the 1980s; what happened to Kevin Salisbury during his stationing in Ashfield, his relationship with Jenny and how that affected him for the rest of his life; the dynamics within the Sparrow family; the sad tale of Andy Fisher, losing his wife and then exploding in a fit of murderous rage; his victim Sarah Vincent and her relationship with her father, and now an unapologetic Tory councillor in a mostly Labour area; the Jackson sisters and their causes of their estrangement… the list goes on and on. And there was even time for a star cross’d relationship between the younger members of the Jackson and Sparrow families.
To carry all of this off, you need a top-notch cast, and the likes of David Morrissey, Robert Glenister, Lesley Manville, Lorraine Ashbourne, Adeel Ahktar et al were all brilliant.
But now to the ending.
When Scott Rowley was finally caught by members of the community (a nice touch… the community putting animosities aside and teaming together to capture him) as he sought to sneak in and out of his family home, the thought was that he was doing what he was doing because he knew who the spy cop was and was taking out key players in the miners’ drama as an act of some sort of revenge.
Not so. In custody, he told a stunned St Clair and Salisbury that he had no idea who the spy cop was, although he quite enjoyed toying with the police making them think he knew who it was. No, Scott Rowley murdered Gary Jackson because he was fed up with his uncle lording it over everyone, and he continued his spree because… he wanted to make a name for himself. He had been passed over by his birth mother, his dad didn’t care about him and his life was going nowhere.
Was this satisfactory? I’m not sure. I’m still not sure after watching it a second time. Part of me thinks this was a bit… of a cop-out. In crime dramas, we like to not only see the bad guy get his comeuppance but also to find out why he did it. After all the build-up – the spy cops, the history of the miners’ strike – I was expecting something more. Much more. To see Scott Rowley (clearly a highly disturbed psychopath) laugh his head off because there was no real reason for committing the atrocities he did, felt like a bit of a cheat.
And yet, they were perfectly plausible human reasons for doing what he did – we heard that he had been rejected by his birth mother, rejected by his dad and, in a sense, rejected by his whole community.
The Scott Rowley issue had been resolved fairly early in the episode, which left a good half an hour to build up the tension again… would Daphne Sparrow be found out? She came perilously close on numerous occasions, and she was ready to end it all after it seemed her true identity would be revealed.
However, thanks to St Clair’s intervention, she stayed her pistol. Not to live happily ever after, but at least to live.
And this seemed to be the message – the big theme – in this series: no matter who you are, what you did 30 years ago and what you believe, it’s ok to change, and it’s ok to heal. Healing, reconciliation, redemption. They’re all needed in order to live life.
So while I perhaps had a few issues with some of this final episode – I’d be interested to know what you thought of it – Sherwood was one of those rare things: a crime drama that gave us characters and characterisation you could luxuriate in, the type and quality of which we haven’t seen since Happy Valley.
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE ONE REVIEW
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE TWO REVIEW
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE THREE REVIEW
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE FOUR REVIEW
Sherwood is now on the BBC iPlayer in the UK