First things first, the series finale of Doctor Foster began with the answer to the question on everyone’s lips since last week: Simon is alive. Gemma swerved her car towards her cheating ex-spouse, but at the last minute veered past him and ploughed on to steal their son from his father’s grasp.
But in the end, we have focused so much on the bitter custody battle between Gemma and Simon that we viewers – like his parents – may have forgotten about poor Tom.
The maltreated son of the warring Fosters, so brilliantly played by young actor Tom Taylor, stood front and centre of the show at the end of series two by disappearing, vowing never to see his parents again.
So Doctor Foster – which started as an infidelity drama in series one – became a vengeful break up custody battle in series two, before finally morphing into something else entirely. If we get a series three (and Mike Bartlett suggests he’s thinking about it), it will be about a missing person.
It was an inspired turn to take after the breathless events of the concluding episode which took in Simon’s desperate pleas to Tom, his attempted suicide on a main road in front of his son and Gemma, and his interrupted second attempt to end his life using a syringe provided by his ex-wife.
Yes, just before the close Simon was in his hotel room, ready to inject a deadly poison provided by Gemma, when she returned in the nick of time and managed to talk him out of it.
But as Gemma reappeared – after talking Simon back from the edge – Tom was gone.
When she finally listened to her son’s voicemail message (and it was fitting that this busy woman had two messages on her phone to get through before finally hitting upon the most important one) she heard the dreaded words: “Mum, I’m going… I was going to move out anyway. I have got no school, no friends left. I hate myself. I just want to start again. You went off at 17, you did alright. You won’t see me again. It will be better, I think. Love you.”
Up until that point the tension in the war between Simon and Gemma had been all-consuming. Was Simon going to kill himself? Was he going to attack her? Would he leave her alone, once and for all?
Throughout the series finale Tom had been talking about how he needed to move out, his repeated insistence on his desire for independence and a place of his own dismissed by Gemma (and also at one point by her on/off boyfriend James).
Gemma also recalled happier moments with Simon, with flashbacks showing him popping through the door, their kitchen bathed in sunshine. Of course, we knew that he was cheating at the time of these sunny scenes, but it contrasted powerfully with the grey, grim reality of the present.
Tom had said he didn’t want to see his dad again but he finally got an audience with his father, only when Simon said he needed to talk to him – or he would kill himself. Again, this is hardly one to pick from the good parenting manuals.
“Sometimes children have to look after their parents,” wailed Simon earlier in the episode and you wanted to scream ‘no they don’t, it’s not their job’. Psychologists have a word for this terrible form of child-rearing: parentification. It’s making your offspring look after you and it doesn’t work.
And when you tot up everything Tom has seen, culminating in that grimmest of breakfasts towards the close (the poor waitress) in the dingy hotel, it was all clear. Mealtimes have been a real Doctor Foster motif and it made you think of all the awful ones Tom has seen over two series. In some ways it is a surprise he got this far.
But at least it leaves things open for series three – which writer Mike Bartlett has suggested will focus on the hunt for a missing person.
That was certainly what seemed to have been set up when Gemma broke the fourth wall and spoke to the camera, addressing her son: “I’m here. Tom, I’m your mum. I’m sorry and I’m here. I will always be here waiting. When you want to come back. Whenever you want to come back.”
Though if we do get a third series, I wouldn’t bet on the Gemma/Simon saga dragging on in its own inimitable style….
This article was originally published in October 2017