Why I feel cheated by the ending of BBC divorce drama The Split

Despite a brilliant performance from Nicola Walker, the clumsy series finale struggled to provide real resolution or believable behaviour from many of its characters, says Eleanor Bley Griffiths

The Split family

Having begun my relationship with The Split in a spirit of rose-tinted optimism and delight, rushing headlong into romance with Nicola Walker’s acting abilities and Stephen Mangan’s comic timing, I am sorry to report that the love affair is over.

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From the very first episode, Abi Morgan’s BBC drama split viewers’ opinions (sorry). Was it a ground-breaking female-led drama, or an alienating tale of wealthy high-achievers? Was the dialogue clever, or trite? Were the characters complex, or simply perplexing?

But as the series wore on and the Defoe sisters’ storylines twisted and turned, and as TV overnight audiences dropped from 4.30 million in week one to a low of 2.80 million in week four, I stuck with it. It had so much to give! It was going to so many interesting places! It delivered moments of comedy and moments of exquisitely gut-wrenching heartache!

But then we got to the sixth and final episode and all that trust was betrayed. What we were given was a lacklustre ending which wrapped up a ton of storylines in really unsatisfying, clichéd ways.

Hannah and Christie in The Split

After lots of Significant Looks and choked back words and hesitant baby-steps, ultra-successful divorce lawyer Hannah (Nicola Walker) finally made an actual decision – and yet even that wasn’t satisfying.

On the one hand she had Nathan (Stephen Mangan), her lovely husband of many years who was now revealed as a liar and a user of a sleazy Ashley Madison-alike dating website. On the other she had her work colleague and old flame Christie (Barry Atsma), a personality-lite good-looking lawyer who’d been pining over her for literally decades. It got messy.

Finally she took herself off to Christie’s pad to sleep with him, and locked things in by asking him not to move to America in the closing moments of the final episode.

Stephen Mangan in The Split

But what does it mean? Is she staying with Nathan and planning to lie to him like he did to her, over and over again? Is she going to accept her mother’s advice to have a super sexy secret affair without letting it turn into love? Or is this out in the open, and is she leaving Nathan the Cheater for Christie the Bland?

In the rush towards the end it’s all left up in the air. Perhaps this is in preparation for a potential second series, but it’s not exactly a cliffhanger; just an unsatisfying ending left dangling. What is going on inside Hannah’s head? It’s not entirely clear whether her decision is dictated by anything more than the need for a quick conclusion.

It has been hard to get inside some of the characters in The Split, but that’s unsurprising considering it was a story with SO many threads and subplots.

But instead of tying together, it all seemed to sprawl out of control. Goldie and Davey’s big-budget divorce! Nina Defoe’s affair with her client Rex Pope! Nina’s big reveal as a kleptomaniac! Rose’s troubled relationship and vicar-groping and breakup and reunion and marriage! Hannah and Nathan’s daughter and her budding sex life! The Defoe family firm’s bankruptcy! Long-lost dad Oscar’s return! Oscar’s death!

Anthony Head in The Split

Talking of Oscar: of course he had to die. He was doomed from day one. His presence was required as the bombshell forcing his ex-wife and three daughters to re-evaluate their lives, and so the absent father (played by Anthony Head) had served his purpose in the narrative by the time he was wheeled out on a gurney. Bye bye, Oscar – we hardly knew ye.

But of course, he stayed alive just long enough for Rose’s wedding. And what a weird storyline THAT was! So – what?– Rose (Fiona Button) and her nasally-challenged fiancé James (Rudi Dharmalingam) have worked through their issues in one giant leap and are now ready to tie the knot and live happily ever after? James is just cool about the vicar penis-touching situation?

In truth, it seemed like Rose had more than cold feet: were she and James fundamentally unsuited to each other? Perhaps, in the race to wrap things up, some of the subtleties of their story got lost. 

The Split

The saving grace of The Split has been Walker. Sure, the script strayed into unlikely dialogue and obvious plot devices and faux-profound insights. But every time the drama began to look clunky, then – BAM! – there was Walker, playing with our emotions. She carried it all the way until the final episode.

In a less sadistic way than it sounds, I could watch Walker be Extremely Upset and Very Hurt for many hours. This woman does understated fury and quiet heartbreak in STYLE, even if that style sometimes involves wearing a ratty t-shirt to sleep in the guest bedroom, or storming out of dinner to get wasted at her little sister’s hen do.

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But from such promising beginnings, The Split has been a disappointment – and it’s time to file for divorce on the grounds of Unreasonable Behaviour (by the characters) and Desertion (of a satisfying ending).


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