*Warning: This series review contains spoilers*
Who could suspect kind Uncle Phil of murdering his sister-in-law with a hammer, wrapping her bloody body in tarpaulin, tying her up with rope and dumping her deep beneath the waves?
Except – a lot of us did.
Despite there being not a shred of real, tangible evidence against him until the last 15 minutes of the final episode, many viewers of ITV’s crime drama suspected Phil (Daniel Ryan) from the very beginning.
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As the drama headed into its last stretch without implicating David Collins’ brother Phil in any meaningful way, that only served to convince us that he was the real killer.
Phil was always too good to be true. “He’s the only one who seems completely honest,” Daniel Ryan told RadioTimes.com in an interview – and that’s just what made viewers suspicious.
Seemingly selfless, he devoted himself to his brother, sacrificing relationships and money to fight his cause and then helping him get back on his feet after prison. Surely in a drama like this, his motives could never be entirely altruistic?
The four-parter did give us quite a ride however. For a while, it looked like it might be Alice Moffatt (Hermione Norris) or Tom Wilson (Elliot Cowan) who killed Tara – but then, the finger of blame pointed towards them too early in the game.
More plausible as a murderer was Rob Moffatt, played by Adrian Rawlins. Before the fourth episode aired, he came out top in a RadioTimes.com poll of likely suspects, with 41% voting for him as Tara’s likely killer.
Rob could tie butterfly knots and had access to tarpaulin at the boat yard; he took a secret late-night car trip where he travelled at almost double the speed limit, right past where Tara would have got off the train, and he hated her with a passion.
So Rob had the motive – and he had the means.
But this was the kind of whodunnit that needed a twist. Once David Collins (Lee Ingleby) had been “conclusively exonerated”, that left only one real way to deliver a surprise killer, Agatha Christie-style: make it the person the police had never even considered.
Unfortunately, 38% of RadioTimes.com readers saw it coming and said Phil was our murderer, compared to 10% for Alice and 7% for Tom. This twist was less of a neat butterfly knot, more of a loosely tied shoelace.
That predictability aside, Phil is a pretty good choice of killer – and looking back it makes a sort of sense. Phil’s guilty conscience compelled him to campaign for David’s innocence and to deny the guilt of Alice, Rob or Tom. But his cowardice and fear kept him from a confession. That is why he was simultaneously so loyal and attentive to his brother, and so keen to keep the police away and close the door on Tara’s death.
What we end up with is a glorious confession scene in the shed (side note: where are the police at this point? Just hanging around outside?).
Phil’s charade finally unravels as he reveals a pathetic tale of brotherly jealousy and male sexual entitlement: he struck his sister-in-law Tara with a hammer, he says, because she not only rejected but belittled his sexual advances. In the age of ‘incels’, that’s an interesting story to tell: even at the end, Phil seems to blame Tara for his own violence.
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We also end up with a drama that has a real emotional heart. And what a good decision by screenwriters Chris Lang and Matthew Arlidge not to make David guilty after all – the other obvious “twist” available to them.
Aside from vindicating diligent cop DI Cathy Hudson (Angel Coulby) and proving her patronising ex-boyfriend DI William Beech (Nigel Lindsay) wrong, it leaves us with a story of redemption and forgiveness.
Those two poor kids get their Dad back, but are also able mend their relationship with the surrogate Mum and Dad who raised them for the last seven years.
And there has been so much pain and mistrust in this drama that the final closing shot packs a real emotional punch: Alice, who once made such dark comments about what she’d do to David if she ever saw him, is shown pulling him into a grateful embrace while the family sobs in each other’s arms. What an ending.