Unforgotten season 5 review: The well-crafted, cold case drama is more poignant than ever
Packed full of heavy-hitting themes, Unforgotten returns and is just as gripping as before.
There's a reason why Unforgotten remains to be one of most beloved crime dramas on TV. Well, multiple, actually.
It could be DI Sunny Khan's (Sanjeev Bhaskar) infamous backpack, the tight-knit camaraderie of the investigating team, or the multi-layered case that spans each season, making for twists and turns that mean you're never quite able to guess where Unforgotten will go.
It's no mean feat in the wide-spanning abyss that is the crime drama genre – especially when you kill off the lead detective and continue on. But while Unforgotten season 5 may be picking up months after the tragic death of DCI Cassie Stewart (Nicola Walker), it's a season that's as much about the impact of grief as it is about the gripping cold case at hand.
Sinéad Keenan takes the helm of this new season as DCI Jessica 'Jessie' James, starting her new job in the shadow of personal family drama that has well and truly upended her life. She attempts to remain level-headed but of course, going into this new team, others are unaware that she is thrown off and not acting entirely like herself.
We see her as she navigates this already close and grief-stricken team as the stoic new boss, after months of interim DCIs have passed through their doors. Sunny admits that "they begged" him to take the role, but you can tell from the season's first moments that our beloved co-lead is battling with issues of his own.
He's pensive, quiet, but as sharp and observant as ever, willing Jessie to see the case at hand for what it is: a cold case, rather than a more recent murder. "We don't live in an ideal world, do we? We live in a s**tty one," Jessie says to Sunny, explaining why there's pressure from the superintendent to not take on as many cold cases, like Cassie did.
The team's eyes (as are ours) are never not analysing the awkward interactions that take place between Sunny and Jessie, hinting at fractures already forming between the new boss and long-standing DS. But like Sunny, this is a team that is struggling to continue in their day-to-day in light of recent events.
There's no denying that this is a season that's very much about grief and how death is dealt with by those left behind. But it's also a sentiment that is carried throughout other plot lines in this instalment: the grief of relationships, the past, grief that comes with trauma and can also come from hoping for more from the future.
The case kicks off after the discovery of human remains in a newly renovated period property in Hammersmith, London. As the murder mystery unfolds, we’re introduced to a flurry of central characters that include Jay (Rhys Yates), Ebele (Martina Laird), Tony (Ian McElhinney) and Karol (Max Rinehart) who seem to be unconnected to the victim. But as is the way with the delicate storytelling of Unforgotten, we come to learn of how their own lives interweave and somehow overlap with the case at hand.
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Unforgotten is as much about the central main cast as it is about the guest stars and the case that unfolds throughout each season.
The performances in these five new episodes, particularly from Yates as troubled Rhys and Laird as complicated Ebele, underline the drama as continuing its streak of incredibly strong storytelling. It's a major reason why each episode's cliffhanger spurs us on to devour the next, making us impatient to learn how the past has impacted so heavily on the present.
But what is most endearing about this fifth season – aside from the obvious strong new lead in Keenan – is the fact that there are so many themes at play, it's a wonder Unforgotten never feels crowded. The new episodes deal with death, but also wealth, politics, sexual assault, addiction, male domestic abuse, privilege and infidelity, to name a few.
Instead, these massive over-arching themes are explored with the kind of breathing space they need. Like life, not everything can be tied up neatly and this season (and its finale) demonstrates just that — but that's not to say that this season of Unforgotten doesn't feel satisfying. It does.
It's a familiar balance that Unforgotten has always managed to strike, but here, we also get satisfaction from seeing how Jessie navigates her new workplace and how the initial fiery clashes of the season peter out for a very promising start for our new DCI lead.
Unforgotten season 5 will air on ITV1 on Monday 27th February at 9pm, with the full season being released on ITVX then also. All four previous seasons are currently available to stream on ITVX.
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