WARNING: spoilers below. Still catching up on Deadwater Fell episode 4? Read Steve’s review of episode 3 here.
It started innocently enough with some good ol’ fashioned murders. A house fire killing a mother and her three children; the father narrowly escaping with his life. At first the mother is suspected. Then the father. A few sub-plots swirl around and we’re briefly steered to wonder if there might’ve been someone else because the arson. For all intents and purposes, this was classic crime drama stuff. A whodunnit. A Scottish Broadchurch.
This was, ultimately, not to be the case.
The set-up led us down a road that had an unexpected fork in it. As we watched the first three quarters, we did so knowing there were some heavy themes being explored, but all within the confines of a murder mystery. This fourth and final episode disposed of all pretence and revealed that Deadwater Fell was no ‘guess the killer’ potboiler. It merely knew how to look a little like one.
Writer Daisy Coulam had no desire to pull an Agatha Christie on us. What she wanted to do was present an unsuspecting audience with a hard-hitting and thought-provoking drama about emotional abuse and coercive control. And she managed to do so quite brilliantly. Giving us just that, but in the guise of a murder mystery, was a real stroke of genius.
For anyone yet to catch this final instalment of this Channel 4 drama, we won’t go into too finer detail here as to what happened. We will say, however, that the twist is that there is no twist. There’s no great reveal, no big shock. We find out what happened and we’re shown how the situation built up. The camera focuses in on the slim, bearded face of David Tennant here more than ever as we realise beyond a doubt that he’s not a victim, but an extremely unpleasant man.
Tennant’s guile as an actor is on show here. He doesn’t play Dr Tom Kendrick here as evil, or even as a cardboard cutout abusive husband. His weakness and limitations as an emotional human being are beautifully drawn here. His actions weren’t those of a plotting and evil psychopath, they were those of an arrogant, weak and – as Cush Jumbo’s Jess levels at him during this final part’s standout scene – ‘banal’ man.
Another way in which Deadwater Fell distinguishes itself from its peers is the manner in which it left us. There was no final schlocky violence or grimness. The story ends on a hopeful note. Justice may still be done and the surviving characters are all shown paths to recovery and happiness. These four hours showed us the dark side of family life, but also the light.
What it did beyond all else, though, was show us that a crime drama can do more than just parade a few corpses in front of us and make us guess a killer.
It wasn’t always a pleasurable watch, but with thoughtful and realistic writing and four incredibly strong central performances from Tenant, Jumbo, Matthew McNulty and Anna Madeley, it was a vital one.
Did you watch Deadwater Fell episode 4? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…