Dublin Murders finale review: A nerve-fraying crescendo ends in an anticlimax

There’s a late, exposition-heavy survey of the clues you may have missed

Sarah Greene and Killian Scott: ‘My head is f**ked from all the raped, dead kids’

Sarah Greene and Killian Scott: ‘My head is f**ked from all the raped, dead kids’

 

In one pleasing inversion, the kind that underscores the considerate composition of Sarah Phelps’ satisfying adaptation of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad novels, the finale of Dublin Murders (BBC One, Tuesday, 9pm; RTE Wednesday 9.30pm) began with the first meeting of its protagonists, Detectives Cassie Maddox and Rob Riley. (Its first episode, in a harried flash forward, began with their final, jittery parting.)

To say that they appear more innocent before the events of the series would be an overstatement, though. Leaving her first murder scene, Sarah Greene’s fascinatingly guarded Cassie Maddox observes, with only mild concern, “I think I got a bit of our girl on my shoe.”

There, chatting in an unmarked car, they bond early, two guilty survivors of cataclysmic events – a fatal car crash in her case, an unsolved child abduction in his – which split both of their identities permanently in two.

You buy their immediate rapport: “Hello, freak,” Greene says with sly recognition. “Hello,” Scott says, with something like happy relief. Why should partners like these ever have to split?

That they did was partly down to the conceit of Phelps’ decision to roll French’s first two books into one series, sheaving Rob and Cass into separate adventures. For Rob, the grim murder of a child bore him back to the same woods where his own childhood ended. Cassie found herself inveigled into a more compellingly fantastical set up, insinuating herself in the home of her own murdered doppelganger.

The weirder plot, played absolutely straight, actually holds together better, supernatural, gothic and as exquisitely tense as an anxiety dream. “Do you know what happens when doppelgangers meet each other?” Cassie was asked at the story’s nerve-fraying crescendo. “The world ends.”

If the series finale is anticlimactic in comparison – a late, exposition-heavy survey of all the clues you may have missed – it’s probably because the dense woods and cramped houses of Knocknaree, soon to be bulldozed by Celtic Tiger avarice, seemed more claustrophobic than the chilly, haunting possibilities of Cassie’s cult-like Wicklow retreat.

It’s also because the unmasking of Knocknaree’s culprit, Leah McNamara’s preternaturally creepy teenager Rosalind, who seemed to have taken elocution lessons from Hannibal Lecter and fashion notes from a Victorian doll, resulted in an excessively stagey concept: the eerily precocious child psychopath.

“I will make a full confession but I will only make it to Cassie Maddox,” she breathes airily, in the service of either the devil or narrative closure.

Outplayed by this demonic know-it-all, Rob and Cassie finally have their double-lives exposed. To some extent, they had to come to terms with it sooner or later.

“You lied,” Cassie is told, on more than one occasion. “It’s what I do,” she replies.

Yet, by the time she finds her irate boss Frank Mackey (the fiendishly good Tom Vaughan-Lawlor savouring the character’s loose morals), her most significant transformation is to bring these games to an end. “We’re dangerous, Frank,” she tells him. “And you’ve been doing this for way too long.”

With their own cover now blown, though, Rob and Cassie’s cases are instantly undermined. That makes their brief reunion here poignant (“I’ll miss you,” Greene says, with a short, sincere nod, almost to herself, while Scott’s Rob leaves his own feelings unspoken), but satisfyingly understated.

Besides, the show suggests, they may actually be different people now. Cassie, the misfit uncannily reunited with her imaginary friend, and Rob, the alter ego of a long-missing child named Adam, really did meet their doppelgangers in this existential mystery.

And the world, for them at least, ended. Goodbye, freaks.

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