What creeps along in the woods, watching and waiting for the children of Knocknaree? Despite her foreigner status, Tana French (who moved from America to Dublin as a young adult and has lived there for two-odd decades) is invested in the particular swirl of Irish legend and modernity, something that made the transplant from novel to TV show. Creatures who live under the hills, the chatty neighbor Mrs. Fitzgerald intoned in the first episode, might have snapped up Jamie and Peter in the 1980s and may have been responsible for or involved in Katy’s death now. In this episode, which drags us deeper into the murder case and the haunting nature of Rob’s true identity, she offers up the idea that perhaps Katy’s twin sister Jessica is really a “fetch,” a twin “who isn’t a twin.” In other words, some sort of offering or servant sent from the devil. It’s unclear if Mrs. Fitzgerald really believes the old tales — and quite obvious that Cassie and probably Rob find it all to be claptrap — but the suggestion of malicious fairies and feys is enough. The woods, no matter who you are, will haunt you.
For Rob, that means a strange kinship with forests. As a young boy just placed in an English boarding school, he dropped notes begging Jamie and Peter to return into a tree hollow, using it as a sort of celestial tin can phone. As a 30-something murder detective, it’s the site of his best and worst childhood memories. For a young Jonathan Devlin and his pals, the woods were a place of easy debauchery and perhaps some malice. For a grown Jonathan, it’s his daughter’s murder site. For Peter’s father, unable to bear the loss of his son, those Knocknaree trees are the place he hung a swing for his child and then a noose for himself. They’re a hideaway for all manner of things, good and evil.
The woods are also where Cassie and Rob abandon their earlier plan to claim “wrecked heads” over the murders they investigate and step away from the case. It’s partly his curiosity that magnetizes Rob; he’s never been able to recall his memories of the disappearance, and here’s a chance to gaze at all the evidence and interview the witnesses, to crack open the door to the case. But it’s practicality that convinces Cassie to go along with his plan. Both their careers would essentially crumble if it came out that they hadn’t disclosed Rob’s identity earlier, and any other detectives who step into their roles would put finding Adam Ryan at the top of their to-do list. “We can control it, hide in plain sight,” Rob says. We’ll see about that.
Rather than tightening up, Cassie and Rob’s investigation is branching out. Katy had no access to social media or real use of the mobile phone that was kept locked up at her ballet school, so it’s unlikely she was targeted online by a random psychopath and lured to the woods. In their meeting with O’Kelly (who, with his particular brand of bluster, continues to threaten to destroy men’s genitalia), the detectives conclude that the hideously named Operation Vestal has three lines of inquiry.
First there’s the man in the “French blue” tracksuit whom Damian Donnelly, the tour guide for the archaeological site and one of the people who found Katy’s body, says he saw lurking in the woods. A townie? A rogue deviant? Someone out for a jog? Probably none of the above. Damian, they conclude, has a bit of arrested development — trapped at home with his immobile mum, he “likes being important, the center of attention,” and most likely made up the tracksuit man. So they put this theory aside.
The second potential perpetrator is someone connected with the movement Jonathan Devlin headed up to reroute the motorway out of the Knocknaree woods. His advocacy had churned up more attention from the developers with money at stake than he bargained for, he explains to Cassie and Rob, and he’d received phone calls and threats at home. He righteously told the man calling that he ought to “send his best lads.” But after Katy answered the telephone, the caller directly threatened her: “That’s a lovely little girl you got there, shame if anything were to happen to her.” It’s possible, the detectives conclude, that the caller made good on that threat.
The third, most serious line of inquiry is the Devlin family itself, specifically Jonathan, the only parent in that house with any semblance of control — perhaps too much. What we see (although the detectives don’t) of him at home offers some kindling for that flame of an idea. His grief reads a lot like anger, rage at his family for their glazed-over eyes that stare docilely at the blaring television. When he wrests the remote control from his wife’s hands she hangs still for a brief moment, too Xanax-ed up for immediate action. But the darts that shoot out of her mouth a second later are pointed: “You, you, you!” she screams at Jonathan, implicating him in something, though we don’t know what. Does she blame him for the motorway campaign, which may have inadvertently killed Katy, or for the firm grip we’re meant to believe he exerts over family decisions (like Rosalind’s nearly Amish attire)? Is it possible Margaret believes Jonathan guilty of walloping Katy on the head and then suffocating her? Is there some deeply grooved marital fissure we can’t possibly know about yet? Or does her accusation target a more original sin: Jamie and Peter’s disappearance and her and Jonathan’s own role in it?
There’s good reason for the detectives, especially Rob, to believe the cases are connected. In the files he finds a statement from Jonathan, taken way back by one of the detectives who originally worked Jamie and Peter’s case, meaning some interest had been shown in Devlin and his crew. He proffers vague recollections of his own experiences with Jonathan and his pals: The older kids offered them cider and cigarettes occasionally, typical bad influences up to small-town antics. But Mrs. Fitzgerald, in all her gossipy wisdom, offers them some crucial information along with the scones. Jonathan, she explains, was “wild” and lucky to marry into Margaret’s higher-class family. He’d almost been trapped in another relationship when his high school girlfriend “made the trip to England,” (i.e. left Catholic Ireland for an abortion, a common occurrence before Ireland finally legalized abortion in 2018). With more than a little bit of deeply embedded bias she points out that it was all the girlfriend’s fault for “going around in a dress so short you can see what she had for breakfast lunch and tea.” That girlfriend? Sandra Sculley (that’s Scully with an “e,” mind you), the cleaner at Katy’s ballet school who earlier in the episode denied even knowing Devlin and his wife.
Sandra, we know from Rob’s flashbacks, was in the woods with Jonathan and the other boys, dolling up Jamie in makeup and then dishing out bitter compliments about her good looks. But then something, perhaps the alleged abortion, broke the couple up, and Jonathan conveniently ended up with Margaret — who also happens to be the only person who provided an alibi for the gang of boys on the day that Adam, Jamie, and Peter went missing. Now Sandra is cracking open beers mid-morning while she wipes windows, and perhaps keeping a much bigger secret than an ended pregnancy.
Cassie too has some secrets, the kind that seem like they may get her killed. After rigging up a Kleenex alarm system on the bottom of her front door, she discovers that someone has been or currently is inside her apartment. One drawn weapon later and we find that Cassie knows this Frankie fella, although their relationship is tempered by some mysterious unresolved past business — and here is where French’s second novel, The Likeness, already begins to intrude into this series, which promises to combine both books, though we don’t quite know how (or how well) they’ll mesh. The action of The Likeness takes place well after In the Woods — in fact, much of The Likeness is possible because of In the Woods (more on that in future episodes and recaps), so crossover this early means that we may be about to veer wildly away from source material.
Frankie is someone from her former role as an undercover, likely a cop as well, despite the animosity between them. Someone, he has come to tell her, has applied for a birth certificate under the name Alexandra Mangan a.k.a. Lexie a.k.a. the invented identity Cassie once assumed. Frankie thinks Cassie must want a new passport, a new life somewhere, and she’s “reactivated” her undercover name in order to sneak away from some dirty business. But Cassie, forcefully pulling open her shirt, reminds Frankie that she hasn’t been Lexie since she took a knife to the chest and almost walked towards the light. As for the seaside apartment that Frankie finds so suspicious, Cassie claims the aunt who brought her up died, left her a house, and Cassie sold that place to buy this flat.
Instinct tells us we should believe Cassie, but then again, she’s a former undercover, used to deception as a matter of course, and we have no proof she’s telling Frankie the truth. Then again, we don’t know for sure she’s lying, and at the end of the episode when a mysterious brunette zooms down the road towards Knocknaree, the camera zooms in tight on her swinging keychain: “Lexie.”