Is it a bold move to leave a mystery like the missing kids of Knocknaree unsolved? Or does it just let the author off the hook? If you were hoping for every puzzle piece to click into place by the end of Dublin Murders, then right now you’re sadly disappointed, and perhaps still rewinding back through the episodes, hoping to find something you missed. But that is the way Tana French herself intended: The Rob of In the Woods never learns where Jamie and Peter were spirited off, if they died that day in the woods, how his shoes came to be filled with blood, or whether he had any hand in their disappearance. Like the Rob of Dublin Murders, he’s booted from the Murder Squad and severed from Cassie, but is perhaps on the road to the healing he thought the Devlin case might bring him.
The search for Katy’s killer has been scuttled into a B-plot for the second half of the season. There were little glimpses of the Devlins’ over-the-top dysfunction; tons of red herrings involving Cathal Mills, Shane Waters, and that stupid Goddamn motorway; and lots of creepy, looming glances from Jonathan. But now that Cassie has bollocksed up her Lexie investigation and her story has only a little bit of thread left on the spool, it’s a full-court press on Katy’s death. Except it feels a little laborious to come back to it after all this time sending us down dead-end alleys. It’s a Victorian’s idea of cutting-edge detective writing to slowly build up a list of possible suspects and dash them off one by one — or a discarded Agatha Christie plot.
Now we’re almost fully focused on catching and locking up the monster(s) who bashed in Katy’s head and then smothered her with a plastic bag. Helpfully, everyone wants to confess. Damien was toast as soon as the detectives saw all that blood residue splashed across his living room, but it’s still exceptionally kind of him to immediately admit, “It was me, all me, I did it,” and then collapse into a puddle as they pound away at him, wanting to know why he would kill an innocent young girl he barely knew. They ask the obvious question first: Is he a pedophile, drawn to Katy out of derangement? He insists it wasn’t like that, and offers a cryptic clue that Katy “wasn’t a nice person. She wasn’t kind. I didn’t like her.”
But Damien is quite possibly the worst liar in the history of modern murder capers. He won’t explain why he hated Katy, what made her “cruel,” how he even knew her, but also can’t come up with some sort of cover, even after weeks have elapsed. “Oh, just lie!” I shouted at the screen while he sat there blubbering. (Turns out he also screwed up when he killed her and didn’t hit her quite hard enough, which is why she came wandering out of his laundry room when she was meant to be dead.)
He’s also exceptionally bad at covering up evidence, so in love with the woman who coerced him into killing Katy that he’s kept her damning note (“NOW PROVE YOU LOVE ME”) and at least a dozen Polaroids of them together. Which is how we come to Rosalind.
If you feel manipulated, like Dublin Murders tricked you into believing Rosalind was another victim, albeit of a different kind than Katy or Lexie, you can blame (or praise) two entities for that. There’s Rosalind herself, who admits in her confession to Cassie that every ounce of her behavior has been a performance, that she slunk away from her father to make them believe he molested her, that she played the innocent, encumbered schoolgirl with a pervert for a father and a nutcase for a mother. You can also blame the show’s narrative structure, which swerved precipitously away from the original point of view of French’s book, in which Rob narrates and we see only what he sees. The show tossed in loads of scenes that might spin the viewer in circles — like Margaret Devlin ripping open the shower curtain on Rosalind — trying to trip us up so the story could drag out a little longer.
Except in the end, with that chilling confession scene in which Rosalind drops the schoolgirl mask and turns into a blonde little pixie Joker, her behavior and her self-ascribed motivations don’t line up. She claims that she had Katy killed — that she told Damien that their father raped her and Katy laughed while he did it — because it would make her parents’ lives as joyless as her own. She knows she wasn’t wanted, says her father “barely looked at” her. “Now, they look ahead and see nothing,” she says with a little glee. “Now, they know what it’s like to be me.” She had Katy killed to take away the last remnant of joy their stifled, miserable lives allowed. But her demeanor isn’t that of a young girl with motivation — it’s of a psychopath, an honest-to-God, DSM-certified, Mindhunter suspect. Which makes the whole shtick pretty bizarre.
Apparently, Rosalind is an uncanny reader of other people. She inexplicably knows that Cassie has been through trauma in the past 24 hours, can “sense” that Rob and Cassie have hooked up, and requests Cassie to hear her confession, just so she can mess with them. This is sociopath-level shit, and if she really is just a raging psycho, I see no reason why she’d concoct such an elaborate story about punishing her parents with her sister’s death and then play it all so cool. If her malign neglect enrages her, where is that rage?
Even weirder, she somehow got her hands on the information that Rob is Adam, information that the country’s best investigative reporters couldn’t obtain! And arranged this entire confession so that she could reveal that info in front of Rob and his bosses and put Cassie in the impossible situation of trying to shut her down. I fully believe that Rosalind may have killed her sister out of jealousy OR that she’s psychotic. But I don’t understand how both are true, and how she’s secretly been an operator on the level of Hannibal Lecter this whole time, and we’re expected to just believe it without any bread crumbs.
Really, though, the moment I was most waiting for — and felt the most satisfaction about — was Cassie and Rob’s reunion in the basement of the precinct, the conversation that opened the series, but with a lot more explanation. The bookending of this episode with Cassie and Rob’s first meeting, in which they encountered the poor woman who’d been murdered and slowly turned to goo after being left to rot for six months, and their final meeting, offered a good reminder of why French’s In the Woods was such a riveting debut, and why this series started out with such promise but then tumbled downhill. Cassie and Rob are a compelling duo. Their story is the one with the most heart. So finally reuniting them after episodes apart offered more than a little gratification.
Sarah Greene and Killian Scott are a riveting pair. When she confesses her orphan past to him, mere moments after they meet, it feels believable, especially because he jabs at her, thinking the story is a put-on. They’re kindred spirits, two kids who “both got out alive,” damaged and dinged (“Hello, freak”) and looking for someone else to muddle the pain with while they joke and peer into the darkest recesses of humanity.
Their final conversation around the basement evidence table is far gentler than we’d been led to believe it might be (and also intriguingly shot, with each detective lit like a suspect in an interrogation room). For a series that often left me emotionally cold, this was a moment of true intensity, Rob hoping to apologize and sort through their respective messes and Cassie aware that Rob’s damage will only burden her load. Amazingly, it’s Cassie, orphaned in a horrific accident, who seems more likely to move to a place of healing, while Rob, the “lucky one” who escaped the woods, is in too many bits to be put back together. And then, of course, there’s his quiet confession after she leaves the table, that he loves her, that Cassie is “the only person in this world” that he loves.
Everything after that is a drag. Cassie crossing the Irish Sea to England for an abortion. Her scattering of Lexie’s ashes. Sam’s why-didn’t-they-cut-this line, “That’s the thing about being a detective — you get to detect.” (What.) Even Rob’s meeting with Jonathan, in which he learns that Cathal and Shane and the crew had nothing to do with Jamie and Peter’s disappearance. It’s all … what’s the opposite of gravy?
Tana French loves to break her detectives, to offer readers good people at the end of their ropes, slowly sliding down the spectrum toward darkness. We got there in the end, but what a series this might have been if we’d stuck with Rob and Cassie together the whole time, if we’d watched them break together.