The “amnesiac” character is a trick nearly as old as story itself. A character endures something horrific, can’t compile all the relevant details into coherence, stumbles through a story slowly piecing together the bits, and then suddenly happens upon the crucial moment that ties it all together. Done well (which is rare), it’s a gorgeous illusion; done poorly, it’s the cheapest type of reveal, a mental deus ex machina that rides to the rescue and absolves the writer of any heavier narrative lifting. Voilà, the case is solved!
Tana French, who loves an unsteady narrator, has used the device twice — most recently in her first standalone novel, The Witch Elm, and, of course, in her debut, In the Woods. Admittedly, it flowed more cleanly in The Witch Elm, in which her protagonist Toby not only couldn’t remember who had broken into his house and beat him senseless, but more broadly began to realize that his memory was a fallible, destructible thing — that perhaps he’d been misremembering things his whole life. In In the Woods, the premise is a bit shoddier. Rob Reilly (Ryan in the novel) can’t recall being abducted and tortured in childhood, and doesn’t know the whereabouts of the two best friends who also disappeared and never returned. Which means that what we’re waiting for — what we expect will crack open that disappearance and the murder of Katy Devlin — is a retrieved memory. This episode, we finally get it.
Under the cover of French’s slow build and exquisite prose, the revelation that Rob/Adam, Peter, and Jamie saw Cathal Mills and his gang rape Sandra Sculley in the Knocknaree woods — and the implication that they were caught watching — feels like the clouds parting to let in a ray of demented sunshine. But that ineffable, inexplicable transfer from prose to screen renders it a little melodramatic and somehow predictable, too, like Rob has been restless over lost car keys for a week and suddenly remembers, WHAM, that they’re in his coat pocket.
With that said, Killian Scott is a magnificent Rob, with that long, drawn face that slides from hangdog to menacing with ease. His lean frame collapses like an unmanned puppet when Rob wants to mentally withdraw, and he wears trauma so readily I’m a little worried for his sake. So he plays this episode of psychological unwinding fluidly. He slowly turns up the dial on Rob’s fraying emotions, from his jerky agitation at the pub with a suddenly sexed-up Rosalind to his snarls at Cassie to his death grip on the tree in the Knocknaree woods where he was found 20 years ago.
Of course, that memory of Carl and Shane and Jonathan Devlin in the woods doesn’t neatly close both cases. It’s the most relevant clue, for sure, in what may have happened to Jamie and Peter, and it creates a convincing starting point for understanding why one of her father’s gang might have wanted to hurt Katy. But there isn’t a perfect throughline. And now that basket-case Rob is essentially on his own to solve the case, his messy impartiality could very well upend any progress.
Rob is the narrator of In the Woods, a funnel through which all information must pass. But Dublin Murders has done away with that limited point of view, and given the Devlins a bounty of screen time of their own so we can watch their demented family circus go round and round each week. But to what end? The clear implication here is that one of them killed Katy or was somehow indirectly involved in her death (or else these long tangents into their family dynamics are a most elaborate red herring). Jonathan is mixed up in something dark with his former friends, and whatever pact they once formed to keep their secret is cracking. It’s possible that Cathal Mills, worried or enraged that Jonathan may consider going to the police, killed Katy to shut him up.
But what looks more likely this week is that Margaret or Rosalind was involved. Margaret is medicated to the point of oblivion, suffering under the weight of some longstanding anxiety that has pushed her to knock back benzos and keep herself in a stupor. She blames Jonathan (“And whose fault is it I have to take them!”) yet protects him from Rob when he pushes her to reconsider the alibi she created for the gang of boys 20 years ago. And when the drugs slip away, she’s obviously infected with rage. She’s always moved like a zombie, but when she rips away the shower curtain from in front of Rosalind’s body and leans in to scream “I never wanted you” — the cruelest of all insights to level at your child — her strength is apparent. Could Margaret’s jealousy that Katy was about to leave Knocknaree behind have driven her to kill her own child and then place her on the altar as a form of atonement?
Rosalind has been starved for parental affection — she’s a broken little thing — to the point where any attention from a man like Rob cues her to think he might want her, that perhaps he’ll whisk her away. “I get everything wrong,” she chastises herself when he rejects her. She’s desperate enough to flee her family’s house that she spent an aimless weekend wandering Dublin, maybe mulling a more permanent getaway. Could she have been the one to kill Katy out of jealousy? Her brilliant little sister would be jetting off to England for ballet school, while Rosalind would be stuck at home caring for Jessica and her mother, afraid to leave them and afraid to stay.
While the Devlin case feels like it’s quickly rolling towards even bigger revelations, Cassie is just getting inside the group house where Lexie once lived with Daniel, Rafe, Abigail, and Justin, a crew of cast-offs with no real families to speak of — the perfect place to hide for a woman living under an assumed identity. This episode is almost entirely preparation for Cassie to step into Lexie’s life. Cassie getting a tattoo, and a nose ring, and — honestly, a very big sacrifice for any woman — bangs, in order to perfectly twin. She learns where the housemates keep their tea and which steps are creaky, and most importantly, what some of the dynamics might be like in there. (In an ideal world, this plus many more montages would make up the second episode of an entire season dedicated to The Likeness alone. This sort of shit sounds hard, memorizing an entire life, and I wanted more, more more.)
After all, the housemates are suspects, high-ranking ones, intimates of Lexie who may have known — well, we have no idea what could possibly lead one of them to kill her, aside from anger over her pregnancy. But as Frank points out, they react very strangely to the news that Lexie is awake and returning home to them. “They didn’t ask a single question about suspects, leads, evidence.” In other words, they may already know who killed her and are hoping to avoid giving themselves away. And Lexie’s blood was found in their garden, bleached away, like she was stabbed at home and then carried away later.
The show doesn’t provide much in the way of this warning, but this is a hugely dangerous undertaking for Cassie. She’s moving in among a killer, possibly unarmed (in the novel she takes her gun, but we see no sign of that here), and without ready access to the rest of the force. If things go wrong, she won’t have any immediate backup — and we know that (completely inexplicably) Lexie was connected to Cathal Milles, so forces outside the house might be after her, too. Cassie is cut off from the world, estranged from her former boyfriend, and set against Rob. The partners are two planets that have slipped their orbits, each of them left behind by the other, neither really equipped to tackle what they’re facing alone.