With so many loose strands needing to be tied up, this week’s final episode of River really needed to deliver.
Luckily, BBC One’s six-part drama gave us a satisfying story and delivered more than a few shocks along the way.
“You are caught in what is called a paradox, my friend. The closer you get to the truth, the further away you’ll get from me, from who I was. And then you’ll see who I am.”
While the first half of the episode takes a decidedly slower pace, it is no less filled with drama. Chrissie’s speech in the supermarket about her family, River and her relationship with Tom really hits hard as does the confession Tom makes about his involvement in the proceedings that, in part, led to Stevie’s death.
Once again, Lesley Manville is brilliant, with an impassioned monologue describing this. Actor Michael Maloney, as her husband Tom, is also notable in his performance: sad and pathetic, yet honest and desperate for forgiveness.
“My husband is sitting in a cell, four floors below my office. I can’t face anyone.”
As strong as these first scenes are, things really build up in the episode’s second half, giving us a more than satisfactory resolution to the series.
Director Jessica Hobbs does a beautiful job here, contrasting the many worlds that River inhabits and running from a slow burn to break neck speed, as the revelations come thick and fast.
The main thread of the series has always been finding justice for Stevie’s murder and this episode more than delivered on that score. We firstly find out that Frankie is actually Stevie’s son, not her brother, as we’ve been led to believe.
Eagle-eyed viewers may have guessed this already, given her overprotective nature towards Frankie and the fact that she entrusted River with 10,000 for him, incase anything should happen to her. More shocking was the revelation that Frankie was the product of Stevie being raped at 14, by family friend Michael Bennigan (Jim Norton) and that her mother knew.
This explains the rift between them, as they never truly got on, with Stevie’s mother Bridie (Sorcha Cusack) seemingly favouring Michael over her own daughter. (“She always put truth before blood.”)
However, the biggest reveal of the episode is the fact that Frankie was the shooter who killed Stevie on the road that night. It’s a chilling and unexpected reveal, which is especially sad after we discover his parentage, and the fact that the very person Stevie was trying to protect was indeed the person who took her life.
Frankie actor Turlough Convery has been in the background of most episodes in the series, but here he really shines, as the conflicted and emotionally tortured youngster, and you can tell it breaks River’s heart to turn him in. But rightly so, he does it anyway.
“The secrets of the heart are buried deep. Only time will tell how deeply they are sewn.
Despite the case being solved, River is still consumed with love and grief for Stevie, as seen in the scenes as the episode closes where he attends dinner with her (or rather, her ghost) and dances in the street with her, only for us to see it as a figment of his impaired mental state. (Also, nice call having the ‘ghosts’ from previous episodes appear here, bringing things full circle.)
It’s a bittersweet set of moments but credit to Suffragette writer Abi Morgan that she doesn’t give River a traditional happy ending and tie everything up nicely with a bow. He is still sad, still haunted, but there is a hope there that wasn’t there before; a sincere trust that things will work out as long as he understands he is strong enough to fight it.
Stellan Skarsgard plays these final scenes beautifully, with just the right mix of emotion, humour and sympathy.
River himself ends on a relatively hopeful note, but this is the best resolution for this character. Stevie leaves, Rosa remains and the case is solved and closed.
Life goes on, it seems. And for some, like River, carrying on is the biggest kind of struggle.
Aired at 9pm on Tuesday 17 November 2015 on BBC One.
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