Unforgotten, episode 6 review: is this the end of TV’s best police drama?

In-your-face violence has been a rarity across the past four seasons of Unforgotten (ITV). The melodrama in this hit whodunnit is largely psychological, the bloodshed hinted at rather than spelt out. So it was a genuine shock to see bloodied detective Cassie Stuart (Nicola Walker) on the operating table and to then discover she had lost her fight for life in a series finale that proved equally riveting and unsettling.

DCI Stuart, phlegmatic and never quite as grumpy as she was made out to be, served as heart, soul and moral centre of Chris Lang’s cold-case thriller. Now she is gone, a victim of the random hit-and-run collision which brought the previous week’s episode to a crashing halt. The question was whether, with this jolting sign-off, Unforgotten had broken its own rules. Weren’t deafening bombshells and surprise deaths more Line of Duty’s thing

Cassie’s exit, to be fair, wasn’t as overwrought as it might have been. Hysterics were never part of Unforgotten’s make-up. And that remained the case here as she was accorded a dignified off-screen farewell, followed by a funeral presented as a quiet coda. Just as the character would have wanted, the focus was on the brutal bumping off of Matthew Walsh in 1990 and the conspiracy of silence among the four police graduates who had squirrelled away his body. 

The mystery concluded with a twist almost as stunning as Cassie’s demise. Her stalwart partner DI Sunny Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar) unmasked the real killer as Dean Barton (Andy Nyman) – not the more obvious suspect of hothead Ram Sidhu (Phaldut Sharma). 

This was tied to Dean’s criminal family. Walsh had killed Dean’s brother in a gangland turf war. Dean later took his revenge, stabbing Walsh through the head with the fountain pen his brother had gifted him. He then convinced his fellow newly-qualified coppers Ram, Fiona Grayson (Liz White) and Liz Baildon (Susan Lynch) it was all a terrible mishap. 

If eclipsed by the tragedy around Cassie, the denouement nonetheless brought a satisfying end to a reliably solid season of slow-burn sleuthing. Barton’s guilt dropped out of the blue. But not in a way that felt implausible or gimmicky. Lang had once again earned his big reveal.

There may be an afterlife for Unforgotten with the series’ director Andy Wilson reportedly in talks with ABC for a US remake (to be titled Suspects). Yet it’s hard to see how it can continue in its original incarnation minus Stuart (who had intended on retiring even before the fatal crash). Cassie’s understated resolve was the magic ingredient. Without her, Unforgotten would surely risk becoming merely forgettable.

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