This review contains spoilers.
Four minutes in, Deadwater Fell dropped the ambiguity over Tom. No more wondering or scrutinising from us. Episode three showed him to be exactly what he is – an abusive sadist who made Kate’s life a misery. Inside their perfect-seeming family home, he controlled her, drugged her, raped and humiliated her.
The tragedy is that people knew. Tom’s mother was a witness to her son’s cruelty. Jess and Sasha experienced it first-hand. And when a distressed Kate told Steve that one day Tom would kill her, he told her to get a fucking grip.
Episode three was Steve’s. After spending last week inside Jess’ head, watching her memories replay and her suspicions take hold, this time it was Matthew McNulty’s turn. Through him, Deadwater Fell told a sadly familiar story. Steve’s inability to talk honestly about his guilt, trauma and hurt left him isolated and a danger to himself. More silence led to yet more pain, and so it goes on.
McNulty shouldered the episode with a naturalistic, affecting performance, especially in Steve’s counselling scenes. Those expressed the cruel truth that even offered help they need, some are unable to accept it due to a lifetime of being taught to repress their feelings, and a culture that dismisses talking about emotion as unmanly frippery.
“How do you cope with those feelings?” Steve was asked. We’d seen how – alcohol, paranoia, illegally coercing a witness. “Go for a walk with the dog, watch telly,” he answered. “Just normal.” It’s an attitude that often proves fatal, leading men who could be saved to clifftops and nooses.
It was a painful hour, filled with things unsaid. When Carol tried to broach the topic of Tom’s behaviour, Kate refused to engage, protecting herself the only way she knew how. That short scene disturbed our assumption that the pair’s fractious relationship was solely down to Carol being critical of Kate’s parenting. This careful, detailed drama releases new information judiciously, giving us cause each time to re-evaluate our grasp of the story we think we’ve been told.
We’ve only seen the most elliptical glimpses of Carol, for instance (she moved in to help after Charlotte was born, quarrelled with Kate, also had what she called ‘baby blues’ as a young mother, re-mortgaged her farm at Tom’s behest, once said it might have been better if Tom had died in the fire, fears him but rebelled this week by repaying his debt to Kate’s parents and missing her prison visit) but they build into a convincing whole. Maureen Beattie’s performance hints at a complete character that invites more questions. What happened to Tom’s father? Is this a pattern of familial abuse?
David Tennant made Tom as chillingly convincing a psychopath as he was a smiling family GP. Only a carefully balanced performance like Tennant’s could achieve those polar shifts without losing plausibility. Playing with his delighted kids, Tom was fun and loving; in his police interview he was alert and calculating. Watch either one and it felt like the truth.
The truth about what really happened on the night of the fire is still to come. The character and plot work done by writer Daisy Coulam and director Lynsey Miller in this and the previous episode has taken us a great distance from where we started, so that when the truth finally comes, we’ll understand something that once seemed totally unknowable.
What we do know is that Tom’s actions speak of his hatred of women, and the pieces that add up to Tom’s misogyny – his callous treatment of Kate, impatience with his mother, abusive language towards his legal aide, underestimating DC Darlington as a soft touch, and the violent and controlling sex – are starting to feel like this series’ real story. Perhaps Darlington’s exasperated “men and their fucking egos” could be its tagline. Deadwater Fell: men, their fucking egos, and the corrosive power of silence.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.