Warning: contains major spoilers for Marcella season 3 episodes 1-8, available to stream now on ITV Hub.
From London working mum to Belfast gangster’s moll to international multi-millionaire in just three seasons. That’s some trajectory. Other TV detectives must look at Marcella Backland and ask, where’s my new alias and private plane?
It’s not coming, Sarge, because unlike Marcella, your show insists on complying with the merest demands of naturalism and coherence. You plod on drearily in an approximation of the real world while Marcella does screaming naked cartwheels through story, Etch-a-Sketch erasing bits of plot, and leaping gazelle-like from one improbable thing to the next. Other crime dramas didn’t realise that untethering entirely from sense was an option.
Marcella realised, and the result is season three – a take on mental illness so clumsy it’ll have you reappraising the subtle qualities of some bricks. What happens, the new run asked, when you take a detective with dissociative identity disorder and make her take on a new identity for work? She’ll go nutso, right?! Right.
Add that to an already-irresponsible storyline about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, throw in a compulsive hand-washer reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, and you’re ready to call house on a full bingo card of mental illness cliché.
If Anna Friel wasn’t so good at her job, Marcella would be unwatchable. Her thoroughgoing commitment to this creaky fairground ride of a crime drama makes it unusually compelling. You watch it like you might watch an increasingly loud drunk on another table in the pub: just to see what it’ll do next.
It might do a fourth season next, though one hasn’t yet been announced. The season three ending left things open for a fourth go around for our unstable lead – now with millions in stolen gangster cash, an orphaned baby and a new fringe. Should one be required, the wonky stage is set for the return of DS Backland/Keira Devlin/Miss Hart. If Marcella doesn’t return, then that bloodbath of a finale and its mysterious coda was our last goodbye.
The Mystery Caller
The season’s final shot showed an unanswered cordless phone ringing off on the table of a bar at a private airport in an unknown country. Now going by new alias “Miss Hart”, our lead had taken the call and then hung up on it when a voice asked for Marcella Backland. Who was calling? A cop? DI Rav Sangha? Marcella herself, putting on a voice? (As likely as anything with this show.)
To judge by the age of baby Katy, some time had passed since the death of the Maguire siblings and the airport scene. Last we’d seen Marcella, she was driving away from the Maguire mansion with baby Katy, having belatedly called for back-up and reported multiple fatalities and an officer (DI Rav) down. Those fatalities in full: Stacey Barratt (nee Maguire), shot dead by her brother Finn; Rory Maguire, shot dead by his sister Stacey in revenge for ordering the murder of her husband Bobby Barrett; Finn Maguire, shot dead by Marcella Backland in her undercover guise as Keira Devlin; Jack Healy, stabbed by Frank Young; and Frank Young, shot by Jack Healy.
Is Rav dead?
Also seriously wounded in the Maguire bloodbath was DI Rav Sangha, who’d come to Belfast to investigate Bobby Barrett for the murder of the son of the UK Foreign Secretary, when he stumbled across Frank and Marcella’s undercover operation targeting the Maguires. Finn Maguire shot Rav, Marcella shot Finn, and then – as we’d seen in a flash-forward episode earlier – she stood over his bleeding body and said “I told you to walk away”. Did Rav die?
Perhaps, but if you look again at the montage of corpses shown later in the finale, every single dead body is shown apart from Rav’s, which indicates that he might have made it.
The Maguires’ Millions
Before driving off with baby Katy, Marcella took a knife to the corpse of Rory Maguire and cut out one of his eyes. She used it to get past the retinal scan security on his private laptop so that she could transfer the balance of the Maguire family’s ill-gotten funds to another account, over 24 million in sterling. Showing Katherine Maguire – who was unable to move or speak due to a stroke – what she was doing, Marcella drained the account, saying the money was for Katy and it’s what her mother Stacey would have wanted.
What happened to Katherine Maguire?
Presumably she was found when the police responded to Marcella’s call for back-up. Due to her second stroke, Katherine was unable to speak or move, so would have had a hard time telling the police that Marcella had kidnapped her grandchild. It wouldn’t have been impossible though.
Was Frank really running an undercover unit?
If he was, some serious questions about probity would have had to be raised at his next annual appraisal. When Frank Young approached Marcella at the end of season two, he told her that he worked in a department with season one character DCI Laura Porter, played by Nina Sosanya. They could use a dead police officer to go undercover, he told our lead. The undercover training we saw Frank subject Marcella to in episode six though, had nothing official about it. He used highly dubious methods to encourage a vulnerable, unstable woman to lose her real self in a fictitious persona, and then exploited her to carry out a personal revenge plan.
Frank did seem to have access to official police systems, which suggests he was acting in a police capacity. When Marcella sent him the addresses and phone numbers found in the belongings of the dead Vietnamese people-trafficking victims, those addresses were duly raided by the police. There was also an official record of his undercover operation against the Maguires, as stumbled upon by DI Rav Sangha during his investigation of the Bobby Barrett murder case. Frank also had entry to a police computer system where he faked the existence of disgraced cop DS Keira Devlin, later seen by Rory Maguire.
On that same computer system, Marcella discovered that Frank was lying about his wife and daughter living halfway across the world.
What happened to Frank’s wife and daughter?
They were killed in a Belfast restaurant that was firebombed in 2010 by the Maguires as part of a turf war with rival gang the Callaghans. Frank also would have been killed if he’d arrived at the restaurant on time. He set up the undercover operation and put Marcella in place to get revenge on the Maguire family. At the end of episode two, when Frank was seen talking to a mystery companion on a bench about the operation, we can assume he was talking to his dead wife Sally. A scene later in the season showed him in the fire-blackened restaurant, drinking and ‘talking’ to Sally about his plan.
Who was tormenting Keira?
Marcella, aka her dormant personality. When ‘Marcella’ was running the show, Keira left Juliet’s baby mobile sheet music under her windscreen wiper, put the news clipping in the museum locker and sent her self the key (to locker ‘B4’ incidentally… or maybe ‘before’) and made the dummy with the picture of Keira’s face stuck to it, with a plastic bag over its head in mimicry of the season one murderer MO. By the end, when Marcella had retaken control, ‘Keira’ promised she would always be there to help her cope with her pain.
Is Marcella wanted for murder?
She fatally shot Finn, but the only witness to that is DI Rav Sangha, who may or may not be dead himself. If Rav survives, is he likely to rat out Marcella for offing such a monstrous ballbag as Finn Maguire? Shouldn’t have thought so.
Where did Marcella take baby Katy?
Your guess is as good as mine. A tattoo remover, perhaps? Before he was abducted, Bobby Barrett was supposed to be going to a new life in Havana, Cuba (where he hoped to meet Fidel Castro, who died in 2016. Never the sharpest tool in the box, Bobby.)
Was it all a dream?
Go back through the season, and you’ll see that almost every episode opens with a close-up of Marcella’s eyes opening as she wakes up, hence: all a dream? It would explain a lot, including any unanswered questions viewers might have about that tattoo, the flip-flopping hair colour, why Keira crashed her Mini Countryman, exactly when she and Finn “I’ve missed this” Maguire started sleeping together, why Jack instantly forgot about his dead daughter, what happened with the drugged mayor and the dead journalist, where Keira got Danny’s toy gun, what the spaceman curtains at the safe house were all about, where Rav got a hotel room’s worth of Marcella and Jason’s family photos, where DCI Laura Porter actually was… all that and much more.
All episodes of Marcella season 3 are available to stream on ITV Hub in the UK and Netflix in the US.