This review contains spoilers.
Marcella has always been a bit unhinged. It’s the sort of crime drama that, if you saw it on the street, you’d keep your head down and hope it wasn’t going to come over and talk to you. In that scenario, it’d probably be fully dressed but shoeless, to stop Big Leather from stealing its vibrational pavement energy or what have you.
That finale though, was something else. Talk about leaning in. Between the last ad break and the end credits, Marcella went from harmless shoe truther to ring-a-ding berserker relieving itself into the village’s centennial water trough and honking at traffic like an excited goose. It saw ‘a bit unhinged’ and raised you ‘completely off its bloody rocker’.
What a twelve days it’s been. Twenty-one days, if we’re counting the nine that DS Marcella Backland has been officially dead and unofficially living under a bridge like a fairy tale troll. That coda, in which Hugo Speer recruited our shorn, facially scarred lead to a shadowy undercover unit who “could use a dead police officer”, jumped both-feet-in to loon town. If Marcella is renewed, all bets are off for series three. It could just as likely show Backland tracking down a killer each week as wrestling a dolphin.
The troll ending also solved a series two mystery more pressing than who’d been killing all those kids: what, in the five months since series one took place, happened to Nina Sosanya’s character DCI Laura Porter? We’d been told that Alex was off on sick leave, hence the arrival of Leanne Hunter, but Porter had just vanished. Now it turns out that she’s been working in the same department as Speer’s Frank Young, doing whatever it is they do (presumably, exposing funfair ghosts as caretakers running property scams).
In the knowledge that the writing team was preparing to transition Marcella from working mum to Batman villain by the finale, series two suddenly makes a lot more sense. The serial killer stuff was by-the-by, what we’ve really been watching is an origin story – the gradual stripping away of everything that tied Marcella to the land of the living. Jason went inexplicably evil, Emma and Edward decided to move to Singapore, Tim was revealed as a cheating bastard, Techy Mark (sign of the cross) died… Little by little, Anna Friel’s character lost everything – her family, her friends, her ponytail – readying her for this new and unpredictable chapter.
Marcella has been falling apart all series, but what finally did the job was learning by hypnosis-retrieved memory that she killed a crying baby Juliette by using undue force trying to quiet her. Never mind that if Juliette had broken bones or showed signs of suffocation, a coroner would have ruled as such. This storyline and its treatment has been so exploitative and irresponsible that any further dwelling on it will turn into a series of low, guttural growls, so we’ll leave it here.
Before Marcella hacked out her own tooth and gave herself the sort of haircut you’d pay £90 for in a Bermondsey salon, she rescued poor Edward (go to Singapore, kid, and don’t look back) and brought in Jane Colletti, whose curly bob was twisted with secrets. Forget Vince and Alan and Maya and all the rest of them; Jane had been acting alone as a one-stop-child-killing-shop. It sort of fits: she was a midwife who volunteered for the Whitman Foundation, and also the sister to Joel Lawrence. Norway was yet another red herring. Joel’s ‘accident’ had been caused by big sis Jane, who’d paralysed him in a makeshift lobotomy aiming to lock in the evil of their sexually abusive dad.
Michelle Terry (who, incidentally, is artistic director of The Globe Theatre when she’s not grappling with Anna Friel in abandoned warehouses) sold Jane’s pathology well and with minimal teeth-gnashing. Showing no remorse, only a matter-of-fact conviction that she was doing good work and the odd giggle (poor Gail), Colletti was a gratifyingly unusual villain. Her mumsy cooing over Edward as she prepared to hammer a spike into his brain was memorable stuff. She’ll go down in crime drama history as the most chilling baddie ever to be apprehended while wearing a baby-pink, hooded longline cardi from Next.
“Kill one to save many,” said Jane Colletti, “it’s never easy but it is right.” In planting her tooth DNA in that burning building, that’s exactly what Marcella did. She killed her past self to save others from her own brand of evil, the kind that cuts little girl’s throats with Stanley knife blades and knocks Ravs unconscious with toilet cistern lids. (Lovely Rav, fingers crossed he gets transferred to a much kinder police drama. Are they still making Heartbeat?)
After eight episodes of fugue states, misery and outrageous contrivance, Marcella ended this series back in her trademark parka. This last run has been themed around putting an end to cycles of abuse, but the potential reboot lined up by this ending indicates that this particular cycle isn’t quite over yet.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.