The Control Room Ending Explained: the Fire, the Body in the Van and that Final Embrace

We break down the finale of BBC Thriller The Control Room, starring Iain de Caestecker and Joanna Vanderham. Spoilers.

The Control Room Iain de Caestecker
Photo: BBC

Warning: contains spoilers for The Control Room finale.

The two leads in Scottish BBC One Thriller The Control Room share “an unbreakable bond” says star Iain de Caestecker, who plays emergency call handler Gabriel. The early loss of the characters’ mothers forged an unspoken connection between them that survived into the present day. Gabe lost his mum from cancer as a child, while Joanna Vanderham’s Sam was abandoned by hers at a similar age. The two children were then separated for decades but “when Sam comes back into Gabe’s world, it’s like electricity shot through him,” de Caestecker tells Den of Geek. “Suddenly he’s brought back to life in a sense.”

Let’s break down the final moments of The Control Room, a twist-packed thriller about a man who needs just that jolt of electricity to stop hiding from life and start living.

The Control Room Data Theft

Months before the series begins, a heavily in debt Anthony ‘Haz’ Harrison (Game of Thrones’ Daniel Portman) was recruited by an organised crime group to steal call records from the control room where he worked. The names, addresses and other information in these records were sold on to corrupt lawyers for vast sums. Anthony next recruited colleague Danielle Diwan (Rona Morison), who needed money for a house deposit, and when she wanted out, he set his sights on Gabe. To Anthony, Gabe looked like an easy target – isolated, weak, easily manipulated and the perfect fall guy should the theft ever be discovered. The problem was, Gabe’s morality and respect for the work of a control room (founded when he called 999 as a child) would mean he’d never agree to be part of the illegal activity, so Anthony came up with a plan…

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The Dead Body in the Van Plan

Sam’s story about needing Gabe’s help with the dead body in the van was a total fabrication designed to make Gabe complicit in criminal activity over which Anthony could then blackmail him and force him to be part of the data theft. However, the part in Sam’s story about her being in an abusive relationship with a controlling man named ‘Haz’ was true. Haz was Anthony, who’d forced Sam to manipulate Gabe after Haz learned of Sam and Gabe’s childhood connection. Childhood friend Eilidh told Gabe that Sam and Haz’s relationship wasn’t good, that Haz “was getting worse” and that she was happy when she thought Sam had escaped him and gone to Gabe.

The Missing Money Confusion

Gabe was supposed to leave the money he’d been given at the Kelvingrove Museum drop in Anthony’s locker, which he did. Unfortunately, Leigh (Taj Atwal) saw him do it and assumed he’d made a mistake and so she took Gabe’s bag back out of Anthony’s locker and put it in his own. That led to the OCG ransacking Gabe’s flat and calling in a death threat when they thought he’d stolen it.

The Fire at the Christmas Tree Farm

Pub landlady Eilidh and her partner Robo knew Gabe and Sam from childhood. At Christmas 1999, Robo bullied Sam about her mother’s abandonment and spied on the pair as they prepared a Christmas party in their ‘Home Sweet Home’ den. In Sam’s mind, Robo ruined the idyll she and Gabe had made for themselves, so she set fire to it. The fire spread through the nearby Christmas tree farm, killing Robo’s dad. To protect Sam, Gabe took responsibility for the fire (and was believed because he had already tried to set light to his school during his mother’s terminal illness). Robo blamed Gabe for his father’s death, which is why he attacked Gabe when he turned up at the pub looking for answers.

What Next For Gabo and Sam?

The Control Room’s story ended first with a heartfelt embrace between Gabe and Sam as he joked to her “See, I said I’d sort it”. The police arrested OCG-member John and Anthony/Haz following Sam’s tip-off to DI Breck with their location. Sam shopped her boyfriend to protect Gabe, whom John and Anthony were planning to kill and pin the blame on for the data theft (Danni had been coerced into lying to the police that Gabe was the one who recruited her.) To stop them, and to stop Gabe for being blamed once again for something he didn’t do, Sam called the police. She was entirely right to do so, it turned out, as during the Christmas tree hunt, Anthony gave John permission to also kill Sam, showing that his protestations of love for her were just more manipulation and lies.

Gabo had written DI Breck’s phone number on the back of the same pony-decorated letter that Sam had left for him at their ‘Home Sweet Home’ den on the eve of the Millennium, and which Gabe had kept in his childhood bedroom all these years. That letter simply read “I’ll hold a good thought for you,” the words Gabe had told Sam were the last his mother had spoken to him before she passed away, and since adopted by him as a kind of motto. It was that phone number, on that talismanic letter about the “good thought” that ultimately saved both Gabe and Sam’s lives.

Though it’s clear that Gabe and Sam deeply love each other, The Control Room didn’t make their ending an explicitly romantic one. Instead of ending Gabe’s story with romance, it showed Sam saving him and then directing him towards a reconciliation with his father (Stuart Bowman). “The lights are on,” she told Gabe, referring to his estranged childhood home visible from the farm, which is where he went at the end.

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Gabe’s Homecoming

We saw how distant Gabe and his father’s relationship had become since the death of Gabe’s mother, and the finale left us on their long-overdue reconciliation. Gabe reversed the path he’d taken away from home as a child and ran towards his father. They embraced and the finale ended. Notice the shot of the deep fuchsia-pink roses around the doorway just as the blue door closed? They were the same colour as the crocheted blanket on Gabe’s mother’s bed and perhaps symbolic of her ‘presence’ in that final scene – a true family reunion.

Actor Iain de Caestecker told Den of Geek that colour was an important part of The Control Room, and director Amy Daniels wanted to avoid the washed-out monochrome palettes of some other thrillers. The bright colours of the lobby in Gabe’s apartment building was a reference to the colour palette in Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood For Love, and the bird paintings hanging in his place were also in Gabe’s childhood bedroom, signifying his being stuck in the trauma of his past.

The Control Room Series Two?

Though the story of Gabe’s reawakening from his emotional torpor feels satisfyingly complete, there’s plenty for screenwriter Nick Leather to return to should The Control Room come back for a second series (as previous Scottish BBC thriller Vigil will do). What happens to Sam now? Is she together with Gabe romantically, or is Leigh still in the picture? And in the line “It’s not just our control room is it? Not for all this, there must be others,” Gabe perhaps set up a potential path for him to follow working with DI Breck (Sharon Rooney) and co. sniffing out corruption in other control rooms across the country – Line of Duty-style.

All episodes of The Control Room are currently available to stream on BBC iPlayer in the UK.