The Tunnel episode 9 review

A personal vendetta comes into play in this week's episode of The Tunnel. Here's James' review of episode nine...

This review contains spoilers.

Okay enough’s enough. It’s time to stop messing around with seemingly pointless secondary characters and for The Tunnel to get down to the heart of what this has all really been about – a deeply personal revenge mission. The past is coming back to haunt Detective Karl Roebuck after the revelation that his long-dead colleague Kieran Ashton is alive and kicking, and a decent fit for the profile of the Truth Terrorist. For Karl, it’s a time for going through those old photos and files that people always do in these moments of drama.

For Detective Elise Wassermann, it’s time to start closing the net on Kieran Ashton. Sat in the French police station, facing opposite ways, the show marked out the different directions that Elise and Karl are now looking in with regards to the case. For Karl, this has become so personal that he doesn’t really know what to do with it anymore, and it’d get an awful lot closer to home before this episode was out, while Elise is still focussed, logical and intent on tracking down Kieran Ashton through the exciting world of banking.

While this episode was much more of a Karl-centric offering, Clemence Poesy had some very nice moments with Elise throughout the hour. A trip to a friend/relation of Kieran Ashton’s deceased wife didn’t lead to things getting any better for Karl with the confirmation that Zara Ashton had been extremely unhappy and seeking a new life with him. Karl did at least not come off like a total villain for sleeping with his friend’s wife. It was more of a further assurance of Karl’s weakness in this area but also a reaction to what had clearly been a very unhappy situation. What does seem like it was news to Karl was Zara’s intent to be with him permanently. It was understandable that Karl didn’t want this part of his private life splashed across the investigation, but the most interesting thing here was Elise’s compliance.

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Previously when we’ve seen Karl lie to those around the investigation, we’ve seen him receive a quick correction from Elise. When Karl doesn’t tell the whole truth to their colleagues back at the station, Elise remains silent. Clemence Poesy played this quite monumental moment for her character very well. You could see the urge to rat Karl out going on behind the eyes but Elise managed for the first time to keep a lid on it. Later on in the episode when Elise gave Karl an affectionate pat on the arm “because that’s what friends do”, it was a real smile raising moment and another step forward for the character.

Compounding on the Elise stuff, there was a sense this week that The Tunnel has turned from a police procedural show, into something of a destiny drama for its characters. The case has acted like a humanisation for Elise, but for Karl, you strongly suspect that his world is never going to be the same again, whatever happens during next week’s finale. Stephen Dillane was once again excellent in this episode. All the charm that Karl exhibited during the first half of this series has been replaced by an air of desperation. He is running because if he stops, he’s probably done for.

The moment when Karl realised that his wife and children were accompanying a psychotic but highly intelligent mad man on a day out was terrific. You could literally feel Karl’s world falling apart.

And what a mad man The Tunnel has delivered us. Thanks to Elise’s banking theories, we soon learned that Kieran Ashton was John Sumner i.e. the man who has been Karl’s wife Laura’s shoulder to cry on in recent times. In a very tense sequence which made good use of The Killing’s stock trademark of going down into torch lit basements, Karl and Elise discovered that Sumner was the Truth Terrorist. Those of us who’d seen The Bridge knew Sumner’s true identity from the moment he drove into Laura’s car a few episode’s back but James Frain has portrayed this character with such skill that he’s been a much more enthralling villain to watch than his Scandinavian original.

Episode nine was the time we learnt a great deal about Sumner/Ashton. His ticking off of persuasive sentences while ensnaring Laura into a trip to the zoo over the phone was chilling. It was methodical, it was organised. It was very TT. When he arrives at the Roebuck residence and Adam let him in it was like inviting a vampire into the house. Throughout the episode, the show painted us a picture of the unhappiness of Kieran Ashton. The man had his wife and child snatched from him with no form of justice dealt out. Imagine what that must do to a person, and one as highly intelligent as Ashton.

As loathsome as some of the things Ashton has done, and did in this episode, he is a character that we can sympathise with. It was hard not to feel sorry for him when Karl happened upon the child’s bowls and plates, carefully wrapped in plastic down in the basement, or feel that his recounting of the loss of his son to Laura wasn’t 100% real. James Frain has done a tremendous job with the character. He looks so normal that you wouldn’t notice him if you walked past him on the street, but that has only made him all the more deadly, as Laura found out when he lured her into standing on a pressure trigger for a bomb.

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Such is Sumner’s lack of threat that Laura allowed him to guide her, hands over eyes into this trap in what was a heart thumping scene. We really weren’t sure what horror was going to face Laura when those hands were removed. This was actually a much more dramatic version of the same scene in The Bridge where a live grenade was placed in the character’s hand by her new-found friend. As good as Dillane and Frain were in this episode, both may have been outshone by Angel Coulby. Her ordeal with not knowing exactly what would happen when she stepped off the trigger was an amazingly effective piece of television and easily in the top three scenes The Tunnel has delivered.

And for all her suffering, Laura was only the decoy as Elise worked out that Ashton’s real target would be Karl’s son Adam. We’d got a sense of this already with Sumner’s line “Good luck Laura, you don’t deserve this” as he left, alerting the Police to her location. Laura was a means to an end, a way to get to Karl, to make him suffer but not so much that he’d be finished off before what was coming next. This was a really nice swerve and it really begs the question as to just how horrendous can Sumner make things for Karl in the concluding chapter next week?

After weeks of red herrings and social lessons, The Tunnel has revealed itself to be the matter of a very personal vendetta, and one which by all accounts isn’t going to have a happy ending…

Read James’ review of the previous episode, here.

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