The Tunnel finale review

Wonderfully written, acted and filmed, The Tunnel concludes its first series with a complex and powerful finale...

This review contains spoilers.

A wise man once said “Just because you know how something’s going to end, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it”. Actually it was Ted Mosby on the ‘Monday Night Football’ episode of How I Met Your Mother but it’s a philosophy that can easily have been applied to The Tunnel for those who’d already seen it’s predecessor The Bridge. The French/English take on the Danish/Swedish drama has never strayed too far from the path but it’s been put together so well that it’s been easy for viewers new and familiar to lose themselves in this complex story. The finale was no exception.

If anything though, this episode felt like a train slowing down to pull into its destination after hurtling at breakneck speed down the track. Perhaps the programme makers set themselves just too high a challenge in topping the final act of the previous episode that was so well commanded by Angel Coulby, but this conclusion definitely felt like a slower and brooding climax for the first forty-five minutes.

With his son now in the clutches of The Truth Terrorist/John Sumner/Kieran Ashton/how many names does one man want?, Karl Roebuck was at his wits’ end. To say he had nothing to lose isn’t correct but his professional conduct had left the building, while his partner Elise Wassermann tried to wrestle with her own social issues as her work threatened to actually make her feel something for the people involved.

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We’ll save talking about the Karl/Elise relationship for a little later as it really played a very important part in the conclusion to The Tunnel, after Ashton sent Karl on a cat and mouse chase to ensure that he saw his son alive once more. Of course it was all just a part of making Karl suffer that little bit longer. Ashton could have simply jumped to his end game but he was determined that Karl should feel the sense of hopeless loss that he had himself.

Around all this was a lot of filling in the blanks and catch-up exposition, just to make sure that everyone was on the same page. This wasn’t a bad idea as The Tunnel has led its audience through a pretty maze-like journey for the last nine weeks, some of which has seemed more relevant than others. I was sure by episode eight when the character of Fabian Vincent was introduced that he was another mild diversion. How wrong I was. A scene which saw Elise rifling through papers and mentioning previous characters seemed designed to remind us who we’d encountered previously, but turned out to be a showcase for the character’s excellent observational skills. Using clues that I’m sure we’d all missed, Elise connected Ashton to Fabian Vincent and tracked down the Peloton operative. This was actually a really great move from The Tunnel, and it wasn’t the only time in this finale where tangents that had seemed frustrating at the time were tied in and as it happened, it was Elise’s time with Fabian Vincent in episode eight that was ultimately crucial to the solving of just where Ashton was holding Adam.

James Frain’s Kieran Ashton may have only turned up in bodily form for the final episodes of The Tunnel but The Truth Terrorist is one of the year’s most memorable, and organised, villains and Frain was an ideal choice to portray him. To call him a villain might be up for debate. The Tunnel was never a show with strictly good guys and bad guys, and the line was never more blurred than with Ashton. His scenes with Jack Lowden’s Adam Roebuck (an excellent turn that was allowed to advance past the sulky teen stage in this finale) were very frank and almost conversational with regards to the acts he’d committed. They left us with no doubt that in Ashton’s mind he clearly saw himself as a force of justice, not destruction. It also left us in no doubt that the man was deeply mad. As Ashton injected Adam with a sedative, it was chilling the way he stroked him with soothing murmurs of “Shh, shhh” as if acting out the role of the father he had never had a chance to become.

As previously mentioned, this episode did feel a little slow and broody as it built towards the face off between Karl and Elise and Ashton. At times it seemed a little puzzling; Laura Roebuck seemed to be showing no adverse effects of almost being blown to pieces a day earlier. When we reached that all important confrontation though, The Tunnel once again did what it does best and delivered a stunningly dramatic scene.

Stephen Dillane hasn’t been short of great scenes in this show but we’d never seen Karl like this before. This should have been the pinnacle of the character and Dillane lived up to that. As Ashton smugly taunted Karl with ideas of his dead son on one shoulder, Elise tried her best to convince Karl that Adam was still alive on the other. The look of horror on Karl’s face was brilliant.

In the end it was the evolution of the partnership between Elise and Karl that was Kieran Ashton’s downfall. Throughout the series we’ve watched this relationship blossom from frustration, reluctance, begrudging respect to something that resembles a friendship. There was often a lot made of the fact that Elise can’t lie, that she saw it as a pointless exercise, even when it might have been in a person’s best interests. Even though we saw her edging ever so slightly in that direction last week when she didn’t correct Karl after he lied to their colleagues, it’s Karl’s relationship with her and knowledge of the kind of person Elise is that stopped Karl from giving in to Ashton and executing him as he desired.

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This was a very powerful scene and all three actors were brilliant. Poesy and Dillane brought the chemistry they’d established together to boiling point and it was just excellent. It wasn’t a dissimilar scene to that played out in the conclusion of David Fincher’s Seven, a story which The Tunnel actually shared quite a lot of similarities with upon reflection.

The Tunnel’s final scene saw Karl and Elise going their separate ways and seemed like a very definite conclusion. The Bridge has just finished its second series in Scandinavia so there is scope for Karl and Elise to return in the future. It would be good to see Poesy and Dillane as these characters once more and see where their relationship went from here. They’ve both done a great job at building this team and show.

The Tunnel went out on an eventual high with a final fifteen minutes that lit up what had been a slow episode. The series as a whole has been a similar story with moments of exquisite drama built up to most weeks. Wonderfully filmed, lit, written and acted, the only real gripe anyone could really have had was that it meandered a little bit at times, and was too familiar to fans of the original when a markedly different take had been initially promised. On the whole though, The Tunnel was a show well worth watching with an admirable complexity.

Read James’ review of the previous episode, here.

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