This review contains spoilers.
“I don’t want to be alone” wheezed Len Harper in the final minute of What Remains. ‘No-one does, do they? That’s pretty much what this whole thing’s been about’ he might have added were his guts not making a bloody mess of the hall carpet at the time. Detective Harper’s empathy with murder victim Melissa eventually became so complete that he expired (or was at least on his way to it) just a floor below her, stabbed by the girlfriend of her killer. Tsk. What are the odds?
Not high. The last sensational moments of What Remains, which piled another three corpses onto the roll-call of the dead at 8 Coulthard Street, eschewed realism by stitching a horror movie ending onto what had previously been an admirably compassionate drama. With a body in the bath, an unhinged killer, a death-by-bow-and-arrow, a final girl, and a head-shaking ‘don’t go up there’ moment, it was as if Halloween had come early. Elaine – surely the first TV character to be shot by bow and arrow whilst wearing a velvet dressing gown and slipper socks – even twitched back from the dead at the bottom of that loft ladder in true horror villain style. It’s just a shame for Len that her last moments didn’t extend to an ‘And we would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for this pesky leather-jacketed detective’ monologue. If he didn’t make it, then Len went to his grave without knowing what really happened to Melissa.
What Remains showed us a new kind of TV detective in Len Harper, one who stood apart from the current trend for emotionally-unavailable-to-the-point-of-pathology telly gumshoes by running on pure empathy. “We failed that poor girl, at least have enough heart to admit it” he admonished his former colleague this week, and heart’s the opportune word for our Len. Like Broadchurch’s Ellie Miller, Len wasn’t a rarefied genius with a past trauma, but a caring bloke with a taste for retro sweets and Jaffa cakes. I could stand to see a few more crime fighters like he and Ellie on screen.
By the time it came to it, the identity of Melissa’s killer was by-the-by (Peggy the mousy photographer did the deed, as it turned out), just a way to keep us all watching until the end to make sure Tony Basgallop’s message had sunk in. Modern life is rubbish, said What Remains, having used its four hours of BBC primetime to rap society’s knuckles, tell us all to take out our headphones and stop being so horrid to each other.
Peggy’s little hands may have squeezed the life out of Melissa, but she wasn’t the only culprit. As many suspected from the off, they were all guilty (well, perhaps not the Irish chap) whether of bullying, using, turning a blind eye to, or generally just not being arsed about the woman who lived upstairs and her sudden disappearance. It was more An Inspector Calls kind of thing than a Murder on the Orient Express one.
The reveal was kept back for as long as possible of course, the guilt being laid first at the feet of Liz Fletcher, whose murderous history was also unveiled this week. After leaving a pair of scissors in her abusive step-father’s oesophagus (“His arse?” said blokey Michael. It’s not the Maths teacher you need to get even with Mike, it’s whoever taught you Biology), she went into hiding in Mr Sellers’ basement flat. A light was thus thrown onto their relationship. He’s lonely so protects her; she cooks his sausages and lies back so he can work off the calories. What an uncomfortable scene that was. Of course Melissa’s departure wouldn’t have escaped the bin Nazi, whose curtains twitched at every coming and going, so of course Joe Sellers knew the body was in the attic. He just thought it was his young housemate who put it there, so he kept schtum and went about his business.
Veils fell from the other relationships too. We now also understand what hold nasty Elaine had over victim Peggy, and why the latter kept returning to their unhappy life. Did Queen Bee do her in though? Or did Peggy finish what she started in that bathtub and her controlling partner refuse to let her go even after death?
Out of the suspect-running, the fate of Flat 2’s residents was unfortunately rushed and unfinished. Kieron’s painful confrontation with Adam was left on a bleak note, while Patricia gave Kieron another chance, preferring to risk his alcoholism than to risk dying alone.
Coky Giedroyc’s deft visual storytelling has been an unsung hero throughout What Remains. Her stylish direction in the wordless Christmas party scenes that opened the episode – in which Melissa’s green dress camouflaged her against the walls, making her look almost as invisible as she was treated by her fellow partygoers – were just some of the drama’s many impressively directed, considered sequences.
The question we’re left with then, is did What Remains work? No, not as a murder mystery – it was perfectly functional as one of those – but as a kick up the backside of social apathy?
If the last four weeks have promoted you to smile at a stranger, learn a neighbour’s name, or stop in at an estranged friend’s house, then the answer is yes. Me? Yeah, ‘course. I’ll get right on it. It’s only… after watching that, doesn’t everyone seem – I don’t know – a bit like they’re hiding something?
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, here.
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