It’s fair to say that I’ve had a mixed reaction to this series of Doctor Foster, however I’ve been won over in recent weeks especially during the penultimate instalment which focused heavily on Kate (Jodie Comer). However, I was unsure of where the drama could go after Simon (Bertie Carvel) promised one final move in the revenge game he has been playing with ex-wife Gemma (Suranne Jones) involving their son Tom (Tom Taylor). This led into tonight’s finale where many had predicted death for one of the major characters, something that writer Mike Bartlett teased several times in the past weeks. But, as he has done before, Bartlett defied expectations by delivering a Doctor Foster episode that was surprisingly tender and displayed previously unseen vulnerabilities in both Simon and Gemma.
However, to get the tenderness Bartlett had to cover a lot of ground from last week’s final scene which teased Gemma running over Simon after he revealed he hadn’t finished his revenge plan. The first third of the episode saw Simon become a thorn in Gemma’s side; appearing at her home and later knocking on a window of a Chinese restaurant where she and Tom were attempting to have dinner with friends. It was here that Tom delivered a devastating blow to his father, telling him that he no longer wanted to see him which appeared to leave him more desperate than he was before. Later that evening, Simon kidnapped Tom and took him to a busy motorway where he threatened to run into moving traffic. This scene had me on the edge of my seat as Bartlett had presented Simon as that unhinged a character that you feared he may throw himself into the path of a car. Director Jeremy Lovering perfectly built up the tension to the extent that I gasped when I thought that either Gemma or Simon may die however neither ended up perishing here.
The subsequent scene in which the Fosters had breakfast together at the hotel’s cafe was a great scene especially when contrasted with the pivotal dinner scene from the end of series one. Instead of being full of recriminations and accusations, here Gemma and Simon served each other with apologies and explanations. I personally felt that Bartlett gave us an explanation for the character traits of both Gemma and Simon which were both linked to their parents’ deaths. Gemma’s independence after her parents’ death in a car crash had led to her cold demeanour and the reason she often threw herself into her work. Meanwhile, Simon had been forced to be a grown-up to soon as he was forced to care for his mother following his father’s death which explained his almost childlike revenge plot against Gemma. Furthermore, we got the explanation we’d be looking for Tom’s resentment of his mother as Simon had revealed that Gemma had left their son on his own in the house whilst he was still a baby. Even though this was a result of Gemma’s post-natal depression, Simon had used it in a desperate attempt to drive a wedge between mother and son. But during this scene, everybody laid their cards on the table with Tom telling Gemma that he felt she hadn’t been there for him as much as she possibly should have been.
During this breakfast scene, Gemma returned to Simon’s room and laid a series of syringes out which contained vials of a liquid he could presumably use to end his life. Having been witness to these scenes, we knew the significance of Simon’s teary goodbye to his son, a moment which made me sympathise with him for the first time. Ever since Simon told Gemma the only way he was leaving was in a box, Bartlett had set us up to see his death but once again he diverted our expectations by pausing his suicide at the last moment. Instead, Simon was talked out of his death by Gemma who recalled her own aborted suicide in the first series and it appeared that the pair had finally come to something resembling a truce. But instead of giving Gemma a happy ending, Bartlett dealt one more cruel blow with Tom walking out on his mother whilst she was talking his father out of suicide. Tom’s disappearance was an interesting way to the end the series and allowed Suranne Jones to deliver a heartbreaking closing monologue. But, it also lacked the sense of finality that I felt that this conclusion to the series would offer and it almost makes me feel if a third series is in the works.
I’m not sure whether I enjoyed this finale more than last week’s episode but it definitely had enough exciting moments to keep me engrossed as well as plenty of emotional moments that the series had lacked up to this point. Everything from Simon kidnapping Tom onwards was absolutely riveting as the episode became a three-hander with Jones, Carvel and Taylor all excelling in their roles. I personally felt that this was Bertie Carvel’s best performance throughout both series as he finally could give more than a pantomime-villain-like turn as Simon. As all of Simon’s vulnerabilities were laid out on the table, Carvel was able to do the miraculous job of making me sympathise with one of the most-hated characters on TV. Jones meanwhile was able to go through a range of emotions from horror at the motorway, to cool and calm as she laid out the vials in Simon’s room to her final state of bereavement due to the disappearance of her son. However, it was Tom Taylor who excelled here presenting Tom as an emotionally fragile teenager who had been worn down by a pair of parents who were more bothered about warring with each other rather than caring for him. Furthermore, I feel this series belonged to Taylor as he has been consistently brilliant since episode three and turned Tom into a more realistic character than either Simon or Gemma.
Whilst this series has gradually turned into another excellent outing, there have definitely been some stumbles along the way especially during episode two. One example of the clumsiness of this series can be exemplified through the character of nice guy teacher James (Prasanna Puwanarajah) who popped up once again in the finale. It did feel to me as a lot of James and Gemma’s relationship occurred off screen and as a result he seemed like more of a plot device than a fully rounded character. In fact, I was surprised to see him resurface in the finale only for Gemma to bat him away once again after telling him that she wasn’t someone that needed to be saved. I think a lot of people thought James would have more of a significance to this series as a whole but I believe that the series wouldn’t have been at all different had he not been around.
I personally believe that this should be the end of Doctor Foster even given that I don’t feel the series had as definitive a conclusion that I thought it would. I believe another return would only further sully the legacy of a drama which would’ve been better off staying as a one-series show. However, I believe the ratings will decide whether we’ll return to Parminster again to focus on Gemma’s continued search for her son. But for now, I’ll applaud series two of Doctor Foster for its strong performances, vibrant direction and a story that defied my expectations up to the closing moments of the final instalment.