The last time we saw DCI Cassie Stuart (Nicola Walker) and DI Sunil Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar) was when they decided not to push forward with the investigation into the murder of David Walker.
A year on and the two detectives are back in action for Unforgotten’s third series. The story begins much like the previous two series’ when a body is discovered. This time, the murder victim is that of a teenage girl named Haley Reid, whose remains are unearthed at a building site off the M1 motorway. Television series’ that follow a formula often run the risk of becoming repetitive, but this isn’t the case here. While the series does recycle the same format to some extent, the murder victim’s story — and that of the suspects — couldn’t be more different in comparison to the show’s previous two seasons. Writer Chris Lang had his work cut out for him, but he somehow pulled it off, delivering yet another compelling narrative that will no doubt keep viewers coming back for more.
Lang was very innovative in setting Series 3 apart from its predecessors. The location of the body, for example, is a far cry from the River Lea, or the basement of an old building. But the big difference, however, is the way that all of this series’ suspects are already connected at the beginning of the narrative. The show’s signature disparity is still there to a degree, but we know the four arcs will connect pretty quickly this time. The suspects are Dr Tim Finch (Alex Jennings), TV presenter James Hollis (Kevin McNally), salesman Pete Carr (Neil Morrissey) and artist Chris Lowe (James Fleet). Fully-developed characters, regardless of how much screen time they’re given, is something we’ve come to expect from Lang’s work. No character — no matter how big or small — is neglected in his scripts, as he gives them all equal weight. What’s more, in a short amount of time, he’s given these newbies something to fight for and, more importantly, something to lose.
In addition to figuring out who killed Hayley, Cassie also faces a different kind of antagonist this year. Due to the fact that Haley’s disappearance was highly publicised back in 1999, Unforgotten’s protagonist finds herself thrust into the spotlight, becoming the face of the investigation. These unfortunate circumstances add to her load, creating plenty of conflict for the character. It’s not just the public speaking that’s bothering her though, as she’s still dwelling on her decision to drop the investigation into David Walker’s death. All in all, press interference is the last thing Cassie needs right now. As TV viewers, there’s nothing we love more than a conflicted protagonist. But, as with all of Lang’s work, the conflict arises naturally and never feels contrived. Moreover, he cleverly drip-feeds hints of Cassie’s inner turmoil throughout via subtext.
She’s also got personal issues, and it’s hard not to sympathise with her when we learn that she’s lonely. Again, it’s not something that’s made clear, but rather something that’s implied, which makes it all the more effective. Cassie’s personal life has been a bit of an enigma for viewers, and we haven’t learned much about her previous relationships, so it’s great that we’re getting a little bit more information about her now.
Lang’s strong characterisation of Cassie always made her feel like she was more than just a stereotypical detective — he made her feel human. You see, Unforgotten isn’t like your average crime dramas. It’s not stereotypically bleak, nor have its leading detectives experienced some life-changing trauma that made them want to become a copper. Cassie and Sunny aren’t superhuman, nor are they the world’s best police officers. They’re real people, doing their job as best they can and, just like everyone else, they have their own personal problems and their own crosses to bear. You’d be hard-pressed to find more realistic protagonists in a crime drama, and this alone makes Unforgotten a cut above the rest. In a similar way, Lang has managed to humanise all of the newbies, making it hard to believe any of them would be capable of committing such a heinous crime.
In addition to the strong writing, Andy Wilson’s directing is top-notch. But perhaps Unforgotten most under-appreciated feature is its music. The haunting melodies of Michael Price are instantly recognisable and have the ability to unnerve you at a moment’s notice — which I’m assuming is his intention given the nature of the show.
It was always going to be tough to top the previous series, but somehow Lang managed to concoct an equally compelling – and yet equally complex – narrative to keep us entertained for another six weeks. In an era where the television market is saturated with crime dramas, Unforgotten remains a standout in the genre, but that’s no surprise when you have Lang’s writing and actors like Walker and Bhaskar. There is little on TV that can compete with Unforgotten and, if the first episode is any estimation, then the third series could turn out to be its best yet.
Contributed by Stephen Patterson
Unforgotten continues Sundays at 9pm on ITV.