Silently, Cassie climbs up on a convenience store shelf to peer at a murdered man lying below. Rob hooks his fingers through the loop of her jeans to keep her steady. Later, Cassie knows the beats of Rob’s interrogation strategy so well she can literally predict when the witness will break. These few minutes establish Rob and Cassie’s dynamic as an enviable cocoon of support and mutual understanding.
Dublin Murders, based on the first two novels in Tana French’s excellent Dublin Murder Squad series, is as much about Cassie and Rob’s relationship as it is about the haunting crimes they’re investigating.
How do we characterise such a relationship? Cassie and Rob’s bond is more profound than work husband and wife, and too charged with tension to be a typical friendship. Most simply, their bond is a refuge of goodwill in a gruelling, day-to-day schedule dealing with the worst of humanity’s capabilities.
“Cassie is the best relationship Rob has in his life,” actor Killian Scott tells Refinery29. “He a relationship with a mother that is appallingly challenging, and an unhealthy relationship with his landlord. Cassie is his only healthy relationship.”
Rob, the narrator of In the Woods, knows this kind of bond is rare into adulthood, when people tend to couple off. He spends pages trying to capture their friendship for the pitiful rest of us, who haven’t experienced such harmony.
“How can I ever make you understand Cassie and me? I would have to take you there, walk you down every path of our secret shared geography. The truism says it’s against all odds for a straight man and woman to be real friends, platonic friends; we rolled thirteen, threw down five aces and ran away giggling,” Rob says, proceeding to give a snippet of their pranks, bringing a streak of adolescent mischief into a cold, adult workplace. Like teenagers, there’s them, and then there’s everyone else.
Essentially, Cassie and Rob are perfect together. So why aren’t they together? Well, probably because they shouldn’t be — even if you wish otherwise.
“They’re totally meant to be together,” Scott told Refinery29 over the phone. “You want them to be together. But they are each other’s most toxic element. They would cause mutual destruction.”
Greene summarised their relationship best in an interview on BBC Breakfast: Rob and Cassie are the keepers of each others’ (potentially explosive) secrets. Their lives are in the others’ hands. So are their reputations.
Like countless crime duos have done before them, Cassie and Rob are constantly brushing up on the border of the romantic. Mulder and Scully of the X-Files had enough chemistry to fuel countless Tumblr tribute accounts. Even some Broadchurch viewers (okay, me) hoped the ever-cross Alec Hardy (David Tennant) would be softened by Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman), and they would run away together after dealing with the fallout of seaside crimes.
The impulse to automatically “ship” Rob and Cassie, however, is the result of a failure of vocabulary. We have no conventional label for a bond like theirs. Rob knows this — so in French’s In the Woods, he tries to define their unique relationship by comparing it to a more universal understanding of intimacy.
“Think of the first time you slept with someone or the first time you fell in love; that blinding explosion that left you cracking to the fingertips with electricity, initiated and transformed. I tell you that was nothing, nothing at all, besides the power of putting your lives, simply and daily, into each other's hands,” Rob says.
Cassie and Rob’s relationship is one of a kind — which means they have a lot to lose, should it go awry.
Considering it would jeopardise their idyllic working relationship, Casob/Rassie/[or insert designated couple name here] is an objectively bad idea. But even if Cassie and Rob are “drawn to each other for all the wrong reasons,” as Green tells Refinery29, she thinks audience members still can root for them. In a dark, thoughtful show that leaves much up to interpretation, Cassie and Rob’s relationship is just another thing for viewers to decide on themselves.
“If they’re rooting for them to get together — shipping them, is that what it’s called? That’s up to them,” Green says, laughing. She gets it.
Dublin Murders is on BBC iPlayer now