Why That Surprise Ending Of Deadwater Fell Matters More Than You Think

Photo Courtesy Of Channel 4
Caution: This contains spoilers for the finale of Channel 4's Deadwater Fell.
There's a lot of very good television on at the moment. It's almost as if the TV people realised that it was cold outside, we (were) doing Dry January and have little to no motivation to leave the warmth of our couch for anything other than (more) food.
In between Sex Education, Dracula, Love Island and Netflix's strangely addictive Cheer has been Deadwater Fell, Channel 4's much advertised (the billboard featuring David Tennant has been looking creepily into my bedroom window since December) crime drama – which has been airing on Friday nights for the past four weeks.
For those who haven't watched (I mean, stop reading this article and go and watch it), the show follows the fallout in a small Scottish town after the local GP Tom (David Tennant), his wife Kate (Anna Madeley) and three young daughters are involved in a house fire which kills all except Tom. Best friends Jess (the utterly divine Cush Jumbo) and Steve (Matthew McNulty) do their best to pick up the pieces of Tom's life. However, when it becomes apparent that foul play was involved, suspicions turn to Kate, who was "not coping" and "on medication"*.
*Just FYI, someone being on medication probably means they're coping better than not being on medication, so let's just kick that trope to the kerb.
Throughout the series, two separate narratives emerge. One is littered with a string of red herrings: cliffhangers! A scorned husband! Tampering with evidence! All things that pointed to Deadwater Fell being a classic whodunnit crime drama. The other, quieter narrative is the disturbing story of a controlling and abusive marriage.
In the end, the abusive marriage narrative turns out to be the dominant one. There is no final twist, no last-minute piece of evidence to put a rogue character at the scene of the crime, burning match in hand. Instead, the most logical explanation behind the murders is the one that you most suspected.
It is possible that some may come away from the finale feeling slightly cheated. So used are we to watching sensationalist crime dramas which keep you guessing that the fact that the murderer turns out to be the guy you suspected all along may feel like a letdown.
The surprise ending of Deadwater Fell is that there is no surprise. The abusive husband did it.
In real life, sensationalist twists are rare. And Deadwater Fell serves as a reminder of that. Two women a week are killed by a current or former partner in just England and Wales, and domestic violence killings are at their highest rate in five years. 1.6 million women experienced domestic abuse in 2018-19. The statistics are horrifying and all too often the help that victims (both women and men) need isn't available.
Throughout Deadwater Fell, Tom's abuse of Kate is shown in snapshot flashbacks. His snapping at Kate in front of his mother, his downplaying her crying as an embarrassment, his cheating, his aggressive sexual proclivities. Kate asking friends for help. It is only once all the flashbacks are in place as the finale comes to a close that Jess and Steve's hindsight becomes 20/20. The clues that something wasn't right in the marriage were there, but the pieces weren't put together in time.
And so, rather than being the juicy crime drama we all expected, Deadwater Fell acts as a sombre nudge for viewers to be mindful of what may be unfolding around them. We live in a busy world with busy lives, but use this as a reminder to talk, ask questions and listen hard. Because you never know what's happening behind closed doors.
Deadwater Fell is available to watch on All4
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247. If you have experienced sexual violence of any kind, please visit Rape Crisis or call 0808 802 9999.

More from TV

R29 Original Series