An Unexpected Trigger

NOTE: Spoilers for Unforgotten Series 4.

Back in March, I watched the final episode of Unforgotten Series 4 and if you haven’t seen it – spoiler alert – Cassie, the main character (played by Nicola Walker), dies from injuries sustained in a car accident. It was incredibly shocking and upsetting. It’s something that’s been in my head on and off all year and I would really like to leave it in this year. I guess that’s why I’m writing about it now.

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As I said, I was very upset when the series ended with Cassie’s death. That’s not exactly surprising since I do get very attached to my favourite characters. Upset isn’t really a big enough word: there was shock, distress, grief, anger… it was overwhelming. And in an attempt to process some of these emotions, I wrote a song about grief called ‘Incomplete,’ a snippet of which I posted on Instagram…

And while that helped a bit (coincidentally, it’s the second TV show featuring Nicola Walker that I’ve written a song about), I could feel it all hanging over me. It felt so shocking and so brutal and I felt oddly fragile in the wake of it. It was later that I learned about ‘the alienation effect’ after a researching rabbit hole that ended in me reading about the film, Psycho (a film I’ve never seen by the way – I’m looking at you, ADHD). In his essay about Psycho, film theorist Robin Wood wrote: “[The murder of the main character, Marion] also constitutes an alienation effect so shattering that (at a first viewing of the film) we scarcely recover from it. Never – not even in Vertigo – has identification been broken off so brutally. At the time, so engrossed are we in Marion, so secure in her potential salvation, that we can scarcely believe it is happening; when it is over, and she is dead, we are left shocked, with nothing to cling to, the apparent center of the film entirely dissolved.” I could be wrong – I’m not a film expert by any measure – but I think that’s what’s happened here; this quote certainly describes how I felt about that final episode. Cassie was the focal character, the audience surrogate almost, and she was the glue that held together a show that regularly changes almost the entire cast (along with Sunny and the rest of the team, of course) and her death was incredibly shocking. I’ve always felt things deeply but I haven’t spoken to one person who wasn’t upset by it.

While there were, of course, other factors impacting on my mental health, it was the trigger of that particular period of depression. But months later, even after my depression lifted a bit, I still couldn’t shake it. I still found it very upsetting and I was still having nightmares involving car crashes; as deeply as I feel things, this seemed to be sitting differently. Eventually, it occurred to me that it was potentially more than straightforward upset over the loss of a favourite character and the loss of a favourite show (maybe – I’m still not sure how I feel) and that the storyline – a sudden, completely unexpected, shocking death – had triggered me as a result of the trauma around my Dad’s death, trauma that is still relatively undealt with. It completely blindsided me. I’m still relatively in the dark on my triggers in this area, given that my coping mechanism for most of the last thirteen years has been to, essentially, bury it: facing it just felt insurmountable. But now that I’m starting to unearth it again, it appears that that earth is packed with landmines. The metaphor wears thin, but hopefully you get my point.

I don’t know how I feel about all of this but putting my thoughts into words has helped. This year has been so busy and so emotionally chaotic that I feel like I haven’t had the time or brain space to even start processing it all. In regards to the show, I don’t know whether I’ll watch the next series. Right now just the thought of it is upsetting. Nicola Walker said in an interview that “Cassie’s death wasn’t for effect; [Chris Lang, writer of Unforgotten] is going somewhere with that conversation about grief,” and while I think these are important conversations to have, I’m not sure if I have the emotional bandwidth for a fictional one when I’m already trying to manage my own very real one. I don’t know. But I really don’t want to go through this again if I can avoid it.

“Cassie’s fate may have caught viewers by surprise, but it was something Walker had discussed with the show’s creator and writer, Chris Lang. ‘We were talking from the beginning, really, about what he was doing with this character and this story he wanted to tell,’ Walker told TV Insider. ‘Chris and I were always interested in looking at the cost of being involved with these sorts of cases that we all love watching on television. Cassie does not have superpowers. She’s an ordinary person who’s really good at her job, and it took her to the place of having an emotional breakdown… We talked a lot after Season 3 about where it was going to go, and it was a joint decision,’ she adds. ‘I think the clues were there in Season 3. The title of the show is Unforgotten and I think there’s a great deal of narrative beauty to this woman. She’s not going to be forgotten. I felt like she was quietly very unusual on television because she was a real person.'” (x)

I keep coming back to this quote. I agree with it, with what she says about Cassie, but I still don’t understand why Cassie had to die, why she had to die in a shocking, brutal way. Maybe I never will. Most of all, I’m sad. I’m sad that a show I loved will forever be entwined with distress and painful memories.

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