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Series / Unforgotten

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Is a crime less serious because time's passed?

Unforgotten (2015-) is an ITV series created and written by Chris Lang. The series stars Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar as DCI Cassandra 'Cassie' Stuart and DI Sunil 'Sunny' Khan. The show has aired four series with the fifth series being confirmed as of May 2021.

The first series focuses on seventeen-year-old James 'Jimmy' Sullivan whose body was recovered after being murdered 39 years prior.

The second series focuses on the death of successful businessman David Walker, who has a series of skeletons in his closet all relating to apparently unrelated people around the UK.

The third series opens with the discovery of Hayley Reid's body, almost twenty years after her disappearance during the Turn of the Millennium New Year's party, after she worked cleaning a house where a school reunion happened.

The fourth series is about the murder of Matthew Walsh, a low-level drug dealer whose path crossed with a group of police academy friends on the night of their graduation.

Series 5 introduces Sinéad Keeenan as Cassie's replacement, DCI Jessica "Jessie" James.

Not to be confused with Unforgettable.

This show contains examples of:

  • Abusive Offspring: Implied to be part of Claire Slater's Fate Worse than Death at the end of Series 1. She has Alzheimers and is trapped at the mercy of her youngest son Matthew, who is implied to know that she murdered Jimmy and another of his father's male lovers even though she can't be prosecuted for it and is determined to psychologically torture her in payback.
  • A Deadly Affair: The motive for some of the murders in series 1.
  • The Bad Guys Are Cops: Discussed in Season 4. And they are, with the murderer and ex-con Dean perhaps being the most sympathetic.
  • Be as Unhelpful as Possible: To the point where anyone who is being helpful is instantly suspicious. Overlapping with Beware the Nice Ones
  • Berserk Button: Beth's husband whenever anyone calls her a b*tch.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Tessa in Series 2 and Finch in Series 3 are two notable examples.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The show seems quite fond of these:
    • Series 1 ends with Claire Slater being discovered to be Jimmy and Nick's murderer but she won't serve any prison time as a result of her condition and thus will live out her days in a care home being tortured by her son. However, Maureen finally learns what happened to her son and can bury him. Robert and Lizzie earn the forgiveness of their families, but Sir Phillip commits suicide in prison and Eric will serve prison time for protecting Claire and covering for her.
    • Series 2 sees Cassie and Sunny choose not to charge Marion, Sara and Colin with the murders of their abusers based on lack of genuine concrete evidence but also because the two decide that the last thirty years have been punishment enough for the three. That said, evading prison doesn't erase the incredible pain they endured and it isn't clear that when they admit the murders to their partners if they forgive them or not, particularly Simon, Colin's husband.
    • Series 3 ends with Cassie having a mental breakdown and taking leave of work but repairing her relationship with her father as well as starting a relationship with John Bentley. Finch is finally punished for his crimes but the police are forced to cooperate with him as he reveals he's raped and murdered possibly countless teenage girls up and down the country. But ultimately Hayley's mother and twin sister are able to find peace and establish a memorial garden in Hayley's memory.
    • Series 4 has one that verges on an outright Downer Ending. Dean admits to having killed Matthew Walsh in a fit of rage as Matthew killed Dean's brother months previously, and his cocaine smuggling network which Ram was involved in is exposed. The other three all are arrested for helping to dispose of the body but Fiona's husband promises to stay with her and Liz resolves to live a better life and gives her mother's financially struggling houskeeper a check for £10,000. Matthew Walsh's son Jerome reaches out to his estranged uncle Clive, hopefully bringing some solace to the latter, who blames himself for Matthew's death. However, Cass is hit by a joyrider and later dies of her injuries having never patched things up with her father, and weeks away from escaping her police career.
  • Bondage Is Bad: David Walker was into bondage...and into raping child prostitutes.
  • The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes: A common theme.
    • In Season 2, Colin is not an Amoral Attorney, because he takes his job as a barrister very seriously. But he still murdered Marion's rapist father in return for Sara killing his abuser in some extrajudicial justice.
    • In Season 4, Fiona is a therapist, a liar and a fraud. She encourages people to take responsibility for their actions while relying on Liz to keep her secrets and using her connections as a police officer to get off lightly for killing a child.
  • Con Man: Series 3 starts with Pete persuading an elderly man to part with £3,000, supposedly for an ISA, but instead spends it on his family. To be fair, Pete does give it back when asked, and pretends it was a mistake. He doesn't fool anyone.
  • Contrasting Sequel Antagonist: Creator Chris Lang sought for each killer in the cases to be distinct from one another in terms of motivation:
    • Series 1 had Claire Slater. She was a mentally unwell woman who was caught in up a crime of passion and never fully realised what she had done.
    • Series 2 had Marion Kelsey, Colin Osborne and Sara Mahmoud. The three were motivated by revenge and worked methodically together to kill each other's abusers, thus giving each other perfect alibis. They were all distraught and broken by their experiences as children.
    • Series 3 had Tim Finch. Whilst Series 2 centres around vengeance and Series 1 had a killer driven by mental illness, Finch did what he did simply For the Evulz. In addition, he is calmly in control of his actions, while the previous series' killers were ruled by passion.
  • The Conspiracy: Between Marion, Colin and Sara. Though it can be debated whether or not what they did was evil considering the circumstances.
  • Convenient Photograph: Reconstructed. All of the suspects in the murders in Series 2 manage to find photographs that prove they were elsewhere during the murders of their abusers. Cassie finds it suspicious that they were all able to find such conclusive proof they didn't do it, which is how she figures out that they were all in it together and killed each other's.
  • Cop/Criminal Family:
    • In Season 4, Dean left his abusive criminal family to become a cop. Although he still committed Walsh's murder over his brother's death.
    • Also in Season 4, Fiona's father and grandfather were both police officers, and so was she, but she also killed a child while driving drunk.
  • Cop Show: Every police person is a perfect, empathetic person. Except in Season 4, where this is subverted.
  • Creepy Gym Coach: In Season 2, Colin was sexually abused by his football coach, who was also a family friend, as a child.
  • Dead Man's Chest: The police officers put Matthew's body in a freezer in one of their flats for 25 years.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Given the main characters investigate cold cases, a lot of the attitudes are reflective of the times, meaning many characters express racist and homophobic attitudes generally considered unacceptable by today's standards.
  • Disposing of a Body: Done surprisingly well. In series 1, when the skeleton was found 40 years after burial it was thought to be possibly hundreds or thousands of years old. Were it not for a very persistent DCI, and an extremely good lab, the police would have written it off as such.
  • Elder Abuse: Matt to Claire in series 1 and gets away with it too.
  • Everybody Did It: Series 2 is about a conspiracy of child abuse victims who "switch" murders of their attackers.
  • Everyone Went to School Together: In Season 4, all the suspects were in the same class at police college.
  • Generic Cop Badges
  • The Hero Dies: Cassie is hit by a car in the penultimate episode of series 4 and dies of her injuries in the finale.
  • Improvised Weapon: The murderer in series 1 uses a hammer they found on a workbench nearby.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: A theme in the series is that crimes cannot be buried forever. Each series, as the investigations bring each suspect's past sins to light, the suspects tend to receive proportionate come-uppance, such as damage to their careers or estrangement from their families. Those who committed no crime or have fully repented since tend to have happier endings,
  • Let Off by the Detective: Cassie and Sunny allow Marion, Colin and Sara to get away with the murders on account of living with the pain of their abuse for the past thirty or so years as being punishment enough. Also helps that the victims were the epitome of Asshole Victim.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: a potential witness is killed off screen in series 1. His house was set on fire and it was made to look like he fell asleep with a lit cigarette. No one would have known if the person who ordered the hit hadn't confessed.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution:
    • Claire's homosexual husband had numerous extra marital affairs. But after she had children and untreated post partum psychosis, instead of talking to him about it she simply murdered the people he was having affairs with.
    • Josh gets Frankie into contact with some shady people. Instead of just using the shady people to threaten potential witnesses into silence, he has one murdered.
  • Never a Runaway: Hayley Reid, the victim of Series 3, was dismissed as a runaway by the officers investigating her disappearance at the time. When her body is eventually discovered twenty years later, the lead detective feels extremely guilty.
  • Never One Murder:
    • A new body turns up at the Slater's house in series 1.
    • In series 2 three people murder each other's abusers for them.
    • Series 3 is about a psychopathic serial killer who has raped and killed at least 3 young girls, but probably more.
  • New Media Are Evil: Everywhere but especially in Series 3, where a woman who "wants to be a journalist" leaks Pete's name just for some attention and the hope of getting a job, and is indirectly responsible for him getting killed. And Hayley Reid's parents are constantly barraged by trolls.
  • No Bisexuals: In series 2, it's simply assumed that because he has a male partner, Colin Osborne must be gay, and thus is unlikely to have raped a woman.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • Frankie Cross is a darker version of Sir Alan Sugar - a working class lad who pulled himself up by his bootstraps and became a tough hard nosed businessman and eventual government advisor, though Frankie had a gangland background and was willing to resort to criminality unlike Sugar.
    • James Hollis' TV show and his presenting style are heavily reminiscent of Jeremy Paxman.
  • One Degree of Separation: Each series introduces a set of characters who are seemingly strangers to one another but as each episode goes by more and more connections are drawn between them all.
  • Parting-Words Regret:
    • Season 3: Pete Carr's wife told him that she hated him and that she wanted a divorce prior to his vigilante killing. She mentions that she never meant it before he died, but he never regains consciousness to hear her.
    • Season 4: Cassie's dad Never Got to Say Goodbye because they were fighting, and he chose to ignore the phone message she left when she said she wanted to apologize, before she died in a car accident. Although he did hear the message, she never knew that he did and they never speak again.
  • Propping Up Their Patsy: Played with:
    • Dr. Tim Finch in Series 4 is the serial rapist and murderer of young women who also killed Hayley Reid after she cleaned the house in which he and his friends were staying. Tim is also perhaps the "best" friend of the group, shown in his loyalty to them, especially to Chris, who lost everything after being falsely accused of accessing child pornography. After years of apparent devotion, he coldly tells the police he doesn't care if he ever sees any of his friends again. While it wasn't Tim who accessed it (Chris's accusation was a genuine mistake on the police's part), it's heavily implied that he maintained the friendship (especially with Chris) at least in part so they would be come under suspicion for Hayley's murder, and deflect attention away from him.
    • In Series 4, Ram is propped up by Dean, who assisted him in an illegal smuggling operation for years because Ram knew that Dean had killed Matthew Walsh. Ram however says that he never went to the police because he knew that, due to his race, he wouldn't be believed over his (white) colleagues and would be immediately scapegoated for the cover-up.
  • Punk in the Trunk: The "dead body" version in Season 4 with the car driving back from the passing out party.
  • Rape Leads to Insanity: All three child sexual abuse victims ended up in psychiatric care together in their adulthood due to being raped by adults in their life.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Adrian Mullery gives DC Jake Collier an absolutely blistering one in Series 3, having spent eighteen years trying to live down being the prime suspect in the case and full of absolute rage at the police’s utter incompetence and botching of the initial investigation. A full transcript can be found on the quotes tab.
  • Red Herring: Every episode, naturally, but some egregious ones include Marion's links to the IRA in Series 2, Elliott's car accident and all of Pete's exploits in Series 3.
    • The penultimate episode of Series 4 has a big one with Cassie's car accident. All four of the suspects are shown driving at night at the same time, and return home acting suspiciously. Turns out that they were all just going for night-time drives, and it was a random hit and run.
  • Retirony: After being forced to return to the police force for 3 months in order to be eligible for her pension, all Cass wanted to do was finish her last case and retire to a new life with her partner, John. Just before the case is solved, she ends up in a car accident that eventually leads to her death.
  • Revisiting the Cold Case: The basic premise of the series. The show stresses how unsolved murders are as worthy of investigation and punishment as recent cases, and the families of the victims continue to feel great pain.
    • Justified in that in each series the killer did an excellent job hiding the body, and so the team has the advantage of being armed with the new evidence the body and its location brings. The location of the body is key to solving the murder in series 3.
  • Running Gag: In-universe. Cassie apparently has a habit of singing Sunny, the Bobby Hebb song, to the similarly nicknamed DI Khan.
  • Serial Killer: Tim Finch, the killer of Hayley Reid in Series 3 is revealed to be one.
  • Sexual Extortion: Fiona is sexually extorted by her brother-in-law when she asks him to change her name on the papers.
  • Shadow Archetype: Ram in Series 4 for Sunny. Both are police officers of Indian descent, Ram is actually Sikh. Ram is a brutal Cowboy Cop, a bad husband, and plays the race card when he's called out on sexually harassing one of his subordinates, while Sunny is kind, calm, and a single dad to his daughters. Ram also accuses him of being a "coconut".
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Sunny even calls Tim Finch a Hannibal Lecter knockoff in the Series 3 finale.
  • The Sociopath: Tim Finch describes himself as a "textbook psychopath" in Series 3, and shows many of the textbooks symptoms (superficial charm, above average intelligence, controlling nature etc.).
  • "Strangers on a Train"-Plot Murder: Series 2 has a trio who were in psychiatric care, after each suffering the trauma of child sexual abuse. They avoid suspicion having one of the others kill their abuser, after the third got close to the abuser to evaluate and manipulate them.
  • Stripped to the Bone: Haley Reid's body in Series 3, after decomposing undisturbed for nearly 20 years. When she's found the investigators first think she may be an archaeological find, until forensics point out her titanium surgical plate.
  • Take a Moment to Catch Your Death:
    • Season 3: Pete was stabbed by a vigilante but is taken to hospital and seems to be getting better. Then he gets in a medical emergency and dies when it looks like he's getting better.
    • Season 4: Cassie is taken to hospital after getting in a car accident and then dies from her injury.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Notably subverted by David Walker, but played straight by Hayley Reid and Hooker with a Heart of Gold Jimmy.
  • Vigilante Execution:
    • Series 3 has a vigilante stab Pete Carr, who later dies in hospital. The internet wannabe journalist who incited the violence is arrested, and a discussion about the catastrophic effects of social media vigilantism is briefly shown on the news.
    • Series 2 reveals that this is the cause of David Walker's murder. Marion killed him in revenge for raping Sara Mahmoud as a child, Colin killed Marion's abusive father, and Sara killed Colin's rapist.
  • Wham Line: In a series full of them one from the Series 3 finale really sticks out:
    Tim Finch:If we can do this properly...if we can do this with respect...if we can avoid turning it all into some sort of sordid circus...I'll tell you where the others are buried too.
  • Where da White Women At?: Jimmy Sullivan's father Thomas married a white woman Maureen in the late 1950s and typical of the time whose family disowned her because of it.
  • Who Murdered the Asshole: All over Series 2.
  • With Friends Like These...: Series 3 deliberately deconstructs this. The four suspects' friendships are deep and loving, but this led them to cover for each other and obstruct the investigation into Hayley Reid's death. Finch also faked his friendship the entire time to manipulate the others.
    • Pete gives up incriminating information about Elliot as soon as Elliot's dad stops helping him. Despite the latter giving him £3,000 just a few days before, and it is implied he has done this many times before when he needs help.