You cannot escape how unsettling the woods are in Dublin Murders. There are moments dotted throughout the series that take place within its woodland setting that have been the prime location for some of the series’ most disturbing events, what with murder and kids going missing there, but not since the days when Mulder and Scully were investigating mysteries, or when Dale Cooper opened up the Laura Palmer investigation, has a forest setting evoked such a creepy air.
Dublin Murders is not a supernatural mystery, although on the basis of its third and fourth episodes, one may not be surprised if it took a dip into more supernaturally flavoured waters what with its reoccurring imagery of a wolf stalking the mind of Rob, the key use of the word changeling in a flashback scene, or, as is the case as we get into the fourth episode, the reveal of Cassie’s double, hinted at in the first two episodes, and now being discovered dead here.
If it turns out to be something related to be a supernatural it wouldn’t be a surprise. The air surrounding Dublin Murders is decidedly creepy, and while it hasn’t taken a turn into anything surreal (yet, maybe never, but there is still half of the series’ run to go here), it has the feeling that it could, that Sarah Phelps’ scripts are just skirting a line into the realm of genre, never quite going there, but unsettling you just a tad because maybe, just maybe, something strange is lurking amongst the trees and woodland.
If the first two episodes of Dublin Murders are all about slowly getting its claws into you, its third and fourth episodes are the series holding on to you a lot tighter. The emergence of Lexie as the series goes into the second half of its run means that Phelps’ scripts are now also incorporating The Likeness, the second of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad novels, and where a sense of the unease and the unknown lay at the fringes of the series, now we’re into the realm of something much more unsettling.
Dotted throughout the fourth episode are flashbacks to the night Cassie’s parents were dead, and with it a plotline that initially plays like a much more disturbing variation of the Rik Mayall comedy Drop Dead Fred, but which just adds to the brilliantly strange atmosphere going on here.
It does give one pause, albeit briefly, for thought for the first time since Dublin Murders began. The investigation into Katy’s death is enthralling enough to carry the series and at first one is left worried that the series might be biting off more than it can chew with throwing itself full fold into a second major storyline, and yet, it does so incredibly well, and while not only doubling down on the intense atmosphere that is the stock in trade of Dublin Murders, it also allows for much more in the way of superb character development.
It is such a cliché to talk about ‘complex characters’ and yet, Dublin Murders is led by two incredibly complex individuals. They may be our leads, yet the longer the series goes on, the more it isn’t afraid to show Rob and Cassie making decisions or doing things that make us wary of them a little more. Just when we get a moment such as Rob kind heartedly talking to Katy’s sisters, or Cassie reacting charmingly awkward as Sam (Moe Dunford) expresses her feelings to her, we get a moment such as those at the end of its fourth hour that remind us that these aren’t your typically heroic lead detectives and that there is something much more damaged lying within them.
They’re flawed, fascinating people who can sometimes do things that can give you pause as to whether we really should like these people. They’re still lying to their bosses over Rob’s real identity as Adam, while Cassie’s argument with Sam over Rob’s code of conduct with one of their witnesses in the first episode leads to Cassie hurting Sam in a terrible way in order to get the last word, and yet we’re privy to her confessing to Rob that she mainly did it to hurt Sam and we can see that she doesn’t feel the best about that.
Sarah Greene and Killian Scott are fantastic here, but then the series goes and throws in a moment that feels as if the series is playing a card that it really shouldn’t and yet it goes and reminds you once again that these aren’t your typical crime show leads.
Will they/won’t they relationships are the bedrock of many shows, particularly in American crime procedurals and yet, the moment that Rob and Cassie share a tender kiss that leads to something more physical feels simultaneously as if it was inevitable and yet leaves one pausing for thought at the series playing the card, but then Rob callously treats Cassie the next day, prompting her decision to go back undercover as Lexie in order to discover her killer and it reminds you that this isn’t your typical crime procedure, and definitely not one led by the type of romanticised romantic types that one would find on a mainstream American network series.
That undeniably tense air hovers over every scene in Dublin Murders, and in a continuation of the key strengths that made the first two episodes such a joy to watch, it treats its audience with intelligence, filled with plot and development but which it expects the viewers to keep up with.
As the clocks go back and the nights get dark earlier, Dublin Murders is the perfect series for the darker evenings as the last visages of summer disappear to be replaced with falling leaves and a chillier air. The gorgeous way it photographs its woods, the sweeping shots of the Irish countryside, inevitable grey skies hanging overhead as if they’re ready to weep rain over the characters, makes it the perfect piece of viewing for the autumn.
It’s just a shame that we’re already halfway through it.