Recently, I rewatched three seasons of a engrossing British mysteries series, “Unforgotten.” Originally aired beginning in 2015, the series starred Nicola Walker as the lead detective, Cassie, and Sanjeev Bhaskar as her male side-kick, Sunil. In each season, the detectives discover remains of a body dating back 30 or more years. Walker’s character, Cassie, is determined to find the identity of the body and then of the person or persons who killed that person, no matter what it involves. Walker’s quiet speech belies the passion that drives her as she pursues every possible lead; she is determined to bring some measure of relief to those who loved the very old corpse when s/he was alive. In each case, it turns out that three or four individuals were in close enough contact with the victim to warrant Cassie’s looking into their pasts and coming to see all of them as possible suspects in the ancient crime.
The first time I watched each series, I assumed the title, “Unforgotten,” referred to the fact that our lead detective and her diligent and driven team refuse to forget their old case just because the murder occurred in the seriously distant past. The fact that several individuals and families are disrupted while Cassie follows leads seemed to me perfectly justified by her commitment to solving the original crime. In the first season, I didn’t particularly like the various suspects, so I was fine with seeing them become frustrated and at times frightened by what was happening. But in the second and especially the third season, I very much liked all those drawn into the detectives’ net. But I still saw the title as relating to those left with an unsolved disappearance of a beloved person.
When I decided to watch the series again, I was coping with serious worsening of conditions brought on by the covid-19 pandemic and with worsening actions against ideals of democracy at the hands of the then president. I remembered how engrossed I’d been by Nicola Walker’s acting and how good I’d felt about her finding the guilty party. But, as episodes played themselves out, I began to have very different responses to what was happening to the living suspects and those in their orbits. In each case, suspects were living inside an old secret from their pasts, secrets that would disrupt or even destroy their carefully crafted lives in the present. Several times I wondered if the writers of the various seasons had been in any way influenced by the adage “let sleeping dogs lie.” I found myself mulling over incidents in my own past that I was quite happy to have unknown by most people in my present circles of friends and associates. I even remembered being in a huge audience at a big church in my city when it hosted Sr. Prejean who said at one point in her talk about the death penalty “We are all better than our worst deed.”
All these new feelings about the mystery series came to a climax when Cassie and Sunil find at the end of the second series that none of the suspects is directly guilty of the old crime they have refused to “forget.” So they agree not to press any charges against those individuals, since doing so won’t accomplish anything about their original case. For several days after watching this season a second time, I realized that the title actually has a much deeper meaning than the one I thought of originally. The writer is asking me and the detectives to realize that poking around in anyone’s distant past easily can unearth behaviors far better allowed to stay in that past unless it becomes absolutely necessary to air them. Facts from moments in our past are not the same as truths achieved over our life span. Relentless pursuit of past actions can sometimes cloud genuine reforms undertaken and lived by.
So Cassie and Sunil must be vigilant in trying to bring resolution to those families who have lost members to violent deaths. Just as surely, however, associates or loved ones of those murdered people deserve to be allowed second chances. I’m very glad I chose the three seasons of “Unforgotten” as my escape viewing because the program has helped me see things in a much more nuanced context, surely a goal of any serious literary venture.
In reminding myself of details of the three seasons of the powerful program, I’m delighted to have found that a fourth season was being filmed when the pandemic forced work to come to a screeching halt. But crews are back at it and a new season has been promised to air sometime in 2021. I will be glued to my screen when that happens, eager to see if my new-found sense of just how complex the morality behind the episodes obtains in the new case.