Spoilers for ITV’s Innocent Episode 4 ahead.
Well, it turns out I was right. Phil Collins murdered his brother’s wife, Tara, just as I suspected. And for typically predictable reasons, it must be said, meaning that Innocent Episode 4 left the ITV whodunit on a distinctly unsatisfying note.
How did we get here? It wasn’t exactly a surprise that Phil was the culprit – the nice and friendly background character should always be a prime suspect in a whodunit. The job of Innocent Episode 4 wasn’t to really reveal Tara’s killer, but to give them a compelling reason for committing the murder, and to allow the audience the catharsis of discovering that final, incontrovertible bit of evidence that condemns them.
Innocent Episode 4, let’s be frank, didn’t provide either of those things. My initial theory that Phil was privy to Tara’s affair and killed her to protect David from the knowledge of it wasn’t anywhere close to the mark. The real reason was that Phil is, and has always been, incredibly jealous of his younger brother. He’s jealous that he’s thinner, better looking, has more money and more success. On the night of Tara’s murder, he drove 500 miles just to gloat; to see David devastated by Tara walking out on him. But on the way, he saw her on the street, drunk and alone. He gave her a lift. He tried it on. And she wasn’t having any of it – “I’m low, mate, but I’m not that low.” The rejection was too much for Phil to deal with, after presumably a lifetime of such things, and so he smashed her head in with a hammer.
It’s not an altogether unrealistic motive, and if you cast your mind back through the previous three episodes, you can spot tiny instances of resentment bubbling away within Phil. I’m glad that they decided to leverage him being a pathetic, desperate loser, rather than trying to characterise him last-minute as some kind of stone cold psychopath. In the confession scene, Daniel Ryan really put that across with his performance.
The question, though, is how did we get here? And that’s where the problem lies. It quickly became clear in Innocent Episode 4 that, to throw viewers off the scent (even though seasoned watchers will have seen it as the dead giveaway it was), Phil had been made far too squeaky-clean. He was so blatantly not a suspect, not a threat, not a killer, that there wasn’t any evidence to unearth that’d reveal his true nature. So instead he had to behave thoroughly out of character. He approached DI Hudson after she’d called to see David, and basically threatened her. He told her to leave them alone, and that she wasn’t welcome. From there it was child’s play for her to scare up a few leads that showed him to be guilty. But to have Phil behave in such a nakedly suspicious manner, to implicate himself when he hadn’t been remotely considered in the investigation until that point, to me just felt like a contrivance I couldn’t overlook. It undermined the entire show.
Which is a shame, really, because as a whodunit Innocent had been quite good, particularly in those middle two episodes when everyone was a potential suspect with a relatively decent motive for Tara’s murder. To have her real killer simply be a jealous man who killed her for basically no reason, and then to have that man essentially own up to the crime because he’d outsmarted the authorities so thoroughly that he’d never be caught otherwise, just didn’t sit well with me. It felt like lazy screenwriting designed to “shock” an audience rather than tell a compelling story. In the end, it didn’t succeed in doing either.