Sherwood finale recap – in the end, it wasn’t about the murderer at all

·9 min read

Warning: this recap is for those who have watched up to episode six of Sherwood on BBC One.

Who’d get a happy(ish) ending as James Graham’s majestic drama reached its compelling climax? And would Wimbledon coverage get in the way again? Here’s your Ian St Clair-style notes on the series finale …

‘He’s not a beat poet, he’s a psychopath’

As the manhunt entered its second week, the Sparrow crime clan stared at the arrow fired at their front door. Elder son Rory (Perry Fitzpatrick) insisted it was a message for him, because he’d broken a promise to help rogue archer Scott Rowley (Adam Hugill) escape. Nobody considered that matriarch Daphne (Lorraine Ashbourne) might be the target.

Related: Sherwood finale review – every arrow hit its mark

Did wily husband Mickey (Philip Jackson) suspect the truth? He certainly gave an uncharacteristically soppy speech. After Googling her codename, Keats – initially mistyping it “Keets”, which would prove pivotal – Daphne pondered his famous line from Ode on a Grecian Urn: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” Fearing she was about to be outed as an undercover cop, someone who’d lived a lie for decades was left musing on the nature of truth.

St Clair was a man on a mission

DCS Ian St Clair (David Morrissey) was verging on obsession in his pursuit of the traitor. His marriage was in crisis because he’d suspected wife Helen (Clare Holman), who was actually in witness protection to escape her violent father.

The Home Office confirmed that an undercover Met officer had indeed arrived in 1984, but wouldn’t compromise their anonymity. Chief constable Fraser (Phaldut Sharma) added that St Clair’s proximity to the case was clouding his judgment and warned him off pursuing it.

The Jackson family were reunited

It took five episodes, but Rosie Jackson (This is England’s Chanel Cresswell) returned from her cruise. She was furious that her father’s killer still hadn’t been caught, but pleasantly surprised that mum Julie (Lesley Manville) had built bridges with aunt Cathy (Claire Rushbrook).

When Cathy came round for a cuppa, it became painfully clear how long they’d been estranged. Julie had even missed Cathy’s wedding to Fred Rowley (Kevin Doyle) – except she hadn’t. Julie had watched from the nearby Co-op car park (very Victoria Wood). Even more poignantly, Cathy knew: “I saw you and I were ever so grateful.” Gorgeous acting by both.

The net closed on spycop

A Met source gave DI Kevin Salisbury (Robert Glenister) the four numbers to which ex-copper Bill Raggett (Christopher Fairbank) sent his last text, belonging to Raggett’s covert colleagues. When St Clair called the quartet in turn, only one picked up: “Keats”, AKA Daphne. In an electrifyingly tense scene, the pair had a one-sided phone conversation before Daphne hung up.

The next clue came from a surprise source. Julie noticed Daphne dodging a question about her supposed miner father and shared her suspicions with Ian. Newcomer Daphne Dunn (her maiden name) always said her dad worked at Clipstone colliery but no Dunns had worked there. Had they rumbled the great pretender? The SD stole the names of dead children to build fake identities. Young Daphne Dunn died in 1965 in Peterborough. It wasn’t proof, but it was damning.

Sparrow v arrow

Having been flushed out of the forest, Scott slept in the Sparrows’ allotment shed. When Mickey found him, Scott escaped on his motorbike, but Mickey gave chase, calling the police as he did so.

In a thrilling sequence, Scott roared down the ginnels we’ve seen so much this series. “Think you’re the new badass in town?” growled Mickey at the wheel of his minicab. “I’ll show you badass.” He promptly pulled out in front of Scott’s bike and sent him flying over the bonnet. The limping fugitive drew his weapon but the entire community closed in: cops and criminals, estranged sisters, NUM and UDM members alike, before he was wrestled to the ground by Dean Simmons (Sean Gilder) and Leonard Gibson (Charles Dale). Gotcha.

For the benefit of the tape …

At the midway mark, we finally got to hear Scott’s motives. He admitted murdering Gary Jackson (Alun Armstrong) but snorted at suggestions it was linked to the miners’ strike. Disfranchised and bitter about his broken home, Scott had fixated his jealousy on the loving Jackson family. That “You’re all liars” graffiti in his lock-up wasn’t aimed at anyone specific but society generally. The Sparrows “owed me”, hence firing at their front door. As for the attacks on the train, golf course and solicitor Vinay Chakrabarti (Ace Bhatti)? “Hypocrites and liars, probably.”

As a white working-class man from the Midlands, Scott felt left behind. He knew there was a spycop from hacking into Chakrabarti’s emails but not who it was. He’d left that “eye spy” message to lead police on a merry dance, hoping he could slip away unnoticed. As St Clair closed his notebook in disgust, Scott gloated at him “trying to put it all together when there’s nowt to put together”.

It was hard not to feel as frustrated as St Clair. As anti-climactic police interviews go, it recalled Line of Duty’s “H” reveal. Scott wasn’t a criminal mastermind, just a disaffected loner. In real life, things are never neat. Scott’s motivation wasn’t political but the community projected that on to him and began tearing itself apart again. It was a metaphor for the 80s government, dividing people from the shadows. St Clair got his man, but still needed answers. Could exposing the spycop provide them?

Snog for old time’s sake

When headteacher Jenny Harris (Nadine Marshall) checked into a hotel after leaving unfaithful husband Jacob Harris (Don Gilet), she ran into fellow resident and old flame Kevin. Full of nostalgic longing, they kissed – before Kevin flashed back to her father’s death in 1984 and tearfully apologised.

It was cathartic for them both. The next morning, Jenny admitted she felt liberated by Jacob’s betrayal. Kevin was looking forward, too. As he parted ways with old sparring partner Ian, the pair had exorcised their mutual demons. Kevin was touched by Ian saying he’d “behaved with integrity and professionalism”, in contrast to 1984. Yet Kev’s farewell advice (“Don’t torment himself chasing old ghosts”) fell on deaf ears.

It’s good to talk

As Ashfield tried to heal after its losses, it held two community events. First came a public meeting with police, which briefly looked like it might bring locals together until descending into the usual striker v “scab” recriminations. Fred argued that working miners were merely trying to eke out the last benefits from a dying industry. Leonard said the government “used us to break a whole class of people”. Deano harked back to the night of the fire, when working miners tried to help strikers and were repaid with arson. Ian’s estranged brother Martin (Mark Frost) insisted his burns were just a tragic accident but “That’s not a good enough story, is it? There’s nowhere to put your anger and blame.” He could have been talking about Scott, too.

In an impassioned speech, Julie said they were falling into the trap of blaming each other, rather than the establishment. The “ex-mining, post-industrial” town defined itself by what it wasn’t any more. How could youngsters like her grandchildren – or indeed Scott – imagine a future in a place stuck in the past? “We get one life and we spend it hating,” Julie concluded wearily. “Aren’t you all tired? I am so fucking tired.”

Stagey stuff, as you might expect from playwright Graham, but full of powerful monologues and weighty performances, from Manville and Doyle especially. However, the Sherwood ensemble have been so uniformly terrific it’s hard to pick standouts. Morrissey, Glenister, Rushbrook, Ashbourne and Adeel Akhtar all excelled. Even lugubrious Philip Jackson came late to the party as surprise hero Mickey.

Damn you, autocorrect

Next came the school harvest festival. Parents could buy Christmas panto tickets for the children by texting a donation number so pledges came up on a screen. Keen to be “a modern-day Robin Hood”, Mickey Sparrow wanted to buy the lot. Squinting at her phone because she didn’t have her glasses on, his wife sent the text – only “tickets” defaulted to “Keats”, meaning “Daphne Sparrow all Keats” appeared on the big screen.

She dashed out with Ian in hot pursuit. By the time he reached the Sparrows’ farmhouse, she’d retrieved her police revolver from a strongbox like Raggett’s and was preparing to take her own life.

Ian talked her down. Like him, she was young, just doing her job and shouldn’t have been put in that position. As he’d said on the phone, it wasn’t only her who’d identified the firestarters back in 1984. As a principled young PC, he’d corroborated their names, including his own father’s. “We need to stop being trapped by past,” he said, as much to himself as Daphne. “What matters is the here and now.” She put the gun down. And breathe.

Closure of pits, closure emotionally

Just time for an elegiac ending, combining the personal with the political. A montage of archive newsreel showed pits closing and unemployment taking its toll. Heavy industry was replaced by warehouses staffed by deunionised workers like Leonard.

The Jacksons visited Gary’s grave, where Julie lovingly laid his union badges. A tearful Ian (the catch in David Morrissey’s throat said so much) was reconciled with wife Helen and brother Martin. Daphne visited Julie, presumably because Ian told Julie her spycop suspicions were correct. For Daphne to repent and move on, she needed to make amends with Gary’s widow.

We left on a lighter note. The £15,000 hidden by Scott was still buried in Sherwood Forest. Treasure hunters Deano and Rory, shovels over their shoulders, exchanged respectful nods before taking different paths to chase the same dream. A closing dedication read: “In loving memory of Keith ‘Froggy’ Frogson”, paying tribute to the former miner shot dead with a crossbow in Annesley Woodhouse – the real-life starting point for this fictionalised drama.

Line of the week

“I should have talked to Scott more. But we don’t talk, do we? That’s the most frightening fucking thing of all” – Fred on flawed masculinity.

Notes and observations

  • John Keats often wrote about birds, most notably in Ode to a Nightingale, and watched sparrows from his window. James Graham confirmed to us that he studied the poet at school and “always enjoyed him”.

  • Both Daphne and Fred gazed at the forest and asked “Where are you?”, echoing Ian last week.

  • No closing tune from the Ian Campbell Folk Group. Instead we ended, fittingly, on The Community Theme from composer Lorne Balfe’s score.

Phew, what a finale. Thanks for your company throughout this outstanding series. And one last time, please share your thoughts, theories and verdicts below …

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