Unforgotten’s Creator and Star on Season 4 Finale & Season 5
Go behind the scenes of Unforgotten Season 4’s shocking finale with writer/creator Chris Lang and star Sanjeev Bhaskar. In their own words, find out what they had to say about the dramatic changes and moving story in the final two episodes of Season 4. Plus, find out what Lang has in mind for Season 5! [Note: Contains significant Season 4 spoilers]
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Chris Lang: I don’t think anyone expected [Cassie’s death]. It was the right thing to do, completely organically right to the story, but still, it’s like real life and real death—no matter that it’s someone’s time, you don’t want it to happen.
[The decision to have Cassie die] was a process that happened somewhere towards the end of Series Three and before we started writing Series Four. I had a lunch with Nicola [Walker, the actress playing Cassie] and we discussed what the plan was, what we both wanted. She’s like me—she doesn’t want to stand still, and was talking about how maybe Series Three should be her last. I said, “Well, let me write you a proper story,” and we agreed that Series Four would be her last, because we didn’t want to become complacent or to get stuck. And it shakes everything up. I remember reading of Vince Gilligan of Breaking Bad saying he often used to write himself into corners that seemed impossible for the character to get out of, and he said he found it to be one of the ways that most successfully fired his imagination and made him write brilliant material. I think there’s something in that. So writing out your lead—it’s quite a challenge there to move forward, but it’s a really good challenge. And I’m writing Series Five now and I’m really, really enjoying the process of destruction and rebirth, if you like.
Filming the Hospital Scene
Sanjeev Bhaskar: [Finding out about Cassie’s death] was a series of traumatic moments. I think it was Nicola who told me first that she’d had a conversation and it was going to happen. That was pretty traumatic to hear. Then I read it in the scripts, and that was pretty traumatic. Then we had to shoot the scenes, and our filming was interrupted by COVID-19 lockdowns. So we did the scenes of Cassie in the hospital before the first lockdown. On the set, I realized that it was the first time that I’d met Peter Egan [Cassie’s father, Martin Hughes] and Jassa Ahuwalia [Cassie’s son, Peter Stuart] in a scene. Because Nicola was in the bed, we had to go in individually to do our scenes. So we were all sitting in this green room and the strange thing was, it was like we were at a real hospital—we were sitting around talking about “hey, do you remember when…?” “Do you remember the first day you were on set?” It was that weird, weird thing of the energy mimicking the scenes that we don’t see between them.
The whole series was tough, knowing what was coming, but the scenes that Nicola and I were both dreading were those with her in the hospital. There was an interesting moment—I hope she doesn’t mind me saying this—during the scene that I have with her in the hospital. There’s no dialogue between us. But when I came in to do the scene and sit there, and they were setting up the lights, she turned around to me and she said, “I’m so glad you’re here. This has been so horrible to do, people coming in and talking about your character and you can’t respond. I mean, you’ve got to just listen to it. But I knew that when you came in, to have a connection with you, that I could breathe and I could say this to you.” Which again, is I guess, an illustration of our relationship.
Chris Lang: As soon as COVID-19 happened and we locked down, and I knew we had four weeks to go and this big funeral scene with a hundred people in a church, it was almost the first thing I thought about. I thought, “No matter when we go back, that’s going to be a problem. No one’s ever going to want to do that.” And the solution just came to me very quickly. I thought, “Actually, it’s really only about him and her, and it really should only be him and her.” If you’d done it in the church, you would have been looking at her dad and her son and all her fellow officers and all the other mourners, and the church, and all of this other stuff, but actually just following him after the hospital, and in the car to the grave…He just became incredibly elegant. We didn’t know if it would work until we actually recorded the proper dialogue—we’d had a guide track that he recorded behind the lavatories on set, which we were editing to, so it wasn’t high quality. But when Sanjeev went into the ADR studio, as soon as he started to read it, I just felt, “Oh yeah, this is going to be great.”
Sanjeev Bhaskar: We shot the hospital scenes, and then because of COVID-19, we shot the very last scene—me putting the flowers on Cassie’s grave—six months later. Then in January of this year , in a little sound studio, I recorded the eulogy that plays in the background. So it was this incredibly disjointed, strange thing to connect those experiences. And recording the eulogy was terrifying, because you have to get it tonally right for the show. No matter what I was feeling, I had to be able to express that. It was absolutely Sunny speaking about Cassie, and it was me feeling it for Nicola. So I was terrified that I would get too emotional with it or that it would get swallowed inside. In the end, it didn’t matter what my face was doing—it was going to be a disjointed voice, so the voice had to work. It’s up to the audience whether it worked for them or not, but I thought what was nice, in the end, was that that last scene became about Sunny and Cassie, and not about Cassie and the world. So from a completely selfish point of view, I really liked and enjoyed it. It was cathartic to have that moment on screen. Just to have that moment of me and even a departed Cassie, was, I later realized, important to me.
Chris Lang: [Writing the eulogy] was really emotional. It actually came quite easily because it felt like I was writing a eulogy for someone I loved—and I did kind of love her, really. I polished it up a bit over the weeks that followed. But watching it in the rushes, and then as it came together in the end, it was always extremely emotional for everyone, because we loved Cassie, we loved Nicola, and we were saying goodbye to her—both the character and our lovely actress, and to this incarnation of the show. Everyone loved every single time we watched it in the multiple edits, and we all cried every time. Because of COVID-19, we weren’t able to be in the studio together so we were editing on Zoom and an edit platform. It’s the last scene, so the titles come up after it, and then, because it’s Zoom, everyone’s camera comes up…and after every edit, they’d all be blubbing and sobbing, me more than anyone. Because it didn’t matter how many times we watched it, it killed us every time. And I knew it would do the same to the audience.
Unforgotten Season 5
MASTERPIECE: What can you share about a Season Five of Unforgotten?
Chris Lang: It’s the most political of the story so far, “political” with a small “p.” It really addresses where the UK is as a country politically, and it obviously introduces a new partner in crime for him, which is just lovely and refreshing. It’s a woman, and she’s pretty different from Cassie, that’s kind of all I can say. She’s at a very different stage in her life. She’s younger. She’s his boss again.
MASTERPIECE: Because Unforgotten isn’t just some police procedural, it felt like Cassie’s family was a real part of it. Have we seen the last of Cassie’s father?
Chris Lang: Well, it’s funny you should ask that. I haven’t 100% decided yet, because there’s part of me that I don’t want to let them go, and I think there’s organic ways where they could be present. But the difficulty of this show is that every single episode, there’s always way more stuff I want to put in than I have space for…So I always start with these lofty ambitions of multiple storylines for even the peripheral characters, and of course, you finish the script and it’s 78 pages long and you’ve got to lose 30 pages. So, it’s tricky. But let’s park that one and say no definitive answer as yet.
MASTERPIECE: While this is a show about unearthing an old crime and bringing truth to light, we care very deeply about our detectives. So not to be soapy, but I’m very curious about Sal, whom Sunny proposed to in the finale. We don’t really know much about her…
Chris Lang: Yeah, we’re going to find a lot more out about her. There’s a story there definitely, and I certainly intended to do this anyway, but it’s interesting how much the audience responds to the personal stuff of your two protagonists. Watching [HBO limited series] Mare of Easttown, the proportion of personal stuff to the investigative story was really high—they both elevated and contextualized each other, and I was absolutely fascinated by her personal life and the personal life of all the characters around her. So I think audiences love that stuff, and I love writing it, and I’ve tried to find more room in this season for the personal lives of our two protagonists, and certainly his new partner. There’s a big personal story.