[This is a review of the Thirteen series finale. There will be SPOILERS.]
BBC America’s drama from across the pond, the mystery thriller Thirteen, follows the story of Ivy Moxam (Jodie Comer) after she escapes from her kidnapper’s house where she was held for 13 years. In the series premiere episode of Thirteen, Ivy met D.I. Elliot Carne (Richard Rankin) and D.S. Lisa Merchant (Valene Kane) who were assigned to her case and began investigating her kidnapping. But, soon after Ivy’s return home to her family, another young girl was kidnapped, putting pressure on both Carne and Merchant to get answers from Ivy, who was struggling to find her place among her family.
‘Episode 5’, written by series creator Marnie Dickens and directed by China Moo-Young (who additionally directed ‘Episode 4’ of Thirteen), sees many of the threads of the series wrap up in one exploding conclusion. In the series finale episode, Ivy is tasked with meeting her kidnapper, Mark White (Peter McDonald), so that police can apprehend him and save the other young girl he had taken. But, when she’s re-captured by White, her family is stuck in the same situation as 13 years prior, and the police rush to save Ivy.
However, as was the case the first time around, Ivy is the only one who can save herself, and this time, armed with the knowledge that her life may be different but it’s still waiting for her, she’s able to escape White. After enduring more abuse at his hands, Ivy manages to escape once he’s set fire to his new home in an attempt to kill both himself and her in order to reunite with the rest of their “family” – which includes his half-brother Dylan, whom White murdered and then forced Ivy to cover the evidence (in effect framing her for the murder), and White and Ivy’s child that they seemingly lost in a miscarriage.
There is, at the core of Thirteen, an exceptional contemplative study about the effects of long-term abuse – physically, mentally, and emotionally – in terms of Ivy’s return home and her reunion, then second escape from, White. Additionally, there is a sketch of the troubling relationships between victims of abuse, particularly women, and law enforcement in Merchant’s cold inability to understand Ivy’s experiences and Carne’s at times patronizing concern for her. But, either because of the limits of the five-episode series, or the struggle between perspectives taking time away from both themes, Thirteen doesn’t quite manage to delve as deep as it was seems to have wanted.
The five-episode Thirteen series as a whole struggles with perspective. Although viewers are initially introduced to the story through Ivy’s perspective – portrayed perfectly in the series premiere with her initial escape from White – both Carne and Merchant are positioned as entry points to the series as well. Additionally, Ivy’s reticence to divulge what went on between her and White while she was his captive adds further confusion to who exactly the viewer is meant to root for as the protagonist – or, at least, whose story this really is.
Certainly, Ivy’s reluctance to discuss her past with White falls in line with her character’s arc of moving forward in her life and leaving the past in the past – a theme Ivy explicitly states in ‘Episode 3’ when asked about Dylan once the police find his body. Ivy has undergone a trauma that most people won’t be able to relate to, but her reluctance holds her back from connecting with the characters around her, specifically Carne, and the audience as well. Although Ivy’s feelings in any given moment are portrayed effectively by both Comer’s performance and Moo-Young’s direction (as well as Vanessa Caswill’s direction in the first three episodes), not knowing what exactly happened to Ivy means viewers don’t have much context for those emotions.
However, it’s this lack of context that is integral to the mystery/thriller aspect of Thirteen as both Merchant and, later, Carne, begin to doubt Ivy’s story and motives. Undermining their investigation is the question of whether or not Ivy can be trusted, and whether or not she was complicit in staying with White after so many years in his home. As the story throughout Thirteen moves along, viewers are meant to doubt Ivy along with Merchant and Carne – especially when Carne discovers Ivy told her therapist she wishes she could go back to White.
That is, until Ivy finally admits her connection to Dylan and why her DNA was all over the sheet covering his dead body. The scene comes in ‘Episode 4’ and acts as a turning point for Thirteen, leaving ‘Episode 5’ with the task of giving the series a resolution. On the whole, ‘Episode 5’ manages to do so from the very beginning through scene in which Ivy is walking in a crowded shopping center looking to meet White – under the watchful eye of Carne, Merchant, and their fellow policemen. The scene acts as a mirror to the very first scene in the season premiere that saw her flee White’s house.
Furthermore, Ivy’s subsequent re-capture at the hands of White when the police’s plan goes awry due to Ivy’s anxiety (perhaps from some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder, though this isn’t explored in the series) and her second round of imprisonment go a long way in offering the insight into their time together the was absent throughout much of the preceding episodes. In ‘Episode 5’ Ivy is forced to revert back to her role as the subservient captive, but this time with the added knowledge that her family and friends are waiting for her when she escapes.
These scenes offer viewers their first real look at what exactly Ivy endured at the hands of White – especially as a result of his delusions that they would be a happy family. But it’s also clear that this time around Ivy fights back against White in her own ways. Between telling him she was relieved to lose her child and later physically fighting him in order to escape the house fire, she proves to be much less compliant, showing the growth of her character since her initial escape from his home.
That said, this focus on Ivy’s growth while additionally providing references to her time with White is interspersed with scenes of the Moxam family also seeming to have grown since Ivy’s last capture. Plus, ‘Episode 5’ also sees the unraveling of Carne who becomes desperate to find Ivy once she’s re-captured. But, his priorities realign when Merchant is in danger of dying and he finally allows something else beside Ivy to take precedence in his life. Though these conclusions to the various supporting characters allow Thirteen to come full circle, they aren’t nearly as well-executed as Ivy’s resolution – likely as a result of Ivy finally stepping forward again as the main character of the series.
Still, ‘Episode 5’ is perhaps the best indication of what Thirteen could have accomplished if given more time, or if the series had focused on one particular story, either Ivy’s or Carne’s/Merchant’s, rather than split the narrative between their differing perspectives. However, while the struggle between perspectives was evident throughout the series, ‘Episode 5’ largely places the focus on Ivy – her story, her growth – and, despite its flaws, the series finale manages to end Thirteen on a high note.
What did you think of Thirteen? Let us know in the comments.