This review contains spoilers.
“Liam, Laura and Molly.” Marie’s children’s names spill out of her mouth with the flow of familiarity when speaking to Billy, a recent widower with whom she’d had an affair fifteen years earlier. It’s the only time she tells the truth about her kids this episode. Since leaving her family a year ago, Marie’s told Tinder dates and colleagues that she’s a childless divorcee. She’s been lying for much longer than that.
The previous hour told the straightforward, affecting story of Greg’s heartbreak. This hour told a story that was harder to pin down but no less compelling – Marie’s. It waited almost until the end to reveal the secret Marie has been keeping for fifteen years—that Laura is Billy’s daughter and not Greg’s—and took us on a tour of her life alone in the week leading up to a disastrous Mother’s Day.
Marie got stoned, went kayaking, got pissed, went clubbing and ended up in hospital. We saw her ostracised by old friends and fail to make a new one. We saw her turn down the offer of a new relationship and instead seek out affectionless, anonymous sex. We saw her hanging on to, then letting go of, the hope of reconnecting with Billy. And finally, we saw her decide it was time to go back into her children’s lives, ready for next week’s finale: the custody battle.
Without brushing the secret of Laura’s biological father aside, no single solution was offered to the mystery of why Marie left her family. The question was answered partially and obliquely multiple times and it was the audience’s job to tease out our own inferences. “The marriage wasn’t strong enough,” she told work friend Lucy in one fictionalised account of her story. That part seems true. She lost a baby and it wasn’t Greg’s, she said, another part-truth.
While Marie was central to Greg’s reminiscences last week, he was entirely absent from hers. We accompanied her dropping her kids at school on the day she left them, but weren’t shown her goodbye to him. Greg’s past trauma was her leaving; hers appears to have been motherhood.
In flashback, we saw Marie’s desperation and unhappiness as an expectant and new mother. She wept after giving birth, then held a blade to her wrist. Her youngest child was unplanned, and she’d struggled with the nine-year gap between children. She’d long harboured a fantasy about Billy and the life they could have shared, considering it a lost opportunity for true happiness. Daughter Laura (Lola Petticrew, excellent here) was “the special one”, she told Billy, a link to the last time she really felt like herself.
The lack of an easy answer for Marie’s decision to leave is satisfying characteristic of Come Home’s emotional realism. We’ve only known Greg, Marie and the kids for a couple of hours, but thanks to careful writing and excellent casting and performances, they all feel more fully formed than some characters in much, much longer running dramas. The script and direction have a beautifully frank way of revealing everybody’s vulnerabilities, even, perhaps especially, those of Brenna, a desperately insecure woman deviously trying to drive a wedge between Marie, Greg, and their kids.
As Marie, Paula Malcomson is utterly plausible. I could cook up a diagnosis of Marie—depression, guilt, self-punishment with a life that’s half-ascetic, half-abusive—in the same way I might about a friend, knowing that it’s inadequate to fully explain her. Come Home proves that TV drama can captivate an audience without any need for flashing blue lights, police tape and dead bodies. Drawn this well, the interior lives of real-feeling characters in real-feeling relationships have mystery enough.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.