Can’t Miss Episode of the Week: ‘Landscapers’ Finale Is Quietly Beautiful

Olivia Colman and David Thewlis in the Landscapers finale
HBO

Welcome to our weekly column Can’t Miss Episode of the Week! Every Saturday we’ll be spotlighting a different episode of television from that week that we thought was exceptional and a must-see. Check back to see if your favorite show got the nod — or to learn about a new one! Spoilers ahead.

HBO’s Landscapers is a four-part miniseries based on true events, a 1998 double homicide in England, but it’s really a love story. This is never more evident than in the December 27 finale, when the titular couple Susan (Olivia Colman) and Christopher Edwards (David Thewlis) go on trial for the murder of Susan’s parents. Despite the sensational subject matter, it’s the quiet moments of the episode that make it stand out.

The episode opens with a letter from Susan to Christopher while they are in jail. Since Christopher’s actions have largely caused their dire predicament–his confession to his stepmom, his decision to return to England, his refusal to be represented by a lawyer, saying far more to the police than he should–one would think that all of this would have drawn a wedge between them. But Susan’s letter is simply there to say that she still loves him, and she’s sorry for taking him away from the world.

As the trial begins, Susan retreats to the fantasy in her head, where she and Chris are the stars of one of the Western movies she loves so much. Unlike previous episodes, real life is in black and white and the fantasy is in color. The trial passes by in a blur, as many of the scenes are out of focus, and Susan drifts from listening to the awful things the prosecutors are saying about her and Chris. It effectively shows how Susan has been handling her trauma for all these years.

While throughout the series, and even in his testimony, Chris talks about how fragile Susan is, and how he has to take care of her, one of the best moments comes when Susan explains to her lawyer, Douglas (Dipo Ola), about a time when she took care of Chris. She and Douglas have a surprisingly sweet relationship, and it’s with him that she finally feels comfortable saying that she’s been behind her husband’s correspondence with movie star Gérard Depardieu all along. She did it to help him out of his depression when his brother died.

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Olivia Colman and David Thewlis star in a psychological drama as an unassuming couple hiding a dark secret and escaping into an imaginary world influenced by classic movies.

Douglas is empathetic, and responds by telling her how much he understands and appreciates her–something she clearly almost never hears from others in her life–and says the one thing the prosecution has been avoiding; that what Susan’s parents did to her was horrible, and she should have been protected and cared for. It’s a beautiful moment of connection between the two, which contrasts well with the judge’s decision in the very next scene: since the abuse Susan suffered was 15 years before the murder, it doesn’t believably factor in as a reason for the killings. And in the following scene, the detective (Kate O’Flynn) who went the hardest at them, admits to her partner (Samuel Anderson) that she once threatened to kill her father if he didn’t stop beating up her mom. It’s a sad parallel.

Even though most of the people involved in this case don’t sympathize with Susan, the show does an excellent job of making us feel for her. The prosecution presents a pretty damning case, but even if you believe that the Edwards’ committed cold-blooded murder, it’s easy to not feel bad for her parents after what they did to Susan. What is tragic is Susan and Chris–two people who feel so out of place in the world but at home with each other–being separated from each other.

Bookending the episode is Chris’s reply to Susan’s letter. Like hers, it includes a declaration of love, but he also explains that she didn’t take him away from the world, because she is “the person who made the world feel real” to him. Having finished the letter, she imagines Chris showing up to whisk her away to the set of a Western. The Edwards are still serving their 25-year sentence, but maybe one day they’ll be reunited, and their love will be as strong as ever.

Other observations that we thought made this episode stand out:

  • Chris signs his letter to Susan as Gérard Depardieu, implying that he always knew it was her who wrote Depardieu’s letters, and loves her for it.