The final episode didn’t even put Dennis Nilsen centre stage. For most of his trial, Nilsen was a silent observer while other characters argued about him. Was he of sound mind when he killed, or was his responsibility diminished by madness? Did he plan the murders, or were they out of his control?
The hour seamlessly integrated archive news footage, and, as is traditional in trial episodes, seemed to show the tide turning in Nilsen’s favour before the final vindication. The defence discredited witnesses – cruelly and homophobically in the case of escapee Carl Stottor – and the prosecution’s lack of evidence relating to motive created jeopardy.
That there was jeopardy at all in the episode is a testament to this drama’s skill. Few people watching Des can have been unaware of the fact that Nilsen died in prison while serving multiple life sentences. We already knew the ending, yet the finale was never less than captivating.
That was down to performance. Episode three contained this cast’s best work. David Tennant has been masterful throughout, and in the finale, Jason Watkins and Daniel Mays were given material that showed they’re every bit as good. Incidentally, also terrific both on and off the witness stand was Laurie Kynaston as Stottor. He’s one to watch.
Watkins’ growing discomfort around Nilsen and increasing antagonism towards him made their scenes compelling. There were big, dramatic confrontations as well as small but equally revealing moments like the shot of Masters drinking at a bar after Nilsen’s conviction, his back to the camera, seeming to dab away a tear.