Warning: contains spoilers for the Shetland series eight finale.
Blood is everything to the Bain family, said Kieran Quinn in the Shetland series eight finale, and how right he turned out to be. Shetland fans had been prompted to consider whether or not Kieran was Ellen’s father as far back as episode three, when DI Ruth Calder first suspected her own dad of having had an affair with Stella Bain that resulted in Ellen’s birth, but the truth turned out to be all about Bain family blood.
Let’s break down the revelations and twists of the finale, along with any other questions left dangling about the life and death of Ellen Quinn, and the events of series eight.
Who Killed Ellen Quinn?
Kieran Quinn (Barry O’Connor) – the man who’d raised Ellen and always believed himself to be her biological father – strangled Ellen in a blackout rage after learning that she was in fact a product of sibling incest between her mother Stella and her uncle Bobby.
Kieran picked Ellen up in his car on the night she died, after she’d argued with Grace at the farm and revealed the truth about her parentage. Ellen told him about the gangsters following her from London, and he tried to take her to the police station but she refused to go. To stop him in his tracks, Ellen told Kieran that he wasn’t her father and that the Bain family had been lying to him, humiliating him, and laughing at him for years. In a fit of rage, Kieran strangled Ellen in his car and when he came to, she was dying and passed away before he could revive her. He drove her body to a beautiful site where he’d once planned to build a family home, and left it there.
What Happened Between Stella and Bobby Quinn?
In September 1998, Stella Bain (Dawn Steele) was a Shetland teenager who’d been seeing her serious boyfriend Kieran for a few months, and her brother Bobby Bain (Russ Bain) was in his early 20s and working in Newcastle. When their father Kenny died, their mother Grace fell apart and Bobby flew home to pick up the pieces. For three days, the pair locked themselves away from the world and grieved, one night getting pass-out drunk on their father’s whisky and collapsing on Stella’s bed. When she awoke to the sound of Bobby crying, Stella comforted him and in their drunken, grieving state, the brother and sister had sex. It was a one-off and the cause of a great deal of shame, and afterwards, Bobby moved to the farm workshop and no longer slept in the family house.
When Stella discovered she was pregnant, she sought help from Rev. Calder at the local church. He consoled her and urged her to tell the truth, but she didn’t and married Kieran Quinn (Barry O’Connor) when she was four months pregnant, reasoning that the baby could just as well be his as her brother’s. The secret was kept for over 20 years, until Bobby finally told his niece and biological daughter Ellen on the anniversary of his father’s death, and the news – along with finding the body of little Akmal Azir – sent Ellen spiralling.
When the police found out what happened between the brother and sister, Stella insisted that it wasn’t Bobby’s fault and she wasn’t a victim, while he tried to protect her by sacrificing himself and having it recorded that he had forced himself on her when that wasn’t the case.
Why Did Bobby Tell Ellen the Truth?
A melancholic Bobby, on the anniversary of both his father’s death and Ellen’s conception, felt that he had failed in life. (“I was 45 years old and I had nothing to show for it. All I had was Ellen. She was the only thing in my life I was proud of.”) On the brink of losing the family farm, he confessed the truth to Ellen which sent her on a downward spiral that eventually led to her death.
Why Did Rory and Grace Lie About Having Seen Ellen?
Rory (Jakub Bednarczyk) lied because Ellen made him promise that he wouldn’t tell anybody about her visit to the farm that night, and that he never would (““And remember, don’t tell anyone I was here, ever”). The little boy was keeping a promise to his sister.
Grace (Phyllis Logan) lied because that was the night she learned the secret of Ellen’s parentage, and she was desperate to keep the shame of concealed. If she’d told the police that she’d argued with Ellen that night, she would have had to have explained what the argument was about, and Grace wanted Stella and Bobby’s secret kept away from the outside world. Stella and Bobby’s other sibling Heather Bain presumably also didn’t know the secret, or she might have blackmailed her family just like she blackmailed the Sadats.
Why Did Azir and Farida Sadat Lie About Ellen?
Because Azir faced losing his medical licence and they both faced criminal proceedings for their actions surrounding the tragic death of their young son Akmal. Psychiatrist Azir was illegally giving his psychologically vulnerable wife prescription drugs – presumably tranquilizers – which caused her to fall asleep while she should have been looking after Akmal. While Farida was drugged and unconscious, Akmal wandered out to the loch behind their house and drowned. Ellen Quinn, who was cleaning the Sadat house when the accident happened, discovered Akmal’s body.
Ellen’s aunt Heather Bain – also a cleaner at the Sadat house – convinced the Sadats to lie to the authorities about Akmal’s death and helped them to cover up the truth about the illegal prescription pills and the negligence, and then blackmailed them with the threat of revealing the truth. Ellen was left traumatised, and combined with Bobby’s revelation about being her biological father, she dealt with it by going on a drink and drugs bender before having a breakdown and being checked into Azir Sadat’s Langbank psychiatric facility by her aunt.
What Part Did Reverend Edward Calder Play?
Nothing untoward happened between Ruth’s father and Stella Bain, Ruth was just willing to believe that it had because of her hostility towards her dad after she caught him having an affair with Jean Ferguson while her mother was dying in hospital. Jean was willing to believe that it had because she misinterpreted Rev. Calder’s closeness with Stella, and he refused to break Stella’s confidence to explain the truth so Jean misinterpreted Rev. Calder embracing the young Stella. He was just consoling her over her shame for having had sex with her brother Bobby in a moment of drunken grief, and Calder distanced himself from the Bain family after learning what had transpired.
Why Did Amma Calder Lie About Having Seen Ellen?
Rev. Alan Calder’s (Steven Miller) wife Amma (Nina Toussaint-White) had a troubled past in London that she wanted to keep secret from her clean-cut husband. If she’d been honest about her visit to Ellen at the holiday cottage, she’d have to have told the police and Alan about her connection to the London friend who’d encouraged Ellen to drug the gang member and steal his cash in the first place. Amma lied to protect herself, but Alan clearly forgave her as by the end of the series, she returns to Shetland and moves back in with him.
What Happened to the Drug Dealer’s Money?
Ellen took the bag of cash she stole from the drug dealer’s flat up to Shetland in episode one, where it was stolen by a stranger while she was sleeping on a bus. Bobby Bain tracked down the stranger – a seasonal worker up for a job on the oil rigs – and retrieved the money, which he hid in his workshop and planned to use to invest in a drug deal with his nephew Neil Bain and Cal Innes that would earn Bobby enough to get the Bain Farm out of debt.
Instead, Bobby used the money to right a past wrong by giving it to Tom Knox, the young loner whose friendship Ellen had kept secret because of a feud between the Bain and Knox families. Ellen had befriended Tom and his mum Jane, visiting them secretly so that her family wouldn’t find out. The Bains had taken advantage of the Knoxes years before, when Kenny Bain offered to buy the Knox farm temporarily to get them out of a hole, on the understanding that he would then return it. Kenny didn’t return the farm, and it left the Knoxes penniless. When Bobby left the bag of cash outside Tom Knox’s house, he was fulfilling Stella’s wish that the farm be returned to the Knoxes as it would have been what Ellen wanted, and repaying his father’s swindle.
Who Was Killing the Sheep and Marking Them With the Norse Symbol?
Ellen’s old schoolfriend Rosemary Strachan, who had been a devotee of Pagan Peter Ayre since she met him as a child. Peter Ayre had been in foster care on the Isles as a teenager and that was where he struck up a correspondence with young Rosemary, tutoring her in his Norse Pagan beliefs. Peter would sometimes come to the Shetland young people’s hedonistic parties, which is where he met Ellen and – hearing her say that she was stained with sin (on account of her incestuous origins) – he tattooed her with the protective symbol.
It was Rosemary, inspired by Peter, who killed the sheep and marked them with the same symbol. She helped Peter Ayre to break into the hospital mortuary by stealing her boyfriend’s hospital pass so that he could steal Ellen’s body and – as they planned – burn it in a “cleansing” Pagan ritual.
What Caused Cal Innes’ Death?
An accident, pure and simple. No other vehicles were involved in the collision that killed Cal, and he was found to be twice the legal limit for alcohol and had drugs in his system (the same pills he was dealing with Heather Bain’s son), so Cal mistakenly caused his own death.
What Song Played Over Ruth’s Swim at the End?
“Star Sign” by Teenage Fanclub, the first track on the “Love, Ruthie” mix-tape cassette she made for Cal on his 18th birthday. The swim was a symbolic homecoming for Ruth, and a tribute to Cal, who’d swum in the same spot as a teenager on his birthday. Cal’s brother James helped Ruth with the guilt she felt over his death by telling her that if Cal had died doing something for her, then James was glad about it because Ruth had always meant so much to Cal.
Earlier, Ruth had visited her parents’ graves and apologised to her brother for having missed their father’s funeral. She left a kiss on her mother’s gravestone and then, after some hesitation, did the same to her dad’s, indicating that she’d forgiven him for his affair and their tricky relationship, and was ready to be part of the family and reintegrate into her Shetland homeland.
What Happened to Stella, Rory, Kieran, Bobby and Grace?
Kieran was arrested for Ellen’s murder, while Bobby and Grace were to face unconfirmed charges for perverting the course of justice through their lies. Stella and Rory left Shetland and the last we heard, they were staying with a friend on the mainland.
Was Shetland Series Eight Based on an Ann Cleeves Book?
No, it was an original story by Vera, Midsomer Murders, Casualty and DCI Banks screenwriter Paul Logue. The first two series of Shetland followed the Ann Cleeves book series, but series three onwards did their own things with the characters and murder mysteries.
Will There Be a Series Nine?
A renewal hasn’t been confirmed at the time of writing. Ashley Jensen told The Graham Norton Show in mid-November that she had no information on the future of the show, saying: “I have no idea how it will continue. I don’t know if there will be another after it. So I just literally treated it as a six-part series.” Time will tell.
Shetland series eight is available to stream on BBC iPlayer.
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