The Woman in the Wall, the latest BBC One offering, is a mystery thriller that questions the churches and convents in Ireland that carried out many unspeakable horrors in the name of faith, chastity, and righteousness. At the center of the show are women who, as teenagers, were a part of a brutal system from the 1970s to the 1990s that humiliated them and refused to compensate them for the abuse they were put through.
The protagonist of The Woman in the Wall is Lorna Brady, who wakes up right in the middle of a countryside road, unable to recall how she even got there. This beginning foreshadows what Lorna has been going through mentally for the past three decades. The town of Kilkinure in Ireland comes across as a sleepy spot, but this place was the center of the scandal surrounding the Magdalene Laundries, where young women were pushed into forced labor and survived under horrible living conditions.
The laundries were run by the Catholic Church, where the so-called ‘fallen women’ were sent to atone for their sins. Lorna started working in one of these laundries run by the church after she was found to be pregnant as a teenager. Young Lorna was sadly separated from her daughter without her consent, which led to years of trauma-induced behavior that affected her life.
Unlike other women who are vocal about this brutal system, Lorna shies away from speaking about the painful experience. The town is aware of her sleepwalking tendencies, which we believe are a result of the torture her body and mind went through during her years with the convent and the laundry. Her friend Niamh comes forward to talk about a charity organization named the Eadrom Group, willing to help them file for compensation from the government in recognition of their horrifying experience. Lorna is not interested in this because she feels all these so-called institutions will eventually let them down. Her whole life was based on the faith she grew up with, but her illusions were shattered the moment she was forced to join the convent and work for the laundry.
Lorna’s arc is set in the year 2015, thirty years after her separation from her infant daughter Agnes. She has become a troublemaker in the town as well because of her hatred for the Catholic institution. Since the local populace is aware of her trauma-induced sleepwalking, the local police have let her go many times. She’s been working as a seamstress, and one day, she receives a letter from an anonymous person who states they know about her daughter’s whereabouts. It was Lorna’s quest for years to find out if her daughter Agnes was alive or not, and this letter reawakens the hope and closure she has been seeking for years. This leads to her getting in touch with Aoife Cassidy, a woman she remembered used to work with the convent.
The Dublin police are in town to investigate the murder of Father Percy Sheehan, and Lorna tries her level best to stay away from them in the hope they do not get a whiff of her role in the disappearance of Aoife Cassidy. Aoife was a nun who worked with the convent, which Lorna was a part of. Lorna’s trauma forces her to suppress and forget many incidents that happened to her, but it also leads to outbursts at unexpected places. Case in point: when Detective Akande comes to her place to interrogate her, Lorna’s meltdown, followed by a confession to having killed Aoife, leaves the man in shock. He probably realized the woman had indeed gone through a lot, as stated by the local police officer, Aidan Massey.
The makers did a good job showcasing the amount of distress the women are put through in the name of faith. The show also focused on how the onus of being pure and pious is always on the women of the community. Young Lorna, along with many others, was ‘punished’ for crossing the threshold. Her story went through several ups and downs, but nothing stopped her from trying to find out if her daughter was alive or not. Aoife’s letter sent to Lorna set in motion a series of events that changed the course of her life for good. It also helped Detective Akande uncover the truth about his roots.
Lorna and Detective Akande were initially cynical of each other. But as the series progressed, they both found each other to be assets in finding out what went behind these laundries. Their lived experience of pain and repressed memories slowly brought them together. Lorna comes across the death certificate of Agnes she procured from Aoife’s package after visiting an abandoned home.
There is no end to the agony she goes through, and she realizes the convent didn’t even bother to share the news with her. As she is willing to move on with the fact that her daughter is no more, Detective Akande comes across a death certificate issued in his name. It proves that the convent issued fake death certificates to make sure no mothers would go looking for their kids and uncover the crimes they committed and got away with.
Lorna and Akande team up to dig deeper into this web and find out that the kids were sold off to well-to-do families by the convent, and the priest who was found dead was also involved in this human trafficking racket that went on for two decades. Lorna’s rage is boundless because she feels cheated by her faith for making her go through a gamut of emotions in the last thirty years. This adds to her list of reasons why she cannot trust any of the justification that comes from the church.
Lorna also tries to reason it out with women who are about to sign an agreement with the Eadrom group to not look for their daughters in return for recognition and compensation. Lorna discourages them from doing so because this is the opposite of the fight they wanted to wage against the church. Lorna is alone in this crusade, for many have lost hope of finding their kids at this point.
Lorna eventually seeks closure by conversing with Detective Akande about his life so far with his adoptive mother. His response helped her find solace in the fact that maybe her daughter is lucky to be alive, and the family hopefully gave her a life that Lorna wouldn’t have been able to provide. This was her way of ending her search for Agnes.
Lorna initially could not find Aoife’s body behind the walls of her home. In her quest to find out where her body disappeared, Lorna follows the pathway inside the wall of her home and finds Aoife dead in the attic. The sound that she probably heard was Aoife’s call for help all this while, which she figured was her hallucinations. Lorna finds Agnes’ pictures held by Aoife’s lifeless body. Sadly, the woman died so that all the betrayed mothers of the laundry could live peacefully, moving forward with the fact that their kids were alive.
Lorna confesses to the crime of unintentionally murdering Aoife and serves time as well. Detective Akande brings her good news about Agnes, who he claims is alive in Boston with her family. Lorna is choked up to learn that her daughter is happy and thriving in America. Lorna had stopped her pursuit of Agnes, but Detective Akande fulfilled it by making the two people talk over a video call. Lorna is probably forever grateful to Detective Akande for getting her and Agnes in touch. Lorna speaking to her daughter is the culmination of thirty long years of relentless waiting and searching.