Explaining that cliffhanger ending of Netflix's Ripley

ripley andrew scott as tom ripley in episode 101 of ripley cr courtesy of netflix © 2024
The Ripley ending is pathologically open-endedCourtesy of Netflix

The new series Ripley on Netflix has as many tricks up its sleeve as the title character, particularly in the final episode. Still trying to make sense of what happened, and whether or not the notorious and dapper criminal pulled off his big scam? Here's what the ending of Ripley means and what could potentially happen next. There's kind of a cliffhanger and it's kind of infuriating in the best way.

Based on Patricia Highsmith's books, Ripley follows the story of international con artist and serial killer Tom Ripley, played by everyone's favourite Hot Priest™, Andrew Scott. There are five books in the series BTW, so this series could theoretically get many more seasons.

There's so much story to tell! In this season, based on the first book The Talented Mr. Ripley, Tom goes to Italy to pose as an acquaintance of a rich man named Dickie Greenleaf (Johnny Flynn) and convince him to return to the United States at the behest of his father.

Instead, after infiltrating Dickie's inner circle, Tom murders Dickie in San Remo and assumes his identity, even going so far as to break up with Dickie's girlfriend Marge (Dakota Fanning) by letter. When a friend comes to Rome looking for him named Freddie Miles (Eliot Sumner), Tom murders him as well. It's a sticky situation and Tom is clearly a sociopath... but you want to see him get away with it. Does he?

Tom gets a new address and a makeover...

After signing a lease in Venice, Tom slicks his hair back and grows a beard. He throws out the dressing gown he bought for Dickie, and buys himself a new one. He also buys a new ashtray/potential murder weapon. He's cultivating a new life and a new look.

ripley andrew scott as tom ripley in ripley cr netflix © 2023

How does he cover up the murders?

Before going to Venice, Tom (still posing as Dickie) checked out of the hotel and made it seem clear to the desk clerk that he was depressed – so much so that the clerk mentions it when a police lieutenant comes looking for him. Since the police think that Dickie was traveling to Tunisia by ferry and never arrived, he's reported missing. Police also suspect that Dickie was involved in the murder of Freddie Miles and the possible murder of Tom Ripley, who they've heard a lot about but don't think they've met.

Tom then goes to the police as himself instead of Richard "Dickie" Greenleaf. Before he goes to speak to the lead officer on the case, Ravini, who he met with many times "as" Dickie, he musses up his hair further. It's nuts how well that works. All it took was a beard and some hair product... really?? Tom doesn't even try to alter his voice or anything.

Finally, towards the very end of the episode, Tom pulls out the big guns and tells a private detective that Dickie confessed his love for him in San Remo. Tom claims that he rejected him. Between that, the letters that Tom forged as Dickie including one to his landlady in Rome that appears to be settling his affairs, and multiple reports from witnesses who thought Tom was Dickie, the police and Dickie's father conclude that Dickie was depressed and died by suicide en route to Tunisia. Case closed, as far as they're concerned.

Does Tom kill Marge too?

While Tom tries to pull the wool over the police's eyes, Marge visits him at his new place. It seems like Tom intends to kill her. He makes a dark joke about the slippery steps outside the front entrance. He also sends the staff home for the day. He and Marge then feel each other out, comparing notes about what they know (or what lies they're telling, in Tom's case) about Dickie's disappearance and Freddie Miles' murder. Later that night, Tom fantasises about telling the police that she slipped and fell into the canal.

When Marge discovers Dickie's ring in Tom's things and confronts him about it, he grabs his new glass ashtray and is prepared to strike her with it when she then concludes that Dickie was suicidal. Giving away personal possessions must mean that he knew he was leaving and not coming back, she says. He puts the ashtray down, and a few days later Marge goes home to America safe and sound.

Now, does Marge really think that Dickie giving Tom his ring was some sort of sign he intended to die by suicide – or did she realise at that moment that Tom is a murderer and say that to save herself? That's up to your interpretation.

ripley dakota fanning as marge sherwood in episode 106 of ripley cr lorenzo sistinetflix © 2021
Lorenzo Sisti - Netflix

What was John Malkovich doing there?

The acclaimed actor plays Reeves Minot, an important character from Highsmith's books who becomes Ripley's partner in crime, literally. In the final moments of the episode, Reeves presents Tom with a new passport and yet another new identity for him: Timothy Fanshaw, art dealer. I hope we get a Ripley season 2 to explore that relationship!

So Tom got away with it?

Well... maybe not exactly. Inspector Ravini receives a copy of Marge's newly published book in the final moments of the final episode. Inside is a dedication to Dickie Greenleaf along with a photo of a man that Ravini realises he has actually never met – the real Dickie, played by Johnny Flynn, who Tom murdered. Dun dun dun!!!!!

ripley maurizio lombardi as inspector ravini in episode 108 of ripley cr philippe antonellonetflix © 2023
Philippe Antonello - Netflix

BTW, what was going on with those flashbacks to 1606?

The finale dipped back in time for a wee history lesson. We see people gather around the bloody body of Ranuccio Tommasoni, who was murdered in Rome in 1606 by the Baroque painter Caravaggio. Caravaggio flees the scene and a woman in a palazzo where he sits by the fire asks what he's done now.

In real life, Caravaggio had a horrendous reputation for violent and disorderly behaviour and spent a lot of time in court and jail. There are various theories about why Caravaggio killed Tommasoni – some say it was over a bet, others say it was over a woman – but regardless of motive Caravaggio went on the run and died not long after under mysterious circumstances.

Why does the show draw parallels between Caravaggio and Tom Ripley? I'm not 100 percent sure! They're both murderers in Italy. Caravaggio was known to have sexual relationships with men and women and lashed out at a rival painter who accused him of sodomy, but in Ripley, Dickie is the painter, not Tom. (Then again, as Tom assumed Dickie's identity those lines did begin to blur...)

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