‘The Unforgivable’ Ending, Explained – Did Ruth Kill Snohomish Sheriff Mac Whelan?


The Unforgivable, starring Sandra Bullock, is based on the British mini-series, Unforgiven (2009). The 2021 Netflix film, directed by Nora Fingscheidt, follows a convict, Ruth Slater, who was sentenced to 60 years in prison for the murder of Snohomish Sheriff Mac Whelan.

After her early release from prison, Ruth attempts to locate her sister, Katherine “Katie,” who was adopted by another family. During the pursuit, the demons from her past life hunt Ruth, while she tries to stay out of trouble just to meet her sister once. Will Ruth be able to reunite with Katherine? Let’s find out.

‘The Unforgivable’ Plot Summary

Ruth Slater (Sandra Bullock) wrote dozens of letters to her sister, Katherine “Katie,” while imprisoned, but Katie never responded. Inside the cell, Ruth cherished the memories of Katie and even got a tattoo of the first letter of her name to remember her. Ruth was yearning to meet Katie just once, and she finally got her chance when she was released early due to her good behavior.

The Unforgivable begins as Ruth comes out of prison after 20 years and meets her parole officer, Vince Cross. Vince takes Ruth to her new abode in Chinatown and offers to arrange a job in a seafood packaging factory. Initially, Ruth refuses the offer because she wants to work as a carpenter. But no one in Seattle wants to employ a cop killer; hence, Ruth ends up packaging fish.

Ruth is followed by Steve and Keith Whelan, sons of Snohomish Sheriff Mac Whelan, who want revenge for their father’s murder. Keith believes that Ruth doesn’t have any remorse for shooting their father and doesn’t deserve an early release.

In the meantime, Katie, who now lives with her new adoptive family, doesn’t remember Ruth at all. However, she gets blurred flashbacks of her past. As Ruth comes out of prison, Katie coincidentally gets into a severe car accident. Her adoptive parents, Michael, and Rachel Malcolm, try to find a connection and decide to hide Ruth’s existence from Katie.

As the story unfolds, Katie visits her old house in Snohomish County and meets the lawyer, John, and his wife, Liz, Ingram, who have recently purchased the house. After a bit of hesitation, Ruth seeks help from John to get her in touch with Katie. Will John help Ruth find Katie? And will Katie remember her older sister after so many years?

Who killed Snohomish Sheriff Mac Whelan?

Ruth’s mother died while giving birth to Katie. Their father had outstanding debt and had even mortgaged the house. Unable to pay his debts, their father gave up and shot himself. At that time, Katie was just five years old, and Ruth got the responsibility to raise up Katie. However, before Ruth could find a job to run the house, the bank sent them a notice to vacate it.

Due to their father’s debt, the bank seized the property. On a dark day, the bank’s employees arrived at the house with Snohomish Sheriff Mac Whelan to evict Ruth and Katie from the property. When Ruth refused to leave the house, Mac Whelan offered a room in his house where the sister could have lived peacefully.

But as soon as Mac entered the house, Katie took their father’s gun and shot Mac (to protect Ruth). The gun recoiled and hit Katie “near the eye and the nose.” After the gunshot, Ruth found Katie fainted on the staircase. Ruth made a quick decision. She took the gun and left the house in a car with Katie. In the diner, when Ruth asked Katie about the incident, Ruth discovered that Katie had no memory of pulling the trigger. She forgot the incident due to her trauma. Hence, to save her baby sister, Ruth took the blame and got herself arrested so that Katie could live a peaceful life outside the prison.

Until the end of The Unforgivable, Ruth hid the secret from everyone, but after an emotional breakdown, she finally revealed the truth to her lawyer’s wife, Liz Ingram (Viola Davis).

‘The Unforgivable’ Ending Explained – Did Katie Get Her Memories Back?

Steve Whelan, son of Mac Whelan, found out that his wife, Hannah, had been cheating on him with his brother, Keith. The revelations mentally traumatized Steve, and in the heat of the moment, he decided to unleash his anger upon Ruth. Steve abducted Katie’s adoptive sister, Emily, whom he saw with Ruth and believed she was Katie.

As soon as Ruth arrived at Cornish Auditorium to watch Katie perform on the piano, she got a call from Steve, who informed her that he had kidnapped Katie. Ruth visited the construction site at Harbor Island and confronted Steve to save Katie. Though she quickly realized that Steve had mistakenly kidnapped Emily, she tried to save Steve from committing the crime. Ruth told Steve that he would lose everyone he loved if he took the grave step. After the trigger had been pulled, there was no turning back, and he would end up in a void that would never end.

Steve was not a criminal, but was emotionally traumatized, and hence, at the crucial moment, he made a conscious decision. He released both Emily and Ruth. Liz had already informed the cops, and as soon as they arrived, they arrested Steve.

During her performance, Katie got a series of flashbacks that suggested that Katie got back her childhood memories. After the traumatic incident, Katie forgot all about Ruth. Her adoptive parents wanted to keep Ruth out of Katie’s life and thus hid all the letters Ruth sent. But after her car accident, Katie’s memories slowly came back.

At the end of The Unforgivable, when Katie saw Ruth standing in front of her at Harbor Island, she couldn’t stop herself. Katie embraced Ruth and they revisited the good old memories together. The ending didn’t reveal whether Katie remembered killing Snohomish Sheriff Mac Whelan or not. However, even if she did, Ruth and Liz Ingram would protect the truth. Protecting Katie at all costs had been Ruth’s pursuit all along.

The Unforgivable is a 2021 Drama Thriller film directed by Nora Fingscheidt. It is streaming on Netflix.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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