Fool Me Once Ending Explained: Who Killed Joe and Claire, & What Were the Burketts Hiding?


Warning: contains major finale spoilers for Netflix’s Fool Me Once finale.

Adeel Akhtar walked away with that one, didn’t he? As traumatised detective Sami Kierce, Akhtar pulled a what’s known in technical speak as an absolute bloody blinder, lending pathos and depth to a character who, in other hands, could easily have been just another cookie cutter crime mystery cliché.

Fool Me Once is another solid entry in the Harlan Coben Netflix canon, striking that perfect hangover-TV tone of keeping the pace moving at a lick and dishing out revelations and twists at exactly the right interval, without giving you too much trouble under the surface. It was big, heightened, at times extremely unlikely, but always watchable, and concluded its minor class war theme with a victory (if a Pyrrhic one for Maya) against the one percenters, which is just what audiences want to see.

If any of the twists kept you puzzled after the credits had rolled, we attempt to unpick the red herrings from the revelations below. Final spoiler warning!

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The footage was digitally manipulated by Izabelle and Luka – employees of the Burkett family. They faked Joe (Richard Armitage) entering the playroom and cuddling little Lily by dressing Luka in one of Joe’s shirts and then digitally replacing Luka’s head with Joe’s from footage taken at his wedding to Maya (the clue was there all along in Maya’s flashbacks to her wedding, which showed Joe turning his head to look at her in the exact same way as he had on the Nanny Cam footage).

Izabelle and Luka were paid to pull the trick by Judith Burkett (Joanna Lumley), who suspected Maya of having killed Joe and wanted to unhinge her so that she might make a mistake and reveal her role in Joe’s death. They did it for the money, and for loyalty to the family because they’d been told that Maya had harmed Joe. They survived, and were last seen being abandoned in a remote location by Maya’s friend Shane.

Maya’s friend’s ex-husband also hacked the Nanny Cams in order to spy on his ex-wife, but he had nothing to do with the fake footage of Joe.

Who Killed Claire Walker?

Joe Burkett staged a break-in at Claire’s home and fatally shot her using the secret Glock 17 handgun Maya kept hidden in her gun safe. Claire worked for Joe’s family firm and was planning to leak evidence she had uncovered, which proved that the Burkett family were knowingly falsifying pharmaceutical trial results in order to profit from releasing dangerous drugs onto the market. She’d discovered the malfeasance while working for Corey the Whistle, whom she convinced not to release the audio of Maya’s military mission video in exchange for helping him expose the Burketts’ wrongdoing. Joe learned that Claire was planning to blow the whistle and silenced her to protect his and Burkett family’s reputation.

Who killed Joe Burkett?

His wife, Captain Maya Stern, in revenge for the murder of her sister Claire. Maya suspected Joe of having killed Claire while she was on duty overseas in the army, and didn’t believe the break-in cover-story. She knew that Joe had access to her hidden handgun, and so fired a bullet from it and asked her Military Police friend Shane to test it against the bullet used to kill Claire. When Shane confirmed that both bullets had come from the same gun, Maya knew that Joe had killed her sister. She lured him to a public park, and swapped the handgun in the safe with a decommissioned one that she kept on display. When Joe produced the gun and tried to shoot Maya with it, he didn’t know he had the decommissioned weapon and she had the real gun, which she used to shoot him dead. Her only witness was ‘Rambo’, one of the boys on bikes in the park on whom she tried to pin Joe’s murder.

The 1996 Flashback and Theo Mora’s Death

In 1996, Joe, Andrew, Charlie Swain and two other pupils at the Franklin Biddle Academy celebrated a football win by ‘hazing’ scholarship boy and football star Theo Mora. To Joe though, who was fiercely jealous of Theo’s popularity, brains and talent, it wasn’t about fun. He tied Theo to a chair and poured vodka down his throat through a funnel until Theo had a seizure and died. The others agreed to a pact never to reveal what had happened, but the guilt took its toll on Joe’s brother Andrew Burkett, who wanted to come clean about what they’d done, and was killed for it.

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Who Killed Andrew Burkett and Tommy Dark?

That was Joe Burkett too. Tommy had been the captain on the yacht on which Joe’s brother Andrew had died in 1996, and was paid off ever since by the Burkett family to keep his silence about Andrew’s death, which they pretended was accidental. In fact, Joe had pushed his brother overboard to stop him from revealing their role in the death of schoolfriend Theo Mora. 26 years later, Joe killed Tommy Dark for his silence, and (possibly, not too clear on this one) planned to frame his wife Maya for it by using her car to transport the body and leaving Tommy’s blood in the vehicle.

What was wrong with Detective Sami Kierce?

Sami (Adeel Akhtar) was taking unsafe pills produced by Lambur Pharma, a wing of Burkett Global. They caused him to experience hallucinations, blackouts and temporary paralysis. The pills were faulty because the Burkett family had colluded in falsifying drug trial records and used their wealth to silence the usual checks and balances, in order to get their unsafe drugs on the market.

Sami wasn’t really receiving payments from the Burkett family, Caroline Burkett had been manipulated into telling Maya that as part of Judith’s plan to gaslight Maya into revealing the role she played in Joe’s murder.

In the end, Sami lived at least another 18 years, long enough to see his son become a man, and to reunite with Eddie Walker to celebrate the birth of Lily’s first child – christened Maya in honour of her mother.

Who was Nicole, the Woman Sami Talked To?

Nicole was Sami’s dead ex-fiancé, and just a figment of his troubled imagination. Sami hallucinated her because of his trauma over her murder and the unsafe pills he was taking (see above). It originally seemed as though Nicole was Sami’s Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, but in truth, she was a fellow police officer who’d been killed in the line of duty. Sami had always blamed himself for not saving Nicole, and the trauma bubbled up in combination with the dodgy pills and the pressure of his impending wedding and fatherhood, to cause him to hallucinate talking to Nicole.

What Was Maya Hiding About Her Mission?

The fact that she deliberately disobeyed orders and bombed an oncoming vehicle despite not having clearance to do so. Maya was tramatised from the loss of her comrades in an IED earlier that day, and so, faced with her surviving colleagues pleas to take out a car that was bearing down on them, but with no orders to strike, she took matters into her own hands. Maya turned off the comms and fired at the car, lying to her team about having received the order to engage. It turned out that the vehicle only contained civilians, which left her suffering from intense guilt that explains why she orchestrated the fatal mission against the Burketts, and why she died with a smile on her face. It was, in a roundabout way, justice done.

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What Was Maya’s Final Plan?

It was a suicide mission. Maya used Corey the Whistle’s computer hacking skills to livestream her confrontation with the Burkett family via the Nanny Cam digital photo frame she’d planted in the room where she awaited them. She deliberately left the handgun available and taunted them with the truth until – as Maya had hoped – Neil used the gun to fatally shoot her, with Judith’s agreement. Maya’s final act was to point her finger towards the photo frame, telling Judith that the world had seen everything and now knew the truth about it all – the murders Joe committed (Theo Mora, Andrew Burkett, Claire Walker, Tommy Dark…) and the pharmaceutical company fraudulence.  

What Happened to Judith, Neil and Caroline Burkett?

The Burkett family fraudulence was exposed globally thanks to Maya arranging to have her own murder livestreamed. They lost their reputation, their fortune and – if there’s any justice – their freedom.

Fool Me Once is available to stream on Netflix now.

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