I truly, truly wanted to like this series.
And I guess I do like it, but before the end of Season 1 I’m already seeing a disappointing pattern. The show’s a victim of its own talent.
All the actors & actresses are doing a fine job. Matthew McFadyen (did I spell that right?) fits this role so much better than he did “Mr. Darcy”. His earnest face, on such a brooding and calculating hero, is a great focal point for the camera shots to revolve around. He’s just the right person to be at the center of these stories. And the offstage works are done very well too: set design, costumes, and music all pass muster. And the writing’s not bad either, to start with.
But I see a pattern that’s something of a pet peeve of mine: when the setting, the characters, the theme, and the narrative manner are so well done — so lovingly, so painstakingly constructed, that no one can bear to risk seeing any of it change.
MINOR SPOILERS FOLLOW
I just watched the episode where Sergeant Drake (Jerome Flynn) falls in love. I don’t want to say too much more about it, but you find out some things about his past; another actor you’d recognize from Game of Thrones appears out of nowhere, playing his old commanding officer, and puts a difficult choice before him. Moreover, it’s a choice where questions of right and wrong appear ambiguous, and it also bears directly on his romantic aspirations. After seeing Flynn play such a jaded character in GoT, it’s a great switch to see him play a brutal pit-fighter of a man with such a faithful, sensitive heart. I loved this character, rooted for him, berated him when I thought he’d sold himself short.
Needless to say, a LOT happens in this episode — including some things that appear impossible to easily undo. Yet, the episode ends with literally every aspect of this character’s life in the exact same place it was before. It’s done as believably as possible — but it still hurts the show’s credibility. I don’t mind that so much, but then I started thinking about other parts of the story.
McFadyen’s Inspector Reid has a secret past he shares with his wife, about a daughter they lost (perhaps in a fire). By episode 7 there’s been no action on that whatsoever — just occasional cryptic ruminations and lamentations. The American “Captain”, sometimes referred to as a Pinkerton who has a talent for forensics and doing hard drugs (which go together better than you’d think, particularly at this time in history) also has a secret past he shares with the proprietress of a bordello — and again, the characters go on through murders, gunshot wounds, arguments, fistfights, and terrible verbal threats, only to repeatedly “reset” every tiny detail of their lives exactly to where they were at the start of Episode 1.
Obviously, a series needs to be grounded in something and you can’t change things too often just for change’s sake — changes need to spring naturally, coming about from the interaction between characters and setting. But the other extreme’s no good either — everything gets calcified.
I won’t stop watching the show — I still appreciate its very real merits. I just hope the writers get a little bolder.