Thursday, September 20, 2012

Blowin' in the Wind

Thriller the Thursday

After a traffic accident, DCI Sam Tyler finds himself demoted, thirty-three years in the past, and on the trail of a pattern of murders he recognizes from the present day. Forced to play along until he can find a way home, Sam helps the department come together to try and find the killer.

This review was originally posted on September 6th as part of Pilot Season.

The writers of this series set out to tell a very specific story and, as such, have plotted out absolutely everything that they need to know to bring their narrative to it's resolution. Sam Tyler's journey here is absolutely fascinating, and the questions surrounding his current status are at once subtle and obvious.

Sam Tyler, played by John Simm, is very by-the-book, and incredibly good at his job. Incredibly straight-laced and determined to uphold the law, he finds himself partnered with the polar opposite in Philip Glenister's Gene Hunt. Gene is passionate in getting criminals off the street, but believes that the ends justify the means, and will do anything he feels necessary in order to accomplish a task, making him far more dangerous than some of the suspects he stalks. The clash of cultures between the two is intense, as they battle over what is right and wrong, but in the end manage to find some kind of middle ground and work together to save the day. Their partnership is fascinating, infuriating to the both of them, and it will clearly have an enormous impact on both men the longer they stay together.

The music is a character on its own, becoming a huge part of the story as the episode progresses; the build up of David Bowie's Life on Mars as Sam grows ever more frustrated is very effective to get the audience into his state of mind, and to have an abrupt stop at the song's climax to coincide with the car accident was, however obvious, brilliantly written. This music is a huge part of Sam's life, of who he has become as a person, and it links him directly back to this period, where this same music was a huge part of these people's lives, their history, and it helps to create a good suspense as to whether Sam is imagining this world or whether he was always a part of it.

I'm well aware that there was a lot crammed into this premiere already, but I would have liked to see more clues leaning toward 1973 being the real scenario and 2006 being the dream; as the audience we're already fully certain that Sam is from the modern era, but I would have liked to have the script try to convince us that Sam was in an accident in 1973 and hallucinated the present day.

The depiction of 1970's police seems largely exaggerated for artistic purposes, but I imagine that, while Sam may have grown up with these kind of characters on television, he would at least have called some of them out on their behaviors.

The acting in this episode is great, without exception, and, while it's tempting to state that Simm carries this show, Glenister is easily just as important and just as good. While the spotlight remains on the two leads through most of the action, pushing the rest of the cast into the background, we do get to know Annie Cartwright (Liz White) who does a good job of keeping the characters, and the story, grounded in reality.

The world of 1973 is very vivid and refreshing, clearly dirtier and more dangerous than the scenes in the present day, and it all adds together to make the past seem far more real. Bharat Nalluri's direction has the opening scenes in the present in crisp definition, almost procedural for this genre of show, and it's a little bit boring. When he switches to the past there's an almost-detectable haze cast over the world making it seem somewhat surreal, but far more exciting and alluring than the modern-day world left behind.

Written by Matthew Graham, this is a strong story and sets a fantastic tone for this series. Graham has a good grasp on who these characters need to be, the world in which they live, and the distress that it causes to the protagonist. The clash of cultures between Sam and Gene is interesting to watch unfold, and the brief snippets of present-day filtering through the television, radio, and other wired devices is inspired.

The ambiguity as to Sam's exact predicament sets up the myriad of mysteries as to what, precisely, has happened to him; he may be in a coma, he may have time-traveled, perhaps he's gone insane, he might be dreaming, the possibilities are innumerable. It is his actions that will determine his ultimate fate, and that's what most interesting about this series.

The review for "Safe House" can be read here.


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