Saturday, November 21, 2020

Before We Die: Season 1 Review

Scott D. Parker

If you need something else to be thankful for this month, let it be that services like Amazon make available foreign TV series as good as Before We Die (Innan Dor) from Sweden.

Released in 2017 and aired on PBS prior to landing on Amazon, Before We Die centers on Hanna (Marie Richardson), a police office with a jurisdiction in financial crimes. She's a straight arrow, so much that she sent her own son to jail for dealing drugs. I think you can imagine how much of a wall this act puts between mother and son.

Flash forward two years and Hanna has a lover, a fellow cop, Sven, he of Organized Crime. As the show opens, Sven is investigating a motorcycle club in Stockholm. This club is at odds with another group, a Croatian family who has a restaurant in the city. As you can imagine, the Mimica family is not all what they seem.

Neither is Sven. He's actually carrying on a secret investigation into the Mimica family, and he's got an infiltrator by the name of Inez. They communicate via old-fashioned cell phones. Things go bad for Hanna when Sven disappears.

The first few episodes deal with Hanna and her team searching for Sven. Later, she'll become more involved in his investigation, digging deeper into what he's uncovered and how it all fits together.

There is a lot to love about this show, but it all centers on Hanna. I'm not familiar with Marie Richardson but holy cow did she ground the show. As a middle-aged guy, I really enjoyed the lead character in my age bracket. It was a joy to watch her grapple with what she discovers, including the true identity of Inez. Okay, minor spoiler here, but you can probably kinda guess it (and it is revealed in the last seconds of episode 1). Inez is her son, Christian. He's working with Sven having garnered a job as a dishwasher for the Mimica family. Their tumultuous relationship plays out over the entire ten-episode run of season 1 in splendid fashion.

Christian is the only actor I recognized. He is played by Adam Pålsson. Americans will know him for the titular character in Netflix's Young Wallander. He does a fantastic job as the ex-con who is taken in by the family and given more and more responsibilities in their criminal activities. Christian makes some interesting choices, and Pålsson sells the blow back very well.

One of the fellow cops Hanna brings in is Bjorn, played by Magnus Krepper. He's a tough, rough, no-BS kind of cop. The one who'll bend the rules if it leans toward justice, or at least as he sees justice. Krepper shows Bjorn as intense yet the veteran cop is about to be a new dad.

Any good crime drama is nothing without a compelling villain, and Alexej Manvelov, as Davor Mimica, is wonderfully restrained yet terrifyingly deadly. He, too, has a secret that he keeps from his family, including his sister, Blanka (Sandra Redlaff). She's engaged to non-family member Stefan but she also has eyes for Christian, so there's some jealousy going on.

I'll admit that some of the themes and ideas and plot points you've seen before. I know I have. There were a few story beats I guessed, but there's one, late in the series, I didn't. It's one of those revelations that, like The Sixth Sense, will make you want to re-watch the show from the beginning.

But those story beats do not diminish this excellent show. My wife (who selected it) and I thoroughly enjoyed the series and are eagerly anticipating diving into season 2 this weekend.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Back to the Beech


This week, Beau Johnson takes a look at NEVER GO BACK from Jason Beech.

Barlow Vine just killed a man - his lover's lover. Now he's heading from Spain back to his hometown to escape his actions in the vain hope they won't catch up with him. Never Go Back is a wild ride featuring nurses, strange kids, in Edwardian garb, one blinding headache, and dead-eyed killers who want to use him for their own ends.It's a cold, murderous homecoming - and he'll need the luck of every bastard to survive.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Marcella Season 3

Though I enjoyed the first two seasons of Marcella on Netflix, it took me a little while to catch up with season 3. Season 2, if I can say without giving too much away, ended on a rather extreme note, with Marcella (Anna Friel) mutilating herself and putting herself in a position where she is no longer viable working as a detective for the London Metropolitan Police Service.

Marcella's mental stability has always been tenuous, and this continues in season 3.  The series finds her undercover in Northern Ireland, having gotten inside and apparently joined a powerful criminal family there, the Maguires.  She now goes by the name of Keira Devlin and is backed by a mysterious handler, who, we will find, has past ties to the Maguires.  Headed by a ruthless matriarch played by a chilling Amanda Burton, the Maguires seem like an untouchable group in Belfast, and Marcella's goal is to sow suspicion and discord among them.  There are two brothers, one sister, and the sister's husband, and there are pathologies aplenty in the family for her to exploit.  The mother, however, is quite balanced, and though one of the sons views Marcella as his girlfriend, the mother never particularly trusts Marcella and watches her every move closely.

From its start, Marcella has been a crime show of the sort where the detective has as many, if not more, mental problems than the people she is pursuing.  River, with Skellan Skarsgard, was another example of this.  Anna Friel must love playing Marcella; she gets to play an absolute, brilliant mess of a person in a way most roles don't offer.  What's interesting is that over the course of the series, instead of showing us a person who makes progress with her issues, or learns to sort of limit or compartmentalize her issues, as Skarsgard's John River in fact does, Marcella in certain ways only seems to be getting more unbalanced with each new season.  We've learned a root cause of what has created such guilt and anguish and mental imbalance in her, and in Season 3, she is fighting with herself as fiercely as she is struggling to keep her machinations against the Maguire family from going awry.  While all of this does, at times, strain credulity, it makes for a dark and tense drama. Will Marcella destroy the family or implode?  Can she keep things together enough to do her job.  She is a brilliant cop, no question of that, but she is also, in some ways, her own worst enemy.  Self-destructive tendencies in the tormented detective is nothing new, but Marcella at times takes these tendencies to a whole new level, and after the way Season 2 ended, on such a harsh and unexpected note, you really do feel that the makers of this show may take Marcella to the point of actual no return.

Will they do a Season 4?  I don't know but I hope so.  I'd watch it, though I wonder what identity the fluid (read unstable) Marcella will have this time.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Review: Deep Cover

By Claire Booth

I recently finished Deep Cover, a podcast that bills itself as “marijuana, motorcycles and mayhem.” I call it a nine-episode masterpiece.

Journalist Jake Halpern begins with an FBI agent investigating local biker drug gangs in Michigan in the 1980s. He ends it with the overthrow of a Latin American dictator. And yes, everything in between is linked.

Along the way, he connects the dots all the way up the illicit business chain. I sat there listening to some of these people and thinking, “How are you not dead or in federal prison right now?” I won’t spoil the answer to that question, but I will say that Halpern’s interview subjects have nothing left to lose, and the podcast listeners are the winners. They all tell great stories—how to smuggle several tons of marijuana into the United States; how Mötley Crüe’s Tommy Lee ruins things; and how one guy had a guard pig (not a dog—a pig) that was high on meth. If I haven’t sold you on it with that last one, well then I give up.

The nine-episode narrative arc is all held together by Timmons, who spent years undercover. He’s the kind of guy who could’ve easily tipped the other way in life and become a criminal. Instead, he becomes the next best thing. A pretend one, backed by the power and resources of the FBI. Timmons is a great interview—blunt, honest (probably), and willing to be a little self-reflective. Halpern talks to colleagues and Timmons’s ex-wife to fill in the rest.

The whole podcast is full of fantastic narrative storytelling from Halpern. That isn’t an easy thing to pull off with non-fiction. This story could’ve easily been a jumpy mess of separate parts that didn’t cohere. But everything hangs together perfectly. I recommend you download it now.