British detective show Marcella recently began streaming on Netflix, and I quickly signed on: I love a good mystery, and I love a competent woman solving a case. Unfortunately, there’s a bit too much mystery going on, and I was confused for far too long of the series.
The first episode introduces one major complication that both separates the show from other such mysteries and torpedoes it: Marcella wakes in the bath, bloody, with no memory of what has happened. She’s okay; has she hurt someone? If this were the only time her memory loss occurred, or if we actually learned what exactly went down, I could live with it. I might even have liked it. But Marcella experiences what are revealed to be fugue state memory losses (a real thing; I looked it up) at least twice more in the series. She never recovers her memories, so we never see them either. We’re given the gist based on exclusion, but for me that’s an awful big tease. It’s also a plot crutch.
So, on top of the mystery of who is killing people, including a key figure in the story, by hog-tying them and putting bags on their heads, there’s the mystery of what Marcella may have done. This means she’s keeping things from her colleagues, interfering with the investigation. We’re at once supposed to understand that Marcella is an excellent detective, pursuing suspects others have discounted and making important observations and connections, and that she must sabotage the case, all while keeping it hidden that she may be responsible for one of the murders. I love a good anti-heroine or difficult woman, but this was too much.
This leads me to another issue: there’s barely a sympathetic character to be had. At best, characters are assholes; at worst they’re criminals. I do not have to “like” a character to find them interesting or even sympathetic; however, I need something, and something believable.
My problem may be tied to a larger difficulty, which is the too-muchness of the show. Every episode for the first two thirds, at least one new side character is introduced. We don’t know who they are or how they may be important; I struggled even to keep characters straight or to be able to recognize if we’d been introduced to someone yet and when/how. It’s hard to care about anyone and what they’re doing if you don’t know who they are or if main characters’ screen times are taken away as a result. Perhaps if there were more episodes and room to breathe and characterize, this may not have been a factor.
Because the show is a mystery, I stuck around to the end to see who did (or didn’t) do what, and I will say I was surprised. The show was entertaining on that basic level; I just wished I could’ve dug in to the plot and characters more.