It has taken me so long to write this review because I am still processing my feelings about this show — one of the several new releases from Netflix.
It seems the writers of Marcella are trying to put a new spin on the widely-attempted and somewhat stigmatized genre of cop show.
Marcella is the story of a former detective whose life is falling apart when the ghost of an unsolved case returns to haunt her. We begin with the scene of Marcella in the bathtub with a bloody gash across her forehead. Slowly, she seems to come out of a reverie, not knowing where she is or how she got there. We soon learn that Marcella’s husband, Jason, has left her for another woman, the beautiful heiress to an architectural empire. Soon, Marcella is called upon by her former job to consult on the case of a serial killer, one that bears a striking resemblance to one she wasn’t able to solve before. The combination of pursuing the case and dealing with the reality of her broken marriage pushes Marcella to the edge, a breaking point that causes bouts of rage and violence during which she blacks out and cannot remember what she’s done. This becomes problematic when Grace, the woman Jason is now seeing, turns up dead.
I was initially intrigued by this show because it seemed to tap into my current obsession over psychological thrillers. The trailer reminded me a lot of The Girl on the Train, in which the main character cannot remember what happened the night someone she vaguely knew disappears. But she knows she was there. I was also intrigued because of Anna Friel.
I loved Friel in Pushing Daisies, so I was interested to see her in such a different role — much more serious and dangerous than that of the morbid comedy. However, I think this was one of the reasons I wasn’t entirely taken with the show. I don’t know why, but I just don’t think Friel was entirely convincing as a woman prone to bouts of rage and violence as dangerous as Marcella’s. She also didn’t seem to have that quality continually attempted at throughout the show — the sense that I’m here smiling at your door and being polite but I’m actually here to claw your eyes out. Friel seems to come into the character more towards the end of the season, but for the first half I wasn’t entirely convinced.
The execution of the plot was a little scattered to me and I found it very difficult to keep the different characters straight and follow the independent story lines before they came together. At points, it was confusing why we were seeing one family’s story when it felt like the real story was with a whole different cast of characters. However, everything slowly knits itself together pretty well and by the second to last episode, I had more of a guess as to who the killer was and was more invested in the story and in Marcella. But it took a really, really long time to get there.
What I thought was most interesting was the way the case affected Marcella as it continued on. You have the initial knowledge that the murders, with possibly the same killer, are happening again. This lights a fire in Marcella to nail her original suspect by any means necessary without thinking that it might be someone else. Then when she learns of her husband’s new interest, Grace, who turns up dead in the same way as the other murders, she struggles with the question of how her mental illness manifested the night she went to see Grace. This really affects the way she continues to work on the case and more of her cracks begin to show. Problems with her children also affect Marcella’s work, especially when we learn that she lost a child when she was working previously. (I wish we had known this earlier in the show.) The major twist toward the end, when we find out there are two different killers, is what really got me invested in the story.
What really upset me about this show was the fact that we are never given any reason for Marcella’s black outs. There is literally no explanation of why they happen, what triggers them or how they have been a problem in the past. There is one instance where Marcella talks to a psychologist about them, but nothing is done and there is not return to this arena throughout the show. Because this plays such a large role in the story, at least in the beginning, I would have liked more information about this part of Marcella rather than just saying, “She has this problem and now watch as she continues to do nothing about it and just wallow in her own insanity.”
There are so many layers to this show that it is difficult to focus on the independent aspects that make it into one. I think this was one of the main problems for me. I know they were attempting to use this as a way to add to the confusion that Marcella experiences, but I think us viewers could have had a bit more clarity. There were almost too many things going on to make the show as effective as it could have been, in my opinion, as I’m still not completely clear on the way some plot lines connect to the end result.
On paper, Marcella is a good story. In execution, it failed on several points for me. I think, if you are interested in psychological thrillers, you may want to give it a try. Otherwise, to miss this show is not a great tragedy.
What did you think of Marcella? What did you think of the varying plot lines and red herrings before we reached the ultimate conclusion? How do you think cop shows can successfully break away from the normal pitfalls of the genre? Let’s talk.