Retribution (aka, One of Us), the BBC original series streaming exclusively in America on Netflix, is like someone saw the first season of Broadchurch and the first season of Bloodline and thought, “Let’s combine those two shows and condense it all down into four episodes so viewers won’t get bored.” Retribution may be only four hours long, but it feels like a Trump-era four hours: By the time it’s over, so much happens that it feels like you’ve been watching it for two weeks (that’s not necessarily a knock against it).
Starring a lot of familiar British faces (Joe Dempsie (Skins), Georgina Campbell (Broadchurch), Laura Fraser (Breaking Bad) and Gary Lewis (Billy Elliot), among others, Retribution is a dark and ultimately twisted family drama that opens with the murder of a young couple in their home. We soon find out that the two were recently married, and the young woman is pregnant. We also know who their murderer is, but we have no idea about his motive.
The couple lives in a house on the same stretch of land with both sets of parents and their respective brothers and sisters. Both sides of the family are grief-stricken over the death, but while they are mourning, the murderer means to pay someone on the property a visit, only he crashes a stolen car during a storm before he arrives at their destination. The various family members rescue him from the accident and bring him inside to nurse him back to health, but that’s when they discover that he was the murderer. Due to the storm, paramedics won’t be able to arrive until the next morning, and when everyone wakes up, the murderer has been murdered. One of the many family members is responsible, but we don’t know who.
That all happens in the first episode. In subsequent episodes, the family members continue to search for a motive for their son and daughter’s deaths (Broadchurch), while the police begin investigating the family for the murder of the murderer (Bloodline). A series of family secrets spill out, and even the investigating cop has some troubling personal drama of her own (she stole acid from an evidence room and sold it to pay for surgery to remove a tumor from her daughter’s brain; however, a kid who uses the acid dies while she is tripping).
It may sound like I’m spoiling the series by sharing so many plot details in only a four-episode series, but I’ve really only scratched the surface. There’s also an estranged dad; adulterous relationship; and even an old woman who wants one of the family members to help her commit suicide. There’s a lot here; maybe too much. Both Broadchurch and Bloodline were incredibly effective slow burns, but there’s nothing slow about Retribution. It starts as a massive house fire and it continues to rage until an entire city block has been engulfed. It’s basically the dark family-drama equivalent of the third act of Batman vs. Superman.
I don’t want to suggest that Retribution is bad. It’s not. It’s just overstuffed. The performances from veteran British actors are uniformly good, the series never wants for more drama, and the mystery is hugely compelling. I had no clue who the killer was until the series wanted me to know who it was.
That said, the twist in the end may divide audiences. It’s the rare twist where your jaw may drop while at the same time you’re rolling your eyes. It’ll most certainly elicit a “What the fuck?” but how it is delivered may vary by viewer. I liked the drama, but it’s the rare television series where I thought it would have been better served with 8 episodes instead of four. It is unlikely, however, to receive a second season (neither the BBC nor Netflix has ordered one). It’s a self-contained series, and a second season most likely would not work without a completely different cast. It’s a one-and-done series, but it provides a satisfying, if slightly overcooked, conclusion.