You might have noticed that Netflix released another original series this past weekend. And you might have noticed that it stars Pajiba favorites Anna Friel (Charlotte “Chuck” Charles from Pushing Daisies) and Jamie Bamber (Lee Adama from Battlestar Galactica). And based on that information, you might decide that a British murder mystery with a complex female lead would be worth the eight hours. You’d be about 60 percent right.
It’s absolutely not a bad show while you’re watching it. That sounds like faint praise, but it shouldn’t be. Procedural murder mysteries are easy to set-up and hard to resolve well. Marcella, for any of its other many flaws, moves at a quick but manageable pace, makes reasonable moves within the case, and solves the mystery in a believable way. And, to its credit, the resolution is inevitable without being predictable.
It’s everything outside of the mystery that makes the show both intriguing and objectively bad. And it’s bad in a way that you can’t shake. It’s like the ex who had so many good qualities that you just want to shout at them, “Why the hell can’t you just get your act together, goddamnit!?” And at this point, I’ll have to warn anyone who hasn’t finished the show or doesn’t want it to be spoiled to bail out. Because we’re taking this shitty ex of a show, and we’re going to ruin it.
So on its surface, Marcella is a series about DS Marcella Backland rejoining the force to hunt down the Grove Park Killer, the murderer she was unable to catch 10 years earlier. But it also manages to include:
— Marcella’s stress induced rage blackouts
— her estranged husband who’s been having an affair with a coworker for three years
— the fact that said coworker is one of the most recent victims
— the fact that Marcella thinks maybe she killed that victim but isn’t sure because of said blackouts
— her estranged husband’s employment at a shady construction company which is trying to scam the local city council on a recent project
— her estranged husband’s participation in the murder of the planning commissioner who was about to shut down that scammy project
— Marcella’s blossoming relationship with possible former flame and current coworker Lee Adama
— a taxi scheme run by undocumented workers
— sex cam work
— a step-father’s inappropriate affection for his step-daughter (to avoid any unnecessary creep factor, the step-daughter is an adult, and the affection is unconsummated)
— not one, but two serial killers
— and finally, some good ole fashion theft, assault and blackmail
I’d like to point out again, this is an eight-hour series.
All of these additional plot points would be great if they managed to tie the plot-lines together. Or if they added anything to the story on the whole. Or if they managed to resolve all of those individual items. But do you think this shows gives a damn about resolving any of the various items listed above? It does not. What happened to Mo El-Said after he broke into a detective’s house and assaulted her? Who knows? Why did Marcella move Grace Gibson’s body? And how since she seemingly was in the house before, during and after Henry killed her? Why didn’t Henry notice there was a catatonic, ragey cop chilling at his sister’s house? Apparently that doesn’t matter. How did Henry get his hands on Matthew’s hoodie with the hotel key card? What the fuck was Marcella even doing in that goddamn bathtub? This show isn’t the one that’s going to bother with those answers.
All of which would only be mildly annoying loose ends if it weren’t for the aggressively haunting tone of the show. It’s legitimately terrifying and overtly misogynistic. Neither of which are bad things. But without having those themes tied to something inherent in the story, the atmosphere seems like just another story element thrown into the mix to add complexity. Was the series trying to show some connection between the way Peter Cullen felt ownership over Maddy Stevenson and how Tim seemed to exert ownership over Marcella? Or was Tim just being a total dick that day? It seems like someone spent a good deal of time and effort putting polishing touches and depth to a story that no one bothered to finish. Marcella is a very attractive date who just can’t seem to ever show up on time. It’s fun to look at, but try not to think about it too hard.