Drama on television is changing. Programmes like True Detective or the original French version of The Returned have shown that you don’t need to wrap everything up in a neat little bow by the time you reach the final episode. Information which you need to understand the programme is doled out in a way that means you need to watch carefully and consider what you’re seeing.
That’s why BBC America’s Intruders, based on the novel by Michael Marshall Smith, is likely to work well. This first episode sets up a huge number of threads – from a suicide some years in the past and the disappearance of an apparently ordinary woman today to an unusual approach made to a young girl on the beach near her house – and while we can just about start to see some connections by the end of the hour, there are considerably more questions than answers.
Although much has been made of Glen Morgan and the other key creatives’ background working on The X-Files (and there’s a nice little in-joke in there towards the end of the episode), it’s their time on Millennium, the doom-laden series starring Lance Henriksen, that Intruders resembles most. In fact, you could place the second season version of Henriksen’s character Frank Black in the middle of this without him seeming at all out of place. That show (or at least that season of it – it kept changing) concerned itself with the sort of weighty matters which underpin Intruders, and was filled with the same unusual announcements that Shepherd is given here, as well as the sort of unusual visual effect that indicates people aren’t quite what they seem.
Although John Simm is the star (and wouldn’t it have made more sense for a single line to have been added to explain that he had spent time in England before joining the Los Angeles Police Department to avoid some of the vocal gymnastics he’s indulging in here?), he’s more reactive than proactive at present and it’s very much an ensemble show, at least on the evidence of this first episode. Millie Brown, who plays nine year old Madison, is simply amazing: she’s called on to play some quite emotionally intense scenes and carries them off with aplomb. It feels as if Mira Sorvino is in the episode more than she actually is, a tribute to the strength of her performance at the top of the hour. And as for James Frain – it’s nice to see a killer who isn’t just the cold-hearted assassin.
Intruders isn’t for the faint of heart – the suicide scene at the start is shot stylishly but doesn’t hide what’s going on, and there’s a murder towards the end of the episode that is equally messy. Like much TV drama today, it benefits from a second viewing to pick up the hints that you didn’t realise were hints before you move on to the next episode…
Verdict: A dark and stylish thriller kicks off well. 8/10