HDIM Reviews: Black Spot Season 2 (2019)

I wrote briefly on Black Spot‘s first season (2017) two weeks ago which was when I first stumbled upon it on Netflix. The only reason I went into it was because Season 2 was slated for a return on June 14th (it has cometh and goneth), and anything that gets a Season 2, usually features a pretty solid Season 1.

A piano in the woods. Why not?

And I was right. Black Spot aka Zone Blanche is one of the more stranger, non-English speaking shows on Netflix right now, stranger than Osmosis and Perfume. You got a bit of the supernatural, a bit of police procedural drama, plenty of secrets and murder and whodunits. What’s not to love?

Read more: HDIM Reviews Osmosis (2019)

At the end of Season 1, we finally find out who is behind the disappearance and murder of Marion Steiner: police-officer-in-training, Camille.

Can’t even hold a gun right but she can kill ya

Camille was under the Gerald Steiners’s payroll (isn’t everyone?) and had accidentally caused the death of Marion, who had been collecting evidence to bring down her own grandfather’s schemes. Bertrand Steiner, Marion’s father who had been holding out for her return was understandably heartbroken, and an absolute total wreck for most of Season 2.

Guided by Roman, a member of the environmental protest group, Children of Arduina, Cora Weiss, daughter to Captain Laurene Weiss, had unknowingly asked for Camille’s help to retrieve a USB drive from where they had found Marion’s body. The drive contains important documents that will help Prosecutor Frank Siriani nail the Steiners. In the process, Cora was almost murdered by Camille herself.

Cora’s mother, Laurene was not so lucky. Camille shot her pointblank then left her for dead in the forest. Her death was particularly brutal. She was shot at close range, then dragged like an animal and thrown off into the woods to bleed out.

Laurene dies, or does she?

I’m not sure why Camille was particularly cold-blooded against Laurene. Laurene had never been mean to Camille nor do they have bad history of any sort. Perhaps Camille just wants to make sure she gets the job done, right?

Except she doesn’t! While Camille herself could not escape the deadly antlers of a dead deer…

I thought it would be crows who would get her tbh

… Laurene, owing to her special relationship with the forest, got to return from the realm of the dead…

… with help from the Celtic horned-god, Cernunnos himself.

*purrs*

When I wrote the review for Season 1, I did mention that the show never really fully committed to the supernatural genre. I like that angle very much. Instead of waving away logic and reason with stories about horned beings with supernatural powers prowling the forest floor, Black Spot at most only teases the possibility, but refuses to fall in.

Hence, it does a very good job explaining what actually happened to Laurene and why she had been so eager to find the sanctuary where she had been chained for 3 days. It turns out that she was not alone in those three days. No, I’m not referring to her kidnapper being nearby. I meant that she had a fellow captor who like her was chained to the rocks for three days, possibly more (he had mentioned he had been there for three days before he decided to make contact with her).

Fellow captor, Sylvain Tessier

Possibly due to the trauma she had suffered, and maybe due to the blood loss from cutting two of her fingers off, Laurene’s memory had blocked out the existence of the other boy: 18-year-old Sylvain Tessier.

In Season 2, she would only regain her memory of him during a hallucination she suffered from, having fallen off the cliff into the very place she had been held against her will two decades earlier, the place she dubbed The Sanctuary.

How terrifying is that thought? To have totally forgotten a fellow kidnapped victim once you yourself have gotten away. Any sane person would do all they can to conduct a rescue, which explains why Laurene had been searching the forests on her nightly walks for the sanctuary. She may not remember why she was doing it, but she knows it is important that she does.

And that’s not the only surprise this show has for us.

In the season finale of the second season, the people of Villefranche had organised a hunt for the culprit, who had been freaking everyone out, leaving bloody spines from deer(?) in the houses of the townsfolk…

A calling card?

… and at least one in a cradle. If you want to know the story behind that, you just have to watch the show.

The Mayor gets special treatment

The thing you need to know at this point is that the townspeople are turning the tables on the so-called horned god and they are bringing pretty big guns to get the job done. And where there are guns and men, there will be accidents, and people getting hurt. It was a total mess.

The good news is that Cernunnos himself also bleeds! He’s not a god, after all! And who got him? Good old Hermann of course.

Hermann’s a good shot but only manage to wound Cernunnos.

Laurene catches up to the wounded stag-god and figures out that there is a man behind the ghostly horned creature who had been her stalker cum saviour – and that man is none other than Sylvain himself. #whaaaaaaat?

But frankly though, who else could it be? Of course it had to be Sylvain, her fellow captor who was almost her age, and had not been seen for twenty odd years, which makes him her age. Weird things happen to people who have been isolated from society for long periods of time. I’d like to see them explain that low, deep purring sound the horned god always makes when he is nearby though. #creepyAF

But wait, there’s more!

Horned god’s blood sample not only proves that he and the wood man Laurene had been looking for for twenty years are but the same person, Sylvain. It also reveals that Sylvain actually shares a 50% match with Laurene, which means he is family, and a close family member at that, perhaps a pure sibling.

This would explain a few things, namely why he saved her at the end of Season 1 and had been protective of her whenever she is in the vicinity of the forest. Don’t forget, he had also attacked the man who had been chasing Roman and Cora, so he is at least aware of who Cora is.

This also explains why Laurene has been seeing clues that the animals have been leaving her all throughout Season 1. They may have been sent by Sylvain or there is still a special connection Laurene has with the forest that the writers have not explored enough in just two short seasons.

Oh, by the way, Sabine is totally connected to this. Definitely. She had spoken highly of the forest and its protective nature throughout Season 1, and in Season 2, Episode 4 Moonstruck, we actually got to see her face-to-face with Cernunnos over a camp fire.

I wonder if Sabine brings alcohol whenever she meets up with Cernunnos

Now, it is possible that Sylvain and Sabine are related, possibly even mother and son, because it was mentioned to Cora that Sabine had to sacrifice or had lost her son years ago. Not much was said beyond this but safe to say, Sabine knows more the stag god than she had been telling anyone.

You know what this means, right? This means that Sabine may also be related to Laurene, since both women have connections with Sylvain.

Can you see the resemblance?

And this also means one more thing. That Sabine may know who Laurene and Sylvain’s kidnapper was. Clearly Sylvain had not been the one who had taken Laurene when he was a mere teenager. He himself had been chained with Laurene for days. They had only each other for company. Who had taken them? Sabine may know. Or Sabine may have been the kidnapper.

I don’t know. I’m just speculating because this is what the show makes you do. It makes you see connections in places where there might not have been a connection at all. I guess we will have to wait for Season 3 to find out.

Oh yeah, Siriani’s got a girlfriend, Hermann misses Camille and had difficulty letting go of her to the point of being able to see her, Teddy Bear almost got killed from falling off a cliff and having a branch break his fall by protruding through his gut (I don’t know what Villefranche feeds their police crew but they are very hard to kill – well, some of them), Bernard is expecting another baby but his wife decided that she is tired of being the third wheel and has checked out of the relationship, people are still killing other people in Villefranche in very interesting and weird ways – all in all, Season 2 is still a fun watch. Here’s to hoping for more weird, dark and creepy fun in Season 3 for Black Spot (Zone Blanche).

You might also like: The OA or You.

New: A Guide to Understanding DARK: Season 1

HDIM Reviews: Black Spot (2017-)

This was recently added to Netflix and because I saw that the second season is landing on June 14, that’s always an indication of a good show. Within the first minute, you will see a man fight for his life in a lone spot in the middle of nowhere. More precisely, near Villefranche, somewhere in France. Yes this is a French show. Cue the subtitles.

So welcoming

Welcome to Villefranche, a small town nestled in the midst of a dense, towering forest which cuts the small town folks off from the rest of the world via phone or satellite, i.e. Black Spot or Zone Blanche.

Major/Captain Laurene Weiss is the sheriff in town. The only two things you should know about her is she only has eight fingers and she is tough as nails.

Frank Siriani, the man who collapsed (from anaphylactic shock due to an allergy to a bee sting, what an anti-climax, right?) when the show began is a prosecutor sent to get answers from Captain Weiss on why the murder rate coming from this small town of Villefranche is six times the average murder rate of the whole country.

Over the next eight episodes, Major Weiss and her small police crew of three other officers will solve one murder per episode with Siriani in tow.

This small crew gets hurt a lot, with bullets

In the meantime, the town is looking for Mayor Bertrand Steiner’s daughter who had been missing for a few months. Many, including Major Weiss who has some history with Mayor Steiner, as well as Weiss’ daughter, Cora who is Marion’s best friend, believe that the poor teenager, Marion is lost or kept against her will in the deep, dark forest. They race against time to locate the missing girl.

Marion Steiner six months before she went missing

It has been a while since I’ve watch police procedural shows that focuses more on the crimes rather than the police’s ability and methods to solve said crimes. Most of the crimes were spontaneous, random or crimes of passion. In short, very human.

Villefranche is sold as a very small, isolated town where if you are in trouble, you can only depend on yourself, and sometimes, your neighbours, to get you out. The interesting thing about this is that the townspeople never really need outside help. You have to watch the show to find out why.

Grandma can shoot like a cowboy

At the same time, there is a lingering understand the people have with the woods that isolate and protect them from the outside world. At times the show tips towards the supernatural side but never fully commits, well, at least not until the finale itself.

I’m looking forward to June 14 when Season 2 returns with Laurene Weiss and the rest of the Villefranche villagers to wreak havoc on my TV screen.

If you prefer something with more colour and/or blood, check out Love, Death, Robots.

HDIM Reviews: Line of Duty (2012 – 2019)

I chanced upon Line of Duty while looking for my next binge run. All I knew before I started on this series is that it’s British and, at a glance, has a police procedural storyline. What I found was a new appreciation for the genius of Jed Mercurio, who is also the name behind Bodyguard, featuring Richard Madden and Keeley Hawes.

There are four seasons completed at the time of this writing – and a fifth one is rolling out its episodes (it’s at S05-E02 now). The great thing about this show is that the stories don’t completely conclude once we reach the end of a season.

Old characters from Season 1 may pop up in Season 2, 3 and 4. Characters that have died can still add to a new storyline. Thus, if you are going to dive into this show, you should start at the beginning.

AC-12 Officers

In season 1, we follow DS Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) in his misadventure in Counter Terror which resulted in a transfer into Anti-Corruption. The gist of it was that the team he was a part of messed up and word came from above to band together and cover up their mistake. Arnott refuses to comply and as a result became a pariah of sorts.

Steve Arnott transfers from Counter-Terror to Anti-Corruption

Pending investigations, he is assigned to AC-12, the anti-corruption branch led by Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar). Hastings comes across as a dogged investigator who pushes his team hard to cross t’s, dot i’s, and catch “bent cops”. He has some of the best lines in the whole show be it when introducing himself on the phone (he refers to himself as Hastings – like the battle) or when he is giving an officer who had been caught red-handed a dressing down.

Ted Hastings, the voice of integrity in AC-12

Also part of the team is DC Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure). Brave, focused, extremely intelligent, she is usually the one who goes undercover in the department where the subject of their investigation operates in. As we follow her throughout four seasons, we see her rise from Detective Constable to Detective Sergeant.

The way this works is that Arnott pushes from the outside with the intelligence she feeds them, while she pushes from the inside. While she is never in any physical danger (what are they going to do to her? They are police officers) but no one likes a snitch.

Kate Fleming, anti-corruption officer in AC-12

Over the course of four seasons, you can clearly see that officers who work Anti-Corruption treat every target of their investigation like they were already guilty. Hence, AC-12 not exactly a likeable bunch. According to Fleming, the worst possible thing to happen to AC-12 is that they are no longer feared. Apparently, she can take being spat on at the back of her hair, but she can’t take not being treated with reverence and dread.

One of my favourite things about Line of Duty is their intense(!), stressful, aneurysm-inducing interrogation scenes – that’s when shit goes down. The scenarios are akin to a showdown in the courtroom, minus the judges, witnesses and jury. It speeds things up a whole lot.

AC-12 just needs to present the fact and try to make the connection based on feedback or answers given by the interview subjects. It almost feels like sanctioned entrapment of the officers being investigated but mind you, AC-12 doesn’t always have the upper hand at the interview table. And that’s because of who sits on the other side of the table.

The Antagonists

What good is an investigative team without worthy adversaries to investigate. Line of Duty features some of the most powerful and bold, sharp and cunning, extremely ruthless and formidable antagonists.

You mustn’t forget that the point of AC-12 is to find misconduct amongst police officers and so the antagonists are themselves fellow detectives, some ranked higher than Arnott and Fleming, trained on how to track criminals, cover their tracks forensically, and familiar with interrogation tactics, protocols and procedures.

Season 1: Tony Gates

In Season 1, the team is up against DCI Tony Gates (Lennie James) from the Serious Crime Unit, a prominent and highly ambitious officer with plenty of commendations to his name including Officer of the Year due to “best crime figures” on the force for a few years running.

Season 1’s target: Tony Gates

Despite his popularity amongst fellow officers, Hastings is certain that Gates is guilty of laddering, which is some sort of technical manipulation that allows him to add trumped up charges to seemingly straightforward crimes. This results in higher clearance rates and thus better crime figures for the department and for himself.

Eventually bodies start dropping and we find Gates having to go on the run from the right side and wrong side of the law.

Season 1 being the first season had to devote a lot to introducing the characters in AC-12 and how things work in an anti-corruption investigation. A lot of the push for truth we eventually see in Arnott are merely showing their roots at this season. Then again, perhaps they needed a more formidable rival.

SEASON 2: Lindsay Denton

Season 2 begins with an ambush and an explosion, leaving a police officer and someone in Witness Protection dead. DI Lindsay Denton (Keeley Hawes) from the Missing Persons Unit was the sole survivor of the ambush, and became the suspect of AC-12’s next line of investigation. Whether she is innocent or guilty will nag you throughout the whole season.

Denton is a force to be reckoned with. She reported the misconduct of officers in her station and is ostracised in general by everyone at the station. Unlike Gates, practically no one stood up for Denton when AC-12 came a-knocking but that doesn’t mean she is one to take it lying down.

Time and time again, we get a peek at her non-existing personal life: no family, apart from a mother in a nursing home, no spouse or children, no drinking buddies or friendly neighbours. But then, she doesn’t have what you’d call a friendly face. The only thing she has going for her is being a police officer and she isn’t going to just sit there and watch her career go down in flames, without putting up a huge fight.

Season 2’s target: Lindsay Denton

At times it may seem like she is just at the wrong place at the wrong time but when pushed, like a cornered dog, Denton turns around and bites back. She’d turned the tables at AC-12 so many times that you aren’t sure whether she is really unlucky or guilty AF. But one thing is for sure, she doesn’t miss anything, which makes her your strongest foe or your best ally.

Season 2 is far more superior than Season 1 mainly because the stakes became much higher, the background has been set in Season 1 and because of Keeley Hawes.

I did not recognise her until a couple of episodes in and even then it was only because I had to know who is this incredible actress is. I mean, could you blame me for not recognising this as Home Secretary Julia Montague in Bodyguard? Keeley Hawes received a BAFTA nomination for all the horrible things she had to endure in her role as Lindsay Denton.

Season 3: Danny Waldron

In Season 3 we are treated with an unstable but highly effective officer from the Strategic Firearms Command Unit, Sergeant Danny Waldron (Danny Mays). He scares the life out of me.

Season 3’s target: Sergeant Danny Waldron

Unlike the antagonists from the first two seasons, we know that Waldron is bent. We see him shoot a suspect point-blank, then blackmail the rest of his firearms team to help him cover it up. While Waldron is easy to hate, he is difficult to charge since he has an answer for everything due to him being a seasoned field agent.

Running parallel with the Waldron investigation, Season 3 is also involved in investigating the wrong-doings of retired high-ranking officers who may be involved in the cover up of a systematic child-molestation ring from decades back.

Perhaps I’ve begun to tire of keeping up with the conspiracies after bingeing through the two earlier seasons, but this particular season was far too messy for me. What kept me going was Denton returning from Season 2, and a newfound admiration for Hastings’ character.

In his first AC-12 interrogation, a defensive Danny Waldron retaliated to questions by Hastings in a patronising manner, and got a reminder of the important role of AC-12:

[Danny] I cite under Common law, my lawful right to use lethal force for preservation of life or in self-defence where this threat is immediate.
[Hastings] Yes, and in response I cite Section 117 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act: the use of reasonable force. And for the tape, the emphasis is mine and not contained in the act.
[Danny] That’s an easy argument from behind a desk, sir.
[Hastings] BEHIND this desk, Sergeant, we uphold standards! Standards you are expected to meet as a serving police officer.

Hastings would later on struggle with the maintaining of such standards while he deals with threats to his own career for investigating a retired chief superintendent, and dealing with a mole inside his department. The conclusion to Season 3 was the most highly charged finale of all the seasons.

Season 4: Roz Huntley

In Season 4, Thandie Newton joins Line of Duty as DCI Roz Huntley, serving as Senior Investigating Officer in Operation Trapdoor. She was running a large-scale police operation to hunt down a serial killer, dubbed Balaclava Man. The culprit is believed to be behind the kidnapping and murder of one woman and the disappearance of a second. By the time we enter the story, the public is tired of being scared and there was pressure to make an arrest – the sooner the better.

Season 4’s target: DCI Roz Huntley

When a third potential victim who had just narrowly escaped Balaclava Man, handed Huntley a possible suspect on a silver platter. Huntley buckled under pressure and was quick to pin a man with learning and mental difficulties as the culprit. Case closed. That is, until Timothy Ifield, her forensic coordinator tried to air his concerns that the arrest may have been premature

Huntley shuts him down not eager to reopen this life-draining case. In a move that is just downright icky, Ifield takes the case to AC-12.

Timothy Ifield, forensic investigator to Huntley

He presents his findings to Arnott and suggests that Huntley may have ulterior motives to pin this crime on the wrong man. Although initially hesitant, AC-12 eventually begins investigations into Huntley. Then Ifield goes dark.

For Season 4, AC-12 have met their match with a highly seasoned investigator in Roz Huntley. Like Denton, Huntley is cunning, careful and isn’t shy about fighting back. Unlike Denton, Huntley has friends in high places and gave AC-12 a good run for their money.

She absolutely decimated Hastings at the interview table, a scene that clocks in at 22 minutes long. Now that was a great showdown. I have never seen Hastings more defeated than when he went up against Huntley.

I have also never come across a character more ruthless than Maeve Roz Huntley which was why I blazed through Season 4 in a single seating. All prior targets from earlier seasons were police officers through and through. Yet they still followed a code of conduct to serve and protect.

But not Roz Huntley. Huntley threw all that out the window, possibly out of spite or ambition, or just to save her own skin, I don’t actually know for sure. But if you had hoped, at any point, that AC-12 would let go of Gates, Denton or Waldron, you wouldn’t spare the same thought for Huntley. No matter what she did to redeem herself. Thandie Newton received a BAFTA nomination for her stunning portrayal of Roz Huntley.

Conclusion

I enjoyed Line of Duty for various reasons. The show grows. It expands and evolves. It becomes more sophisticated the longer you stick with it, particularly when it comes to the subjects of their investigations.

Mistakes become more costly. You do not get a reset button at the beginning of a new season. More often than not, these mistakes are later used in an attempt to discredit AC-12 and the work they do. That’s something the show-runners have to deal with the longer this show goes. On top of that, they also have to deal with the elaborate cover-ups and how one case ties to another case and to a third case etc.

Relationships also get more tested. We see Arnott and Fleming starting out cold, warming up to a strong partnership, compete for a promotion, judge each other, support each other through hard times, pull each other out of mess after mess after mess but never diminishing their relationship below that of treating each other as peers.

You also get to see Hastings groom the two for leadership roles from the beginning, back in Season 1, and then reaping what he sowed by the end of Season 4, showing pride in the work delivered by his two successors.

Season 1 aired back in June 2012 while Season 4 aired in March 2017. Here’s what they looked like after a harrowing event near the end of Season 4.

Feels like they’ve aged 30 years between the three of them, doesn’t it? That’s realism for you. At least Arnott fixed his eyebrows (Look, I have to comment on it, alright? It bugged the heck out of me for the whole of Season 1 and a bit in Season 2).

Note: At the time of this writing, Season 5 has just released their second episode. I can’t wait for the whole season to be made available on Netflix. A sixth season has also been commissioned.