Last week’s first episode of Witnesses was so grotesque in its premise, its characters so engaging and the pacing and plotting almost perfect, it was impossible not to be hugely impressed by it. It set itself up as a really dark and gritty procedural, mixing Scandinavian influences with the French’s current penchant for superb crime drama. What wasn’t to like about that?
The end of last week saw retired, traumatised cop Paul Maisonneuve’s life severely threatened as he was shot at by a masked sniper, only to be let off the hook as the masked man in black stood over him but didn’t pull the trigger.
We, like his colleagues (especially Sandra Winckler) wanted to know why this sniper didn’t finish the job.
After he had brushed himself down, Maisonneuve accompanied Justin to bring in and ruthlessly interview a suspect – Richard Laplace – Winckler was left in Le Tréport to investigate further. One got the impression such was the mistrust between Winckler and Maisonneuve that she was investigating her former tutor as much as the case itself, But she did manage to find a witness who was smoking reefers on his rooftop (at six in the morning), during the shooting. He told Winckler that the only distinguishing marks on the suspect that he was able to see was a tattoo on his right wrist. A bit of digging here, a bit of digging there and Winckler had a name – Greg Serano.
The next step was to try to find out what this Serano character was up to. They had a look around his farm (only 2km from one of the show homes), which led to a look around the prison he spent time in (with a chap called Kaz Gorbier, who Maisonneuve knew of), which then led back to the Maisonneuve family home in Le Tréport (where they found a photograph of Maisonneuve ‘s wife’s grave pinned to the wall).
It took Justin to turn into Basil Exposition for a brief while to explain things for us: he told Winckler during a cigarette break that Gorbier was a family man and a dentist by day, but by night would change into a monster, or, “a wolf amongst wolves” as Maisonneuve described him (which would fit in nicely with the wolf in the title sequence). Gorbier would don sinister clown make-up and kidnap, Justin said, and then rape and murder young white women. His ‘thing’ was to destroy families.
Only half way through the second episode and Witnesses had moved effortlessly into new territory, weaving its way through twist and turns and establishing suspects. Besides the tight, lean plotting, the key to success in any procedural like this, with a double act at its heart, is the two main protagonists. What a show like The Bridge did so well was to build two characters that were so supremely likeable you emotionally invested in them. Maisonneuve and Sandra are not as diametrically opposed to one other like Saga Norén and Martin Rohde, but there are still interesting differences between these two – Maisonneuve is steely and cold, while Sandra is the more outwardly emotional of the two. Both of their facades started to crack last night, revealing new dimensions to their personalities. Maisonneuve became emotional when talking about his late wife, while Sandra started to suspect her husband of having an affair. I care about these characters because of these flaws, emotional quirks and fronts they put on, and because this is lean, fast-paced stuff the back stories have much more clout than in something like a True Detective, which is so convoluted and needlessly complex its back stories and character development get lost in the mud.
But back to the plot. It took a turn for the strange(r) when the police exhumed a body – the body of Kaz Gorbier, who was presumed dead after a fire at the prison he had been interned in. The last time we saw bodies exhumed they had been posed lovingly in a show home as if to resemble the perfect family by the bad guy(s). Now the police were doing the same thing but for different reasons.
In the end the body the police exhumed was not Gorbier’s, meaning the psychopath had staged his own death and was now at large. And didn’t Winckler know it – Gorbier and Serano rammed her car, leaving her bloodied and shaken. They delivered a chilling message: “Tell Paul that the ghosts are back.”
Want. More. Now.
For our episode one review, go here