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Friday, November 27, 2015

Rewatch: The Tunnel: S01E01

The Tunnel: Sabotage is scheduled for early next year, so now seems as good a time as any to revisit the first series. Back in 2013 I made the decision not to watch the original Scandinavian drama Bron/Broen, partly because I didn't have time, and partly because I didn't want to watch two shows in quick succession that have virtually the same plot.

You probably know the setup by now: the dead body of a woman is found at the exact mid-point of the Eurotunnel, her head in France and her feet in Britain. Two sets of investigators are dispatched to the location: on the French side is Elise Wasserman (Clémence Poésy), a young Brigade Criminelle Captain with an Ambiguous Disorder (probably autism or Asperger's) that goes largely unmentioned, and on the British side is middle-aged Karl Roebuck (Stephan Dillane), an easy-going father of five children (to three different mothers, though he’s happily married to the third).
Yet when the time comes to move the body, it becomes apparent that they’re dealing with not one but two victims: the head and torso of the missing French MP has been severed at the waist, and the legs belong to a British prostitute that disappeared several months ago. Naturally, this forces the two sides to work together to track down the culprit.

The Tunnel is not a “comfortable” crime-drama. Some might say that there’s no such thing, though that’s not even remotely true – depending on the detectives, the supporting characters, the tone, and the level of discretion in which certain scenes are handled you can read/watch plenty of crime-dramas that are “cosy” in nature and not remotely disturbing in content.

A good contrast is Whitechapel. That is a show that revels in its gory murder scenes whilst The Tunnel remains cold and clinical. Conversely, Whitechapel has virtually no profane language or sexual content whilst The Tunnel has plenty – from everyone. At the heart of Whitechapel is the warmth and trust that exists between Miles and Chandler, both of whom are good decent men that the audience can rely on to do the right thing. But in The Tunnel even our main characters Karl and Elise have their sharp edges, and the supporting characters (soon to be suspects) range from creeps to assholes. The colour palette is a dreary range of blues and greens and greys, and none of the sets look particularly appealing.
Somewhere between the warmth and humanism of the Whitechapel detectives and the over-the-top luridness nature of its cases, I could find genuine enjoyment in watching it. But my first impression of The Tunnel is that it isn’t a show you watch “for fun” – you watch it for the on-going suspense and the uncomfortable questions that it raises. Already there is a link between the first episode’s victims: the murdered MP who based her political campaign on anti-immigration laws and a journalist whose car is rigged with explosives, presumably as a response to his bigoted opinion column.
Intertwined throughout these events are two minor subplots that are sure to be important later: first a young asylum seeker seeking help from a man called Stephen Beaumont who may or may not be a predator (he rejects her offer of sex when given the chance, yet still makes her uncomfortable by taking her photo and saying: “I like to remember the people I help”) and a middle-aged couple composed of financer Alain Joubert who is desperate to flee the country and his increasingly distressed wife Charlotte who doesn’t seem to have much idea of what she’s doing. How they're connected to the main events remains to be seen – though a few tiny clues are given before the credits roll.
And – you knew I’d get to this eventually – I really loved seeing Angel Coulby again. She was only in a couple of scenes, but it was great to watch her in a new project, playing Roebuck’s wife and mother-of-three. This has been the first post-Merlin role she’s taken (yes there was Dancing on the Edge in February 2013, but that was filmed in the hiatus between season four and five of Merlin) making this feel like a real step forward from “the other show”. Plus the synopsis promises that she’ll be featured more prominently in later episodes.
I wouldn’t say it was the most engaging first episode of a miniseries, and it’s difficult to really warm to either of the protagonists (though in the case of Elise that's entirely the point) but I’m in. Let’s see how all this unfolds…


  1. I'm looking forward to the next season too, it will be interesting to see if they still to The Bridges story-line - not that I can remember it now anyway. I've been mainlining some really good british crime drama's lately - Unforgotten and River (both with Nicola Walker). I would recommend both - they are so different then traditional cop drama's and I've just started season 3 of The Bridge, and got really excited with it seemed they were going to pair Saga (Elise's character) with a female cop (whose boss is female too) and the antagonist was also female! sadly it doesn't seem this will be the case. Oh well, we can live in hope

    1. I've heard about Unforgotten as well - yet another thing to add to the Must Watch pile.

      I'm under the impression that the next series of The Tunnel will be quite different from The Bridge, so it'll be interesting to see if the quality slips without that original template.