Residue Recap: Episode 1
My new (potential) guilty pleasure.
I stumbled upon Residue quite by accident, scrolling through Netflix for a new show to binge. I’d never heard of it but it looked intriguing and, well, sometimes judging a show by its thumbnail pic pays off. The production history behind it is, itself, pretty interesting and a testament to how online streaming can democratize which TV shows get picked up. Producer, Charlotte Walls, has described the three-episode season as “an extended pilot” for a proper 10-episode season, depending on how well the pilot is received. In any case, it’s a British supernatural/horror/conspiracy thriller with a female protagonist and there are far too many things I love in that description for me not to investigate.
We open on New Year’s Eve in a “futuristic” (I don’t see anything terribly technologically advanced) UK metropolis. Around the city, folks are lighting sparklers and setting off fireworks. A guy named Levi Mathis passes out from drugs and liquor in his parked car as his teenage daughter tries to call him from outside the Nightshade nightclub, eager to ditch this “horrible club” to hang out with her Dad.
We’re then introduced to our two, healthier, leads, Jen Preston and Jonas Flack, as they celebrate New Year’s together in their apartment. They’re played by Natalia Tena and Iwan Rheon, and, yeah, it’s weird at first to see Osha and Ramsay Bolton laughing and drinking champagne together but, credit to the actors, it doesn’t take long to get over it (imagining them as Nymphadora Tonks and Simon from Misfits helps). I usually find scenes intended to establish how happy a couple is unbearably schmaltzy, but these two I totally accept. Maybe it’s Rheon’s elf ears.
The show’s clearly going for a neo-noir aesthetic. The nighttime city streets and Jen and Jonas’ dark apartment are illuminated with colored, artificial lights. It’s a style I, personally, prefer in small doses, particularly when establishing a pleasant status quo, but more on that later. There’s little time to nitpick the depiction of “normal life.” Just as Jen and Jonas are stretching out to consummate the New Year, the Nightshade nightclub explodes, killing Mathis’ daughter and bringing all sense of normality to an abrupt end.
We cut to a newly erected quarantine zone one month later, as an expository newscaster informs us that the “New Year’s explosion” was caused by toxins in an abandoned weapons’ facility beneath the club and that the government has quarantined the five square miles surrounding the blast site to contain possible contamination.
I’ll go ahead and take this explanation with a grain of salt.
A bird’s eye view of the quarantine zone transitions into a deliciously dark title sequence featuring Georgi Kay’s “Head Full of Lies” and then we’re back in Jen and Jonas’ apartment, which now resembles the inside of a Christmas tree.
Jen can’t sleep and decides to go for a 3 am stroll and take some photos (upon a second viewing, I noticed that Jonas mentions that she’s a photographer during their New Year’s scene). She walks past the quarantine zone and observes that a flock of birds swerves to avoid flying over it [Twilight Zone theme plays]. As she wanders the streets, she ruminates over the fallen state of her home. “I used to know this city,” she thinks to herself, over shots of dark streets bathed in artificial light. Which, I feel compelled to reiterate, is how they looked on New Year’s Eve before the explosion. I get that some people like the neo-noir aesthetic, and, if that’s you, then feast your eyes, my friend. But it’s a style intended to evoke mystery and unease and I’d find it a lot easier to sympathize with Jen’s lamentation for her city IF I’D BEEN SHOWN A CITY I WANTED TO LIVE IN, IN THE FIRST PLACE!
Anyway, Jen wants to document the experiences of her fellow city dwellers through her photography but has found that her photos have changed somehow since the explosion.
The next morning …
… in blue-filter, as Jonas prepares to leave for work, Jen shows him a photo she took of a couple with their baby. The father has excessively dark circles under his eyes and wears a haunted expression.
Cut to the photographed family in their apartment (bathed in yellow and orange light, in case you were wondering). The baby won’t stop crying and the father, Benny, looks like he’s at his rope’s end.
You know this is going to end badly.
Sure enough, as he sits on the couch a … smoky, shadow … thing vaguely comparable to a baby Dementor emerges from the wall, infects him and … well, you can guess.
We’re mercifully spared the sight of the attack. We’re only shown Benny’s wife falling out of their apartment window and landing on a car and we’re told through dialogue between Mathis, who turns out to be a detective, and another cop, that Benny strangled the baby.
So, it’s pretty clear that whatever came out of the wall has the capacity to drive people to commit acts contrary to their nature or else overwhelms them with the existing emotions they suppress. Presumably, it’s this presence that’s showing up in Jen’s photos and somehow the New Year’s explosion is responsible. We’re 17 minutes into the first episode. The question is how long we have to wait for the characters to catch up to us.
Jen shares a nice scene with her photo gallery curator, Evangeline, in which the episode passes the Bechdel test and Jen reiterates her concerns about the people of the city. She then gets a call from Jonas who tells her that her parents have called and he’s making excuses for her and Jen opts out of their evening plans together so she can photograph an underground club.
The dialogue’s a little clunky, here, as though the writers felt the need to spell out that Jen puts her career first and that Jonas, though somewhat peeved, accepts that about her. “Again, the camera comes first,” he sighs before saying goodbye. Thanks, Jonas. We needed that.
On an unrelated note, this is one of the few scenes in which Jonas reminds me that he and Ramsay Bolton share the same actor. Obviously, Jonas and Ramsay are two very different characters and Iwan Rheon plays them as such. Nonetheless, having the same face, there was bound to be some expressive overlap.
Meanwhile, Mathis, who’s quickly becoming “that character” whose scenes are a chore to get through (the vegetable dish to Jen and Jonas’ dessert, if you will), meets with his ex-wife who blames him for their daughter’s death (if he hadn’t encouraged her to sneak into the city to hang out with him, she wouldn’t have been at the Nightshade nightclub on New Year’s). She caps off their encounter by asking him, “And what are you doing about it?” While I would have found a retort along the lines of “Do what? Find the Resurrection Stone?” appropriate, her words seem to incentivize him to investigate the New Year’s explosion. He later receives some vague, confidential documents from a sketchy bloke who advises him to leave well enough alone. (I bet he won’t)
That night, Jen dons a creepy mask and enters the aforementioned underground club, which feels like a cross between a disco-tech and the masquerade from Eyes Wide Shut. I mean that in a good way. She photographs a young woman who then retreats to the bathroom. The baby Dementor appears, out of nowhere (both literally and narratively) and infects her, turning her face into …
Unlike Benny, who seemed to go blank after the baby Dementor took hold of him, this woman actually smiles before smashing her face into the mirror, taking a shard of glass and …
Jen, going on a hunch, follows her to the bathroom, sees what she’s done to herself and snaps another photo. Jonas may have a point about her.
The next day, she shows Jonas the photos. He makes a tasteless joke about them so she shrugs him off as he leaves for work, already reabsorbed in her photographs, giving us a sense that, while he always seems to have her back, the support might not be mutual. And I’m glad for this. Excessively happy couples are always suspicious (Broadchurch, anyone?) yet I don’t get the sense that the writers are demonizing Jen (or emasculating Jonas) for her drive and ambition. They’re simply portraying a normal and thus imperfect relationship between two normal and thus imperfect people.
It turns out that Jonas is a spokesman for the Home Office and spends much of his time assuring the press that everything is under control, a sentiment he’s starting to question himself (he actually knows squat about the situation). He says as much to the Home Secretary and another unspecified superior once they’re alone in an elevator. They’re response: trust the system.
The episode concludes back in the apartment as Jen discovers, through the magic of futuristic mega-photo enhancement, that baby Dementors appear in the photos she took of Benny and the young woman at the club. Egad! So, actually, it turns out that … wait, that doesn’t tell us anything new. We already knew all that. The, uh, escalation’s a little off there, don’t you think? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to omit showing us Benny’s possession and then putting this reveal before the club scene? Oh well. At least Jen’s catching on
So … episode 1 was a bit of a slog. I would not recommend watching it while tired. However, it was a slog with potential, a slog that introduced characters I want to see more of and a slog that blended the conspiracy and horror genres in an intriguing way and introduced a mystery I want to watch Jen (and Jonas … and Mathis) solve. Perhaps Residue, being a 3-part pilot, is the sort of show that’s best binged in one sitting. We shall see.
Petra Halbur is a writer traversing the perilous terrain of post-graduate life whilst trapped in the world-building phase of developing her science-fantasy graphic novel. You can read more from her at Ponderings of a Cinephile or follow her on Twitter.
—Please make note of The Mary Sue’s general comment policy.—