The recent film Don’t Look Up was widely criticized for being too blunt and obvious in its criticism of climate change inaction. The new Apple TV+ series Suspicion, based on the Israeli thriller series False Flag, goes in the other direction. Instead of hitting you with a gauche asteroid of eco-politics, director Chris Long stealthily conceals anti-capitalist environmentalism in a twisty thriller plot.
In doing so, he inadvertently, and unfortunately, makes a good case for a more forthright approach. By the time you reach the series’ end, the genre pleasures and the politics have gotten so tangled together and muddled that it’s hard to care either what happens to the characters, or what the series is trying to say.
Suspicion’s plot begins when the son of high-powered PR executive Katherine Newman (an underutilized Uma Thurman) is kidnapped in a New York hotel. Five British guests are identified (for somewhat obscure reasons) as potential suspects. The UK police investigate, and we slowly find out that the innocent accused are not quite so innocent after all. Meanwhile, the video of the kidnapping goes viral, and the kidnappers make the obscure demand that Katherine should “Tell the Truth!” Public opinion turns against her and against the culture of elite corruption and impunity she represents.
The early episodes are engaging if not revelatory. Georgina Campbell as Natalie Thompson—a mid-level finance worker who is arrested literally at the altar—brings a great deal of pathos to the role as her life slowly, then not so slowly, disintegrates around her. Kunal Nayer of The Big Bang Theory is surprisingly strong as Aadesh Chopra, an endearingly geeky carpet salesman who dreams of something better. The stoic steely assassin Sean Tilson is a character we’ve seen before. More inventive writers could have done a lot more with him, but Elyes Gabel handles the role in workmanlike fashion, and looks suitably impressive in the shirtless scenes. The mysteries—who are the kidnappers? are these sympathetic characters involved? what happens next?—draw you in as intended.
There are weaknesses even early on though. You have to suspend disbelief and accept that the cops—UK investigator Angel Coulby (Vanessa Okoye) and FBI liaison Scott Anderson (Noah Emmerich)—can access complete uninterrupted video surveillance of tagged individuals in the London area, but sometimes inexplicably choose not to use it. Also, some terrorist group has figured out how to hack virtually all communications systems with impunity and decides to use that to harass one PR executive? A high-tech thriller that purports to be saying something about the dangers and/or radical potential of digital culture and communication should at least vaguely get the tech right. Suspicion doesn’t even really try.
Improbabilities pile up as the narrative stumbles along and eventually collapses on itself. In order to continue to pull plot rabbits out of plot hats, characters have to act in inconsistent ways. The final major reveal comes out of nowhere and a central character’s motivation vanishes in a murky haze of gunfire and incoherent speechifying. Are we supposed to come away with an appreciation for the political virtues of truth-telling? Are we supposed to think that advocates of climate change mitigation should just lie better and more extensively than their opponents? Or what?
Better writing would no doubt have helped here. But Suspicion also has some basic conceptual problems. Our current political problems aren’t really about hidden corruption and deeply buried lies. They’re about open corruption and lies that are easily refuted but aren’t because a lot of people have a strong emotional partisan investment in the politics of authoritarianism, cruelty, and denial.
Trump literally asked Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election on national television. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene said increased forest fires weren’t caused by climate change but by Jewish space lasers. They still retained the support of their partisans and continued to be in positions to advance their agendas and block climate change legislation.
Don’t Look Up understands that people in power don’t need to be sneaky and clever to destroy the world. Stubbornness and cruelty will do. That’s not a story with a lot of twists. Nor is it a story that makes you feel like you’re uncovering hidden, exciting secrets. That may be why some critics found it too hectoring and obvious.
But we’re kind of in a hectored and too obvious reality right now. Suspicion, in contrast, insists that the truth is complicated and interesting. But it’s hard to be interested when all that complexity dead-ends into nonsense that has little to do with truth.
Suspicion is streaming now on Apple TV+.
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This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Image Credit: Apple TV+
Noah Berlatsky is a freelance writer based in Chicago. His book, Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics was published by Rutgers University Press. He thinks the Adam West Batman is the best Batman, darn it.