DVD Review– The Passenger
This six-episode French-language miniseries is purportedly about the hunt for a serial killer, but the really compelling drama comes in the search for the truth about its protagonist. As the story opens, the police come upon a particularly grisly murder: a man is found dead with a bull’s head stuck over his own head, transforming him into a Minotaur. As the authorities investigate, they learn that this is just one in a series of murders inspired by Greek mythological beings, including Icarus, Orpheus, Oedipus, Uranus, and Prometheus.
In my review of True Detective Season 2, I noted that all of the central characters were basic archetypes that had been utilized innumerable times before on crime shows; I described Rachel Adams’s character, Detective Ani Bezzirides, as “the tough-as-nails female law enforcement officer with a disastrous personal life.” In The Passenger, Anaïs Châtelet (Raphaëlle Agogué) is an intelligent yet damaged police officer in much the same mold, ranging from emotional troubles such as relationship difficulties and daddy issues to the physical appearance of tousled short hair and a trademark leather jacket. It would be a gross oversimplification to say that the character is a stereotype—Agogué gives a genuine and intense performance that makes the character her own—but there is a sense that we’ve seen this characterization before many times.
What makes the series compulsively watchable—and what elevates the show to something rather remarkable—is the absolutely brilliant performance by Jean-Hugues Anglade as Mathias Freire. As the story opens, Freire is a caring mental health professional, but as the mystery unravels, we quickly learn that there are dark and disturbing secrets in his past of which even he is completely unaware. Freire’s character changes, develops, and goes in unexpected directions as surprising aspects of his damaged psyche are revealed. In every scene, Anglade is completely convincing and sympathetic while still being unsettling. Is Freire a good guy or a villain? Even he doesn’t know, and watching Anglade navigate Freire’s discovery of who he really is becomes a tour de force performance.
Ultimately, the true villain’s character is underdeveloped and almost a footnote to the storyline. The effort the serial killer puts into the elaborate crime scenes hardly seems justified, and the climactic confrontation scene is nothing mystery fans haven’t seen before. Is the brainwashing and restructuring that proves to be crucial to the plot really possible? Probably not, but go along with it. Also, watch through the end of each closing credit scene; each ends with an unsettling brief animation that reflects the mythological theme of the episode. Viewers may start the miniseries wondering who committed these Greek-myth-themed homicides, but they’ll finish by being entranced by Anglade’s rich and interesting creation.