Iskander

3 out of 5

Created by: Aurélien Molas

The French ‘Iskander’ finds disgraced cop Chloé (Stéphane Caillard) shunted to a precinct in French Guiana, causing a bit of delayed culture shock when she tries to shove her white-ass cop ways upon the natives, and doesn’t get very far. Paired up with the stoic Dialo (Adama Niane), the two butt heads over how to track down a missing child, though grudging respect arises when it’s clear that they’re both very driven to solve the matter, albeit with different approaches.

This setup makes some of Iskander’s structural moves obvious: our cops will start to see eye to eye during the course of the case; Chloé will come to respect the Guianese culture. And that does happen. But Iskander is pretty blunt – in a good way – with its approach, not wasting much time on disproving disbelief when things start to take a voodoo bent, and giving Chloé a trial by fire, as she’s confronted with a rather ferocious mania at the core of the crime that, in the aftermath, puts her out of commission for a bit and sends Dialo packing. From thereon out, Iskander continues with this bared teeth approach, not giving us happy endings and easy-ways-out; things just get gloomier and grimier.

However, we only have four episodes to churn through this, and it’s a little bit too compressed to sell it all effectively. While that short runtime is likely what encourages the more brutal aspects of the way the story is told, it also uses a flash-forward between episodes 2 and 3 to sort of skip Chloé’s emotional turnaround and to better dive in to Dialo’s deeper emotional connections to the case. So the mystery never quite gets to seem mysterious enough; the creepy bits never quite get to seem creepy enough; and while Caillard and Niane give us excellent performances, it might as well be two different characters and shows between the first two episodes and last two episodes.

The excellent production sensibilities, and the three-dimensional side characters – which don’t seem exploitative of a “different” culture, but rather willing to show off its nuances – help immensely to ground Iskander; its French Guiana feels very real, and just exploring it ends up being interesting. The show’s procedural and supernatural-tinged bits could’ve likely used another episode or two for fleshing out, but the short runtime does allow for an easy binge watch, and to be accepting of its imperfections.