3 out of 5
Created by: Harry and Jack Williams
According to most of these small town / off the beaten path mysteries BBC put out in the 2010 era, if I haven’t accidentally killed someone, or been tangentially involved with some kind of hidden, sexual deviance, or if I am not harboring some age-old secret that I’ve only been covering up with other secrets… well, I ain’t living rightly.
Harry and Jack Williams scored huge with me with The Missing, but since then, I’ve come to associate their names and production company with the tragiporn-type serials that have popped up in the Broadchurch wake, and unfortunately, much of that output is lesser-than, helpfully propped up when main actors – such as in Broadchurch and The Missing – can carry the miseries plopped upon the plotting while still looking and acting human. (Otherwise, the default mood for these characters is ‘always depressed and suffering.’) ‘Retribution’ – more interesting in its Netflix retitling than its UK ‘One of Us’ title – is no Missing, and it’s frankly one of those lesser-thans, but its comparatively brief runtime of four episodes helps to keep much of the usual excess off, and times it such that just when you’re wanting to say “okay, enough, just tell me who the killer is…” it’s actually time for the concluding episode.
What’s somewhat unfortunate up front is that I think there was potential for something that dug a little deeper, here, if the show had chosen to play its cards straight instead of going the twisty-turny whodunnit angle: two families live on neighboring farms have just found out that their son and daughter – one to each family, recently married – have been murdered. And who’s this that’s crashed his truck on their property on a stormy night, and is now unconscious and bleeding? Why, it’s the murderer. Distraught fathers and drunken mothers and lovesick sons and Christ-worshipping daughters and a dutiful farmhand rush about all harried, agreeing to keep the man locked up in the barn while they wait for an ambulance, or for the police, or…
…And this is where I became intrigued: is ‘retribution’ going to be about these families keeping this killer chained and caged for four episodes, twisting the knife to see who turns on whom first?
…No, because they all turn their backs at an opportune moment, then come back to the barn and discover that someone has gone and killed the guy. Okay, whodunnit after all. Then because of the genre, there’s an extra wrinkle that suggests that someone sent this guy to their farms, so whydunnit also.
There’s a cop (Laura Fraser) who ends up investigating things who – again, because of the genre – also has a terminally sick daughter, and also sells drugs on the side. This is where things tip into excess. Which is unfortunate, since I like Laura Fraser, but her investigating is one of the show’s weakest, least intriguing aspects, and her personal problems are just tragi-sprinkles on the mix. There are some eye-rolling about-faces for different characters, and the usual lies-on-top-of-lies until we break.
But: that’s all pretty standard for these lesser-than variations, and Retribution manages to skate by as watchable simply because of its brevity. I’ll give the story credit for not going in the direction I expected (once the who/why mystery was laid out), and the Williamses are admittedly always pretty good at making sure everything has some kind of connection in the end, thematically or as a direct crime-solving detail, so I didn’t feel put off once we got round to the ‘splainings. Consider me entertained… for now.