3 out of 5
Created by: Antarès Bassis, Sophie Hiet
covers season 1
Unique in its variations on a theme, Trepalium unfortunately doesn’t dive deep enough into its near-future imaginings, nor does it offer up fleshed out characters with whom to take the journey.
Somewhere within the show, there’s undoubtedly commentary on our current political state, though I’m not smart enough to know how that translates to Frenchland politics; the premise has our Mad Max notes – a water shortage – and the every-single-dystopic-piece-of-media-ever concept of a sharp divide between classes, here defined by the employed (‘Actives’) and unemployed literally separated from each other by a giant wall, but there’s one key difference from the oodles of similar setups that kept Trepalium intriguing: life inside the wall ain’t so great either. And not in some “well, it’s okay for the rich” kinda way, although that does happen for those at the tops of the various pinnacles of employing industries, but even at that level it’s clear that there’s always a scramble: always having to show you’re on top of things; always producing; always working. The “zoners” (outside the wall) are homeless and nigh-waterless, while the Actives get food and shelter, but break times from demanding work regiments are 17 minutes long, children’s toys get burned after a certain point, and you have to prove your worth at your job by trampling over friends. It sounds absurd, but it’s not presented in such an absurd context, making it just a hop and skip from what many go through day-to-day in paycheck existences. And lording over these tribulations, the governors and mayors are in a constant dance of saving face and checking their back for knives. Things are shit all over.
The other thing that I found more believable – I have a low tolerance for dystopias because it’s hard to logic out exactly how things got to where they are, and when you start to backtrack most of these things, they start to fall apart – is that the world of Trepalium isn’t necessarily reimagined as being the whole planet; this is the existence of, perhaps, solely this cityscape, and it’s the political need (to gather money from other… places) to “prove” that the setup works by offering a work-for-hire type program for zoners that kicks off our plotty events… Furthermore, things have occurred on a scaled timeline of 30 years. Within, for example, my lifetime, if I lived in this world, I would have seen the classes stricken and the wall built. Something about putting it within that context makes it more frightening, instead of the vague and ominous “I guess the world was always like this” dystopias.
Anyhow, inevitably, revolution brews, and several Actives are seemingly assisting Zoners with some up-and-coming plans. One such Active is unfortunately taken for a ride by a fellow Active, seduced into a role in order to take advantage of her connections. When she disappears due to her involvement, her husband, in need of maintaining a stable familiy for his job promotion, convinces his work-for-hire Zoner – who very closely resembles his wife – to play her part. This is actually a pretty smart wrinkle, giving us various points of views on the various levels of society, and Trepalium’s dancing around its various characters and exploring its vision of its world absolutely worked to hold my interest.
The rest of it… not so much. Beyond functioning as reasons for the plot to move forward, the characters aren’t all the involving, and the show makes a rather annoying over-step by involving two characters in a way I just couldn’t buy. The revolution rumblings are also something of a non-starter, never really gelling into an understandable “cause,” but the final two episodes of events have some worthy additions, as well as – sticking with the show’s rather more grounded take on this topic – a logical aftermath to events. (Okay, there’s a final, final shot that’s likely bait for a second season that was pointless, but prior to that…)
I watched this on Shudder, which is weird, because it’s decidedly not horror, but my confusion on that didn’t effect my rating. It’s pretty clear from episode one what the tone is going to be, and I didn’t hesitate to watch the six episode season straight through.