In the opening scene of this four-part psychological thriller, Jenna Coleman’s protagonist Joanna is getting ready to face the media hordes camped outside her house. We have no idea why she’s the object of so much attention, and even more intriguingly, why her journey from the front door to a waiting car is intercut with flashbacks to other similar entrances into the lion’s den.
The reasons for Joanna’s infamy remain vague throughout the first episode which works as an masterclass in jigsaw-puzzle storytelling. At a time in TV drama when gratuitously jittery timeline-hopping is all the rage, from Westworld’s myriad time periods, to the flashbacks within flashbacks in Sharp Objects, this British series attempts an even more splintered narrative.
This constant, nervy flitting back and forth from past to present is a highly effective way of reflecting the protagonist’s fractured psyche, while also having a powerfully discombobulating effect on the viewer. You need to concentrate, because the chronology of events is kept deliberately elusive. We see Joanna and her husband (Ewen Leslie) travelling with their baby on a painfully tense flight to Australia. We get glimpses of his Australian ex-wife, and awkward exchanges about custody of their daughter. Mostly, we’re captivated by Coleman, showing us Joanna’s intense emotional pain with the most subtle of reaction shots, while everything Leslie does rings entirely true as well. It’s a delicate, fascinating mosaic.