Much of Netflix’s The Stranger is ridiculously immersive.
The television series — based on Harlan Coben’s book of the same name — apparently differs in some major ways from the source material.
But not having read the book myself, the adaptation is a terrifically winding road of deception and heartbreak.
So much occurs in the series, it’s ridiculous to try and keep it all straight.
But the skillfull tying together of all the twisty knots is an all-enveloping and charged experience.
The premise places a blackmailing stranger — played by Hannah John-Kamen (Killjoys, Game of Thrones, The Tunnel) — at the core of controversy, as she attempts to eradicate lies and expose secrets for money.
She has a pained passion for executing these exposures with her business partner, Ingrid Prisby, played by Lily Loveless (The Royals, The Great War: The People’s Story, Skins).
The domino effect of the first reveal on The Stranger Season 1 Episode 1 slowly builds into a catastrophic entanglement of many lives, loves, and heartaches.
Richard Armitage (Berlin Station, Hannibal, Strike Back) leads the cast in a series of excellent portrayals. Siobhan Finneran (Happy Valley, A Confession, Cold Feet) and Dervla Kirwan (White Dragon, The Silence) carry a great deal of the dramatic weight.
Finneran’s is an award-worthy performance.
But the happy surprise inclusions of Jennifer Saunders (Absolutely Fabulous, French and Saunders), Stephen Rea (The Crying Game,The Honourable Woman), and Anthony Head (Buffy the Vampre Slayer, The Split, Girlfriends) are superbly entertaining.
Saunders is just such a treasure to watch. And she shines with drama as equally as she does with comedy.
Rea plays a delectable character role that fully takes the audience for a loop. He’s just so likeable even though he’s eccentric and weird AF.
And maybe we shouldn’t want him to be so likeable after all. Of course, such dichotemy makes for some brilliant art.
Richard Armitage travels an admirable emotional journey throughout the eight episode run. His good looks are distracting, sure, but his authenticity draws us back in to his active inner psyche.
Some foreshadowing of what is to be expected is found in Episode 1 when Adam (Armitage) tells wife Corinne (Dervla) how he has stopped trusting her.
Corinne replies with, “It hurts, doesn’t it? We all have our secrets, Adam. Even you.”
The haunting quote resonates throughout the season as we watch more and more lives fall apart through exposed secret after exposed secret.
We know from that point there is more to what we are seeing at this stage of the drama. After that, we — the audience — can trust no one.
On The Stranger Season 1 Episode 5, The Stranger passionately exerts, “A secret revealed is a secret destroyed.” But by the end of the season, we know that not to be true. In fact, it seems the opposite is true.
Everyone on the show has secrets. And the question by the end is, would they have been better off without these secrets getting revealed?
The answer is a resounding yes.
Are we to take away that it’s best to keep our secrets to ourselves? Maybe not. But the production definitely points blame at the busybody who insists on interfering.
Another tumultuous performance arrives in the form of Paul Kaye (Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Wanderlust, Zapped) as Patrick Katz — hey, his real life initials match his character’s: that’s a rarity!
His is only one role of many here that must vascillate between the entities of need, protection, and remorse.
In a way, his story grips us backwards — he pisses us off straight away. But the depth of the writing eases us into the why and how of the sin.
Another key takeaway from The Stranger — the show, not the character — is that those phone tracking apps can be real lifesavers!
Yeah, I know, it’s creepy, too.
But I can’t help but wonder if this show would have much of a plot without that form of technology.
Secrets on this series vary from oddities like faked pregnancies to revenge porn to illnesses to embezzlement — to name a few.
There are so many cowlicks in this piece, it really is hard to keep them all sorted.
But a couple episodes really yank the heart. The Stranger Season 1 Episode 4 might be the most emotionally charged — not including the climax of the eighth. But it takes no prisoners in its grasp.
It touches on relationships, lost and rekindled.
Those emotional moments give us some “relief” from the crazy plots. They also bring on more distress.
Now, I mentioned that much of the season is so damned immersive. That’s because in the middle, there is a little lagging. Really though, it gives us a false sense that we have predicted the rest.
Just when we think the show is settling into averageness, it picks us up by the ears and basically says to us, “We’re not done with you, you medcorty-accepting couch potato! We’re going to bash you up some more!”
The teens roles are also notewortthy, and would detract from the overall success of The Stranger were they not.
So grab some popcorn or pizza — or some popcorn pizza — and binge this one.
Each episode is under an hour, so it’s doable in a couple nights. I don’t think you’ll regret it! But if you do — or don’t — alert us below in the comments and let us know!
The Stranger is streaming now on Netflix.