There is so much television programming these days that it’s literally becoming bad for your health. We’ve long sung similar sentiments here at Crossfader, but it’s almost turning into something akin to a bubble economy bound to burst. With streaming juggernauts like STRANGER THINGS and GAME OF THRONES dominating one end and LinkedIn’s potential push into original content on the other, it’s really the shows of B- and C-level prestige that lose out the most. You’re not likely to take a chance on something like PATRIOT, no matter how much you should, due to the astronomical advertising budgets of Netflix’s golden eggs and the overwhelming onslaught of new shows popping up every day on your dashboard. Unfortunately, along the same line, I fear that FEARLESS is doomed to a much more lackluster fate than it deserves: economical, assured, and straightforward, Amazon Video’s latest acquisition immediately grabs you, tells the story it wants to tell, and gets out with a hop, skip, and a jump, almost fully sticking the landing and staying exciting and accessible throughout. It’s just a shame that nobody’s paying attention.
Emma Banville (Helen McCrory) is one of the most controversial lawyers in the biz, taking cases nobody else would touch with a 10-foot pole and regularly harboring accused terrorists, serial killers, and the like in her home as she works to prove their innocence. Passionately despised by the police and warily regarded by the government, Banville’s name is a notorious one, and she once again makes the headlines by taking up the case of Kevin Russell (Sam Swainsbury). Accused of murdering the schoolgirl Linda Simms 14 years ago, Banville believes that there’s something fishy about Russell’s confession, and goes about getting to the bottom of the shady forces operating in the background. She’ll soon discover that the clues will take her to the higher echelons of the British and American governments; the only problem is that she’s also working the case of Miriam Attar (Karima McAdams), wife of a suspected Syrian terrorist. As Banville’s conflicting interests and cases intersect, she’ll be thrown into a twisted, deadly web, all involving what happened one cold winter night on an airbase outside of Suffolk.
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably a bit wary; the idea of attempting to intersect a murder mystery and a legal drama involving the Middle East is ambitious at best and misguided at worst. Believe it or not, FEARLESS is one of the few instances I’ve seen of a thriller of this nature actually managing to tie together its disparate parts into something that feels cohesive and based in reality’s logic. While the subplot with the Syrian terrorists rarely rises above standard, it’s certainly never bad, and it manages to feed into and off of the tensions and consequences of Banville’s deep-dive into Russell and Linda Simms. The more bridges she burns sniffing around the Blair-era military outpost where Linda’s body was found, the less likely she is to get cooperation in the hopes of clearing Miriam’s name. The more she fraternizes with Miriam and her suspicious extended family, the more likely the police are to entirely shut down her efforts to help Russell. Add in Banville’s desire to adopt a child with her partner Steve (John Bishop), the chances of which decrease every day she spends in the news cycle, and you’ve got a complex and layered character that has to carefully consider each and every consequence of her actions and how they’ll come back to haunt her later.
Speaking of characters, Banville is an exceptionally easy one to relate to and root for. While her desire to help those that are entirely out of options is commendable, FEARLESS never forgets that heroes can, and perhaps should, demonstrate signs of weakness. Banville missteps and misfires over the course of her investigation, once to deadly results, and it’s refreshing to see a super sleuth who sometimes can’t beat the odds, hurts those around her, and occasionally throws up her hands in despair. Wunmi Mosaku also turns in a stellar run as Olivia Greenwood, a Counter Terrorism Command officer responsible for rushing Russell into a confession of a crime he didn’t commit. Banville and Greenwood’s tense interactions and rivalry are constantly operating in the background of the show to push it forward; while starting off with all teeth bared, desperate times call for uneasy bedfellows, and the growing respect the women grow for each other over the course of the season a strong arc to witness.
One of the main villains, winning the award for quite possibly the most British-looking man ever
Unfortunately, the vast majority of the rest of the supporting cast rarely rises above functional. The biggest missed opportunity is in CIA operative Heather Myles (Robin Weigert). The shadowy figure responsible for covering up the true perpetrator of Russell’s crime, while menacing and tenacious, Heather never demonstrates any emotion other than rugged government bulldog. She’s a rotely effective villain, but there was much more of an opportunity present to have her be a flawed, and ultimately more human, antagonist. The jury’s still out on Kevin Russell. The show does a great job of establishing him as a spineless coward ready to take any and every plea deal thrown his way (the disingenuous nature of one such promise landing him in this predicament in the first place), but it does become somewhat grating that he never manages to learn a lesson or inspire even a spark of self-respect in himself. Nevertheless, he does make Banville’s job that much harder through his own impotence, which contributes to the overall effect of the tension.
It won’t win any awards and it’s unassuming enough to barely even qualify as “prestige,” but FEARLESS is a quick and easy watch that’ll grip you, ratchet up the pulpy excitement enough to keep you interested while not becoming self-parody, and leave with a jaunty wave. Telling the exact amount of story it needs to tell, the show also notably neglects to offer cheap titillation or thrills with violence or sex, the short bursts of both becoming all more the more impactful and emotional. While the overarching plot that ends up involving the Iraq War begins to teeter on the edge of overblown silliness, it always manages to reel itself back in right before it risks alienating the viewer. I know deep down that you’re not going to watch FEARLESS, which perhaps makes this review futile, but I had to try. It’s short, it’s sweet, it’s fun, it’s nice! But whatever, get back to your Netflix.