The brainchild of Harlan Coben, Netflix’s eight-part drama series features all of the expected tenets of thriller fiction.
Starring Michael C. Hall, Amanda Abbington, Marc Warren, Audrey Fleurot, Hannah Arterton, Nigel Lindsay, Laila Rouass, Emmett J. Scanlan, Amy James-Kelly, Amy-Leigh Hickman, Hero Fiennes-Tiffin, Louis Greatorex, and Lily Honeywell
Everybody, by this point, understands the mainstays of thriller fiction. There is, of course, the mystery, then the secrets, which create many possible suspects who committed the inciting incident. If you don’t, pick up a book. It’s been the formula since Agatha Christie. Super well established.
Harlan Coben isn’t quite as prolific a thriller writer as Ms Christie herself, but with a good 30 novels under his belt, he knows how to spin a suspenseful tale. While Coben does not write for the series itself (as, of course, writing for novels is entirely different to writing a coherent televisual narrative), Danny Brocklehurst creates a tense web of secrets and mysteries which gradually unravel throughout the eight parts, keeping audiences suitably hooked for the next instalment, even though they spend a good portion of that time rolling their eyes at the familiar tropes.
Safe begins in much the same way as most thrillers: by establishing its damaged characters. In particular, there’s paediatric surgeon Tom Delaney (Michael C. Hall), whose relationship with his eldest daughter Jenny (Amy James-Kelly) has become strained in the wake of her mother’s death. Tom himself is having a secret relationship with family friend Sophie (Amanda Abbington), who is also a police officer. The same night as Tom sneaking out, Jenny goes to a house party, where both she, and her boyfriend Chris (Freddie Thorp) go missing.
It seems that everybody has something to hide. Recently relocated Detective Constable Emma (Hannah Arterton) seems to have ulterior motives for moving out of the city, Tom’s best friend Pete (Marc Warren) is concealing the fact that he drove Jenny home from the party before she went missing, and there seems to be a larger mystery emerging from the distant past, as more seemingly unrelated people are drawn into the drama.
The plot is well-paced, with the first few episodes unfolding with just a few tantalising, confusing hints. Mysteries pile upon mysteries until the audience are left wondering just how on earth they all link together (generally, just like Netflix’s other Coben production The Stranger, if it feels like they don’t link together, they likely, in fact, do not). The investigations into Jenny’s movements and current whereabouts are heaped in tension, though the series likely could have afforded to have made the series a bit shorter to keep some parts from dragging. Additionally, the establishment of the terse relationship between Jenny and Tom doesn’t particularly make the audience root for Tom, especially as he makes increasingly erratic and infuriating decisions while refusing to involve the police, despite his girlfriend being the investigator assigned to the case.
Playing out on the side of Jenny’s disappearance are also a family working together to conceal a dead body, and a teacher accused of an affair with her pupil – because just one mysterious happening is too much for one community, which must suffer many life changing plot twists within the course of what can only be assumed to be a couple of days.
Hall portrays Tom’s distress ably, while Abbington is deeply compelling and likeable as seemingly the only character without a haunted past. At first, it is tricky to get a solid grip on each of the characters, so keen is the show to shroud everybody in the cloak of suspicion, but as the story unfolds, their true motivations become far clearer, and this ambiguity is played well on all fronts.
Ultimately, it’s a compelling ride, even though it does little to redefine the genre. As long as you look past the many enigmatic, world-weary gazes into the middle distance that suggest a character is sitting on a secret, and the increasingly convenient way that people stumble upon vital clues, the actual mystery is played out incredibly well and to a satisfying, nail-biting conclusion.
Safe is available to stream on Netflix.