Just to confirm here at the start: This post will contain no spoilers beyond what is already known from the TS trailer; I am only describing my reactions to the show, including my rating. There will be no plot twists or conclusions revealed!
When Netflix released The Stranger yesterday morning – after a slight panic because at 9am I could not find it in my app yet – I was planning to watch the first episode, two at most. Because I have a regular life that includes household chores and freelance work. Let me just say this: That didn’t happen! In fact, I more or less binged the whole show in one go, except for three breaks in between with a trip to the post office
with quick stock-up of a Pepsi Max and a bag of low cal crisps, a coffee date who can refuse such when the newly grown-up daughter suggests to meet her mother in a uni-break?, and a translation job in the afternoon. That already tells you a lot about the tempo and the quality of The Stranger. I am not a huge binge-watcher. I like to draw out the enjoyment of seeing Richard Armitage on screen by timing a series. Two shows a night – that’s four days instead of just one day of being surprised and delighted by my favourite actor on screen. But it didn’t work out that way. I crammed it all into one sitting – because The Stranger is un-switch-offable TV!
After a short introduction the show started pretty much with the bang that we all know from the trailer. And then it went full-on in building the mystery that keeps you glued to the screen. The action was fast-paced from the get-go, once all characters were established, and Adam’s storyline holds your attention throughout. His family’s story is what moulds the action together, with secondary plotlines keeping you in the dark. Every episode ends with a lethal cliffhanger that makes it impossible to resist jumping into the next episode right away. And so much so that I even skipped over the intro that features the brilliant title music by Irish four-pice Walking on cars. It has become an earworm that has been ringing in my ears since last night.
Video makers of the fandom: Here is your chance to make a fabulous fan video of Adam Price’s journey through the plot!
The pace of The Stranger is relentless. Yes, there were a couple of moments where the clues were so obvious that I anticipated the later reveals. But those moments are more than balanced by a general suspense that keeps building until half-way through the last episode. In fact, there are many moments of breath-taking surprise, so much so that I audibly gasped (much to the concern of my SO who was watching telly in the same room where I was hunching over my laptop with my headphones in) and spent many minutes of the show with my hands thrown up in horror.
I have read in some reviews that there were too many red herrings in the plot. To that I can only say – what is a thriller supposed to do if not continually throw you off the scent and introduce new puzzles that will keep you in suspense? The point of the show is to take you on the journey of uncovering the truth. If the mystery were as plain as a pikestaff, well, it wouldn’t make for TV drama, would it? Compared to other shows – let’s say BS (although a different genre) – there were no parts of the show where I felt bored. Granted, some of the secondary plotlines may not interest you. As one of the people who came to the show because I wanted to “see my favourite actor do something” (sorry, I just can’t let go of that), Adam’s story was what I wanted to focus on. But the other plotlines are interwoven with his journey, and the central theme of Adam’s quest is never far away and keeps you hooked all through the show. The climax took my breath away, both for the unexpectedness of it all, and for Richard Armitage’s acting.
Thank cod for my brain the size of a pea – I had forgotten the spoiler that some nasty tweep had thrown at me way back last year while TS was still in the making.
Speaking of acting: The whole cast is brilliant in their respective roles. I loved Siobhan Finneran’s wry DS and her banter with her younger colleague. Stephen Rea was great as an obstinate old codger (loved that he was given the slight Northern Irish inflections when speaking), and Dervla Kirwan had great chemistry with RA. There was also obvious chemistry between RA and Shaun Dooley as two mates, particularly in an early car scene that had me laugh out loud. The younger actors were fabulous, particularly Jacob Dudman, but also Brandon Fellows as his friend. I wished Hannah John Kamen had had more than just that one facial expression of obscure deviousness, but then again that was dictated by the plot. And Anthony Head was thoroughly dislikeable as Price senior. And I mean that in a good way! Lastly, a shout-out to the casting agents and producers for the show: I really appreciated the diversity in the characters/cast. It looked natural and reflects modern society as it should be reflected.
As for Richard: I don’t think I will be spoiling the show if I say that he played the desperate family man convincingly and with great nuance. Besides the action there are many unrushed scenes where you can watch the surprise, lack of understanding, and terror flitting across his face. It’s sometimes in the mere flick of his lashes, and he has a way of acting with his eyes/gaze, that tells you more about his interior monologue than the words that are spoken. He inhabits Adam, and there was not a moment where I thought “that is Richard Armitage *playing* a character”.
In conclusion: A binge-worthy thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat, not just for the drama, but also for your involvement with the central characters. Many moments of utter surprise and cliff-hanging, unexpected twists and turns. Solidly acted throughout, convincingly set in scene. I’m sorry if I sound overly enthusiastic, but The Stranger has everything that I hoped for in BS and didn’t get. I can’t wait to watch this show a second time, and I look forward to discussing it more in depth with you once we are save from spoiling. Five stars from me.
NOTE: Do approach the comments below with caution. There are vague spoilers beginning to come out in the discussion!