Poor Start hurts the Intriguing The Innocents
by Kristin Battestella
The 2018 Netflix international production The Innocents opens the eight-episode science fiction drama with perilous chases, cliff side pleas, and doppelgangers in “The Start of Us.” Interrogations and so-called Sanctum Norway communes for women in need of a special treatment invoke fear. Positive therapies go awry thanks to nightmares, tests, and sedatives. Roadside suspense, scary strangers, injections, and would-be abductions lead to surprises in “Keep Calm, Come to No Harm.” Frantic body swaps and unknown medical conditions are no match for the titular mantras amid school troubles, police inquiries, and escalating experiments. The ladies must remember who they are to come back from each transformation as they wonder why they have pain. In the first three episodes of The Innocents, the suspicious Norway science takes a backseat to teen lipstick, love letters, and runaway dreams. Voiceovers lay on the lovey-dovey amid intercut scenes jumping from story to story and emotions change without explanation. Adults are treated as foolish while neon lights, body glitter, and backroom whips are downright ridiculous. It’s terribly frustrating to see more intriguing characters held back so the less interesting youths can bungle into the conclusions viewers already know.
Thankfully, the fourth episode “Deborah” finally gets to the sci-fi backstory with patients afraid of touching deemed paranoid schizophrenics. The shape-shifting trauma can be controlled, but morphs into a pregnant nurse are disturbing. The performances and confrontations show what The Innocents can do when focused on the meatiest material, and one might even skip the first three episodes and begin here. Love can keep you calm or memories of losing it can be your trigger in “Passionate Amateur.” Mixings of memories and mental questions about the shifting make for provocative complications, as “Not the Only Freak in Town” offers abuse and couples divided as three special women wax on who they loved and never told and the men they were supposed to love and didn’t. “Will You Take Me Too?” details the physiological reaction to emotional pressure and evolving shift experiences, but foolish arguments lead to water perils and boat mishaps. How do you save someone from drowning when you can’t touch them? Switches among too many people leave some comatose. Because you can get the answers you want doesn’t mean you should as players say one thing and do another for “Everything. Anything.” This therapy doesn’t hold up under scrutiny, and those who object are unwelcome amid gunshots and excellent intensity as previous commune residents return. The Innocents is superb when it sticks with this not-so-perfect hamlet and its fantastical women. Conflicts between strong women’s bonds and rival leeching men escalate toward excellent confrontations, extreme treatments, sacrifices, and betrayals.
Sorcha Groundsell’s sixteen-year-old June McDaniel takes too long to deduce what’s happening. Selfishness makes her unlikeable; she ignores the commune’s delicate balance and puts her mother at risk. Easily manipulated, bending to her environs without the shifting – going round and round on the sex and drug shifting metaphors with increasingly bad experiences. Percelle Ascott as Harry Polk gives up everything because he’s in love with June, sticking with her even if he objects to her excitement at swapping lives. We’re glad when he tells her to stop being a poser, think for herself, and decide what she wants. Nonetheless, one warning phone call about Sanctum and he’s in pursuit at the expense of himself. Doctor Guy Pearce says he’s with a patient at every step, but Ben Halvorson has a checklist and won’t let anything jeopardize his work. He kicks other men out of Sanctum when not repeatedly selling his motivational , what we do here is good speeches. The Innocents should have delved into his duplicity more. Ingunn Beate Oyen’s Runa loves Ben and their work and encourages the other women. But her own early dementia and drinking is getting worse. Runa’s proof the re-centering program works, but she’s totally dependent on Ben and the illness puts her shifting at risk. The best scenes in The Innocents are between Pearce and Oyen, and the entire adult ensemble deserved the show’s focus.
Fortunately, great scenery sets The Innocents apart. Mirrors, double glass overlays, and reverse camera angles while talking to one’s reflection creates visual duplicity while ironic classical music sets off the cruel experimentation. The Innocents starts slow yet busy with uneven storytelling. More interesting adult plots take a backseat to typical teen angst. Thankfully, the second half moves much faster, and the series is best when it drops the dippy teen experience for the suspicious science fiction afoot. The Innocents should have been four episodes or a taut movie. Provocative ideas about women’s roles and identities are trapped in an eye rolling juvenile structure that’s so damn easy to quit on at the forefront.