Netflix’s Collateral aims small – and wins big
Distributed last month on BBC Two and released on March 9th to Netflix subscribers, Collateral is a tightly constructed detective story written by David Hare (The Hours, Page Eight, The Reader). The show stars Carey Mulligan as Detective Inspector Kip Glaspie and features a slew of British drama luminaries in supporting roles, including Nicola Walker, Billie Piper, and my future girlfriend and wife and eventual ex-wife but somehow-still-mistress Saskia Reeves as a furious MP who steals scenes from behind an immense desk. The case centers on the shooting of a pizza deliveryman who emigrated to London with his sister, but the show spins out from this seemingly random act of violence to comment (often without much subtlety) on the state of England as it comes to grips with Brexit and the resurgence of nativism at home.
While Hare does inject a handful of pointed speeches into the mouths of Glaspie and an earnest Labour Party MP played by John Simm, the dialogue between Glaspie and her partner Detective Sergeant Nathan Bilk crackles with a lived-in quality that is hard to create even in much longer series. Collateral is a limited series, and at only four episodes in length, an easy binge watch that left me wanting to rewatch Hare’s 2011 drama Page Eight and dig through all of Mulligan’s filmography to find out when she learned how to pull this half-smile that makes Glaspie so instantly endearing and watchable.
Concerning said smile, the moment I knew I was hooked on the show came early in the first episode when Glaspie is awoken by a phone call summoning her to the scene of the deliveryman’s murder. She takes the case, gets dressed, and is picked up by another detective. En route to the scene, they enter a tunnel, and she smiles to herself. It’s the middle of the night, she’s just been pulled away from sleep and her husband to run the evidence gathering at a murder scene, and her smile communicates, more than the ensuing four hours of television, how her character relates to her work and the people in it. It’s one great choice in a series that has plenty to spare.
And honestly, a second reason I enjoyed this miniseries was the chance it afforded me to substitute England’s problems for America’s, even if only for a few hours. And yes, although many of the problems – homegrown and international terror, isolation exacerbated by technology and social media, distrust of institutions, resurgent nativism – echo across the Atlantic, the specificity of the differences between each nation’s brand of shitburger gave me a foreign (and thus, less painful) anxiety while watching Collateral. Glaspie’s problems, and England’s, feel so fundamentally distinct and separate from our own, that I can’t help but see them as somehow more solvable. Of course Kip will solve the case once she makes the right deals with the right witnesses and MI5 agents. Of course the Labour Party will protect immigrants once they pluck up the courage to stand up to the conservatives in power.
But IRL, away from David Hare’s pen, thousands of American students and the parents who love them will march on the capital today to protest for new and serious gun control legislation. And this week, hundreds protested in California after Sacramento police released bodycam footage of the preventable death of Stephon Clark at the hands of Sacramento police officers. He was unarmed.
I haven’t given up hope yet. I acknowledge our peculiar American addiction to guns, which is tied up in both the struggle for school safety and the struggle against police brutality. But I am optimistic enough to believe these two American dramas will end with greater dignity and justice for all, even if the intervening episodes and seasons and cliffhangers that play out between that ending and this moment remain saddening, frustrating, sometimes terrifying.