Review: Amazon’s ‘Absentia’ puts Stana Katic back in action
With moody, imported drama series like “The Returned,” “Glitch” and “Dark,” there’s a burgeoning television industry based on characters coming back from the dead, much to the confusion of the living.
That’s one the core issues at the heart of “Absentia,” a grim and considerably less contemplative show than those mentioned above. A kinetic crime-thriller led by Stana Katic of “Castle,” who also executive produces, the series debuts on Amazon this Friday after an initial run on Sony’s international networks overseas.
Katic plays Emily Byrne, an FBI agent who disappeared six years ago in pursuit of one of those violent yet intellectually ambitious serial killers — here portrayed by Richard Brake of “Game of Thrones,” just as chilling out of his undead Night King drag — that plague so many shadowy, blue-hued shows with an international pedigree. (Oded Ruskin, of the hit Israeli series “False Flag,” directs all 10 episodes here, and the series was produced by a Tel Aviv-based production company that also worked on “Homeland.”)
The series opens with a torture-porn-adjacent flourish, with a barely dressed Emily trapped at a remote location, inside an oversized aquarium slowly filling with water that appears to cruelly conclude her story.
Her husband, Nick Durand (Patrick Heusinger), a fellow FBI agent, remarries and continues raising the young son he and Byrne had together (Patrick McAuley) while the serial killer is apprehended and life goes on.
Except that somewhere outside the show’s mostly theoretical version of Boston (you’re more likely to experience local New England color in Santa Monica than on “Absentia”), a body washes up bearing the captured killer’s grisly signature. Not long after, Nick gets a phone call, ostensibly from Emily’s captor, letting him know of her still-trapped whereabouts, from which she is rescued and, for all intents and purposes, back from the grave.
There’s a lot of drama there about how a family and couple navigates a return to a former life, but “Absentia” isn’t the sort of show that will spend much time on it, not when there’s a serial killer still on the loose. With Emily’s return, her presumptive murderer is freed, and apart from the dog, her family and colleagues seem weirdly reserved about her return, which isn’t helped by her inability to remember anything about her years in captivity beyond effectively unsettling flashes. Her PTSD leaves her erratic and prone to violence as she helps her husband find her captor, and soon — because law enforcement abhors a memory vacuum — evidence mounts that Emily herself may be behind some recent killings.
The show is stingy with details of what her life with Nick was like before she disappeared, leaving their strained relationship a bit of a mystery. “Why do you trust me?” Emily asks him as suspicions against her begin to mount, as if their relationship might not include some built in benefit-of-the-doubt. Nick, for his part, mostly processes through feelings of guilt in not finding her sooner. Such are the romantic challenges of the committed federal agent in “Absentia’s” world.
Still, her former partner (a gravel-voiced Ralph Ineson, also of “Game of Thrones”) and a rumpled Boston police detective (“False Flag’s” Angel Bonanni) are quick to mark Emily as the prime suspect, but in a skillfully haunted, physical performance by Katic (a People’s Choice Award-winner in her eight seasons on ABC’s “Castle”), you root for her, primarily because she is the most human presence in the first four episodes Amazon made available for review.
“Absentia” is the sort of show that needs to stick the landing as its improbable mystery unravels, and whether it will find a convincing answer for how and why Emily was kept alive for six years will be in the eye of the beholder. Though Katic does her best, there are better shows involving an obsessed, morally compromised cop looking for answers. But if you need an atmospheric and propulsive binge-watch and don’t linger on the details, “Absentia” will be there for you.
See the most-read stories in Entertainment this hour »
Where: Amazon Prime
When: Any time, starting Friday
Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)
Follow me over here @chrisbarton.
Overrated/Underrated: “Boss Baby’s” acclaim, and Acetone earns a well-deserved retrospective
Review: Black Mirror’ returns with more grim looks at the future
Sarah Silverman on leaving her bubble for ‘I Love You, America’
It's a date
Get our L.A. Goes Out newsletter, with the week's best events, to help you explore and experience our city.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.