Fool Me Once
Quay Street Productions, 2024
📷 : Used with permission, Netflix
Suspenseful and intense thrillers
Mysteries or whodunnits
I find a lot of similarities in British television series. For example, each episode tends to end on a crescendo so you’re anxious to come back for the next. The crescendo in Anatomy of a Scandal is in the form of sharp and sudden slow motion special effects that gives us the sense of being hit in the stomach and getting the wind knocked out of us. While weird and over the top, it is effective at sending us into an anticipatory state – impatiently awaiting the next episode. Fool Me Once is similar, but thankfully it executes without such dramatic special effects. I need no reminders of sci-fi. (Sorry folks. With the exception of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, I am just not feeling the genre. I do love some Yoda though!)
Michelle Kegan plays Maya Stern in this 8-episode series about a recently widowed 30-something year-old determined to find out who is behind the murders of her husband, Joe Burkett, and her sister, Claire Walker. Complicating this is a covert effort underfoot to challenge her sanity. Although Joe is shot dead in front of her during a stroll in the park, she sees him playing with her 2-year-old daughter, Lily, on the child’s nanny cam several weeks later. Maya, a former Air Force captain already haunted by events that occurred during her service, suspects her wealthy and powerful mother-in-law, Judith Burkett, who heads the family’s long-established pharmaceutical company in Britain. Feeling her daughter-in-law was never good enough for her son, Judith neither likes nor trusts Maya. Their mutual disdain constitutes the main source of tension in the series.
During her investigation, Maya must deal with the intrusions of the 50-something year-old Detective Sami Kierce, played by Adeel Akhtar (Utopia, Sweet Tooth). Detective Kierce’s idiosyncrasies bring “Lieutenant Columbo” to mind. Played by Peter Falk, Columbo is a smart, shrewd, yet quirky police detective in the popular 1970s series of the same name that ran for nine seasons. My parents loved this show because Columbo, in his iconic beige trench coat, always got his guy or girl because they dismissed him due to his unpolished appearance and quirky behaviors. Detective Kierce’s quirks and occasional clumsy appearance are like that of Columbo’s. He wears a trench coat in the beginning of the series, and at an upscale gathering, he is told, in a disrespectful manner, that his shoes are untied. Maya underestimates Kierce and often treats him like an annoyance, which, as we learned from the Columbo series more than 50 years ago, is never good practice.
Fool Me Once is missing elements we take for granted in a murder mystery/police story. People brought in for questioning are neither harassed nor tricked by the police (yeah, right). In fact, doing so is frowned upon. When Detective Kierce reluctantly partners with the younger and impressionable Detective Marty McGreggor (Dino Fetscher), he confronts McGreggor about a story he told during their “interview” of a suspect. He asks McGreggor about the veracity of his story, and McGreggor laughs and admits it was a lie to get the suspect to talk. “It’s good policing,” he adds proudly. Kierce responds with seriousness, “Lying is never good policing.” McGreggor’s smile slowly fades.
The exchange conveys the age divide in the detectives’ ideas of what constitutes good policing: Kierce’s sense of old-school ethics versus the young McGreggor’s belief in doing what is necessary to get information. The twenty or so years between them and their difference in perspectives convey the sense that adherence to traditional police behaviors in Britain is fading with each generation and will likely disintegrate altogether over the next 20 years if the generations before them do not put them in check.
In murder mystery/police stories, we usually observe a lot of shooting or other forms of violence, but other than Joe and Claire’s murders, we don’t see this across the eight episodes of Fool Me Once. One reason for this is the absence of guns in Britain, as British police officers carry police batons. I am reminded of this when McGreggor happily gives Kierce a hug because of a compliment he paid him for an action he took. Kierce, clearly not wanting to be hugged, quips, “This is the real reason we don’t carry firearms.” The funny moment is presented as if series creator, Harlan Coben, wants us to know this “guns-free” tradition in the UK, hoping we ponder for ourselves the reasoning behind the superabundance of firearms in the U.S., particularly amid the high incidents of gun violence.
Fool Me Once is an aesthetically pleasing production that takes us into Britain’s posh countryside and expansive estates to unravel a murder mystery. Having the threads pulled from an upper-class insider like Claire and an outsider like Detective Kierce gives a sense of balance to the show as she works from the top down and he from the bottom up. It helps us see how people across social classes are not as disconnected as they seem, that there is a strong web of interdependence among them. The degree to which wealthy families rely on their employees to commit wrongdoings for them is one example, and the impossible situations the workers find themselves in and so do what is asked is another. The degree to which people, out of greed, sell their souls for money and favors, or to remain in the good graces of their benefactors, are even more examples of these interdependent relationships.
So, unlike the crescendo in Anatomy of a Scandal, we are not shocked or flabbergasted when we get a hint that makes us question, what could this person over here possibly have to do with this matter over there? We are, however, frequently blindsided, which makes each episode so tough to just stop there.