HBO Max, 2023
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Movies and TV shows with heavy subjects
Suspenseful and intense thrillers
A common view of our mistakes is that they are inevitable, that we should learn from them and apply the lessons to our lives going forward. On the other hand, some of us believe what goes around comes around. Like karma, past mistakes come back to haunt us, making us desperate to set things right. If we’re not careful though, such desperation can render us susceptible to guile. Full Circle places this scenario front and center, in a six-episode series about the pitfalls of desperation.
Savitri Mahabir loses yet another family member at the hands of a rival organization. She is convinced that her family’s string of deaths can be traced back to a decades-old curse due to her late husband’s activities in Guyana that resulted in a murder. Desperate to end it, she reaches out to the deceased’s family members, who arrive in New York and give her strict instructions for lifting it. “Miss Mahabir” is determined to follow them to their minutest detail.
Coincidentally, Louis arrives in New York from Guyana to join his sister, Natalia, and best friend, Xavier. Awaiting the excited twenty-something men are jobs with Natalia’s employer, Miss Mahabir, who, unbeknownst to the boys, heads a crime organization. Natalia, played by Adia (The Midnight Club), is a reluctant employee who serves as the boss’s massage therapist and personal assistant. We realize the depths of the organization’s unsavoriness when Miss Mahabir’s underling and the young men’s new boss, takes Louis and Xavier’s passports, promising to give them back after each has worked off $50,000.
Played by CCH Pounder (NCIS: New Orleans, Avatar: The Way of the Water), Miss Mahabir never meets with Louis and Xavier. This renders them invisible to her and facilitates their treatment as tools with a specific utility. Her instructions for them involve kidnapping Jared Browne, the teenage grandson of a wealthy family. They are to take Jared to the chalked circle in the park, where his family must bring the ransom money by exactly 1:11 AM or he will be killed.
Louis, Xavier, and Natalia’s predicament speaks to the lack of options available for today’s immigrants to become productive citizens and realize the dream they imagined from their arrival on U.S. soil. This disappointment and dismay are especially visible in Louis’s body language and facial expressions, as he goes from a happy and excited young man to displaying looks of concern, worry, and desperation to survive and get back home. But as with Miss Mahabir, this repeatedly leaves him gullible and vulnerable to deceit. How can immigrants’ circumstances in a land touted for its opportunity become so bad that they want to go full circle, even when the prospects for a better life are nonexistent back home?
With no history of criminal behavior, Louis and Xavier are confused about the kidnapping, the significance of the circle, and the unusual timeframe. Why this kid? And why 1:11, rather than 1:00 or 1:30? Nervous and reluctant to become involved in murder, Louis and his sister, Natalia, devise a plan of their own to save Jared’s life. But things go off the rails when the wrong child is kidnapped. When Jared suddenly arrives home safe and sound, his family must decide if they want to pay ransom for a child who is not theirs.
Full Circle brings to mind the 2006 feature-length film, Miami Vice, starring Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx as Detectives Crockett and Tubbs, respectively. This excellent movie, which captures the essence of its 1980s television series namesake, includes a scene where Crockett and his team recruit a known drug dealer as an informant. He is reluctant because of the danger it poses, but Crockett and his team threaten to send him back to jail if he doesn’t help them. Frustrated and flustered, he rhetorically asks, “Why is this happening to me?” Detective Trudy Joplin, a member of Crockett’s team played by Naomie Watts, responds, “Because you live a life of crime.” Such truths can be hard to swallow.
Shot using dark cinematography and a graininess similar to that of Miami Vice, Full Circle gives you the feel of being mired in a shady world where it is tough to see things clearly. This is fitting for a series that depicts truth as something hard to face and tough to swallow. Rather than believing that her family members are killed because they live lives of drugs and violent crime, Miss Mahabir prefers to believe a curse is the reason for their deaths. At the opposite end of the spectrum are Jared’s parents, Derek and Samantha “Sam” Browne, who insist on playing victim. They repeatedly assert that they know nothing about why Jared was kidnapped and what any of this has to do with Guyana.
Determined to gain clarity on the Guyana connection and uncover family secrets is Detective Harmony, played by Zazie Beetz (Atlanta, Joker). Smart, witty and deeply cynical, her character feels like a breath of fresh air in this dark and eerie tale. She nonchalantly and repeatedly breaks decorum, showing up unannounced and asking the Brownes pointed questions at the wrong time and place. Just as Miss Mahabir is desperate to save her family, so is Sam Browne, played by Claire Danes (Homeland, The Hours), who obfuscates at every turn. Her husband, Derek, played by Timothy Olyphant, does the same as he maintains a subdued but curious demeanor throughout the ordeal. Detective Harmony is convinced the Brownes are not forthcoming, and she is determined to get it out of them even under the threat of losing her job, “I know you’re hiding something. What are you hiding?”
We tend to assume wealthy people are innocent. A recent study designed to assess trust revealed that an individual’s economic status is related to their perceived trustworthiness. The authors concluded that “people are more likely to trust strangers with a high income, compared with individuals with a low income.” Another study found that conservative Supreme Court justices “rarely vote to reverse convictions of poor criminal defendants, [but show] a clear sympathy for rich ones.” So this latent bias has ramifications even for the notion of accountability. It allows people with wealth to garner our empathy when bad things happen in their lives. In Full Circle, this ingrained presumption of innocence makes it easy to see the Brownes as victims – until Detective Mel Harmon comes along and shatters this view.
This bias also leads us to think of immigrants of color as undignified not only because many lack means, but also because unflattering media images show them at their worst, after they have desperately crossed borders for a better and safer life. Conflating desperation, though, with lack of dignity leads to knee-jerk assertions that void people of their humanity rather than explain their experiences with exploitation and other challenges. While Louis, Natalia, and Xavier are desperate for economic opportunity, they still possess a deep moral sense of right and wrong that centers them and makes them unwilling to cross what they view as a thick line to get it.
Some of us believe that giving in to temptation inevitably comes back to haunt us, like karma or a curse. For others, the fact that the deed is so egregious is enough to reverse course. Full Circle is a cautionary tale, reminding us that if we are not careful, our desperation can lead to a loss of our moral center.