Things to Watch: Our Flag Means Death, Sicario, and The Investigation

A pirate sits writing in a large book with a quill pen in Our Flag Means Death

Welcome back! Each week we gather to recommend things to you that we’ve been enjoying lately. They might not always be new (though sometimes they will be), but they will always be things that we think are worth your time. This week, Christopher checks out Sicario, Lor has been enjoying Our Flag Means Death, and Paul finds food for thought in The Investigation (Efterforskningen).

Film Recommendation: Sicario

Christopher Pilbeam: I’ve been crossing movies off my “should have seen this already” list, and this week my love of Emily Blunt led me towards Sicario. I knew already that this 2015 thriller is highly acclaimed, but still it exceeded my expectations. Sicario had me gripped from beginning to end. It is brilliant on a technical level, and a masterclass in story structure—I would recommend it on these grounds to others interested in screenwriting as a craft. It’s also a visceral viewing experience.

At times it is bloody and brutal, but even at the quietest moments, it creates such a feeling of foreboding that a scene of a boy bringing breakfast to his father filled me with dread. There are plenty of plot twists and cool action sequences to go with the intelligently crafted conflict. If you’re as late to the party as me on Sicario I really encourage you to give it a watch.

TV Recommendation: Our Flag Means Death

Lor Gislason: Like most people, I grew interested in Our Flag Means Death through word of mouth—I don’t remember any marketing for the show, just a cast announcement. I was delighted to be “back in my element”, as I grew up obsessed with pirates (remember the ninjas v. pirates debate?).

Stede Bonnet, played by Rhys Darby, was a real person who gave up his life of luxury to become a pirate and the show is a fictional portrayal of the events that followed. It’s frankly adorable, a perfect light-hearted show to help you wind down at the end of the day. And unlike most shows these days, it’s a half-hour long instead of nearing the hour mark. Lately I’ve been finding it difficult to binge shows, preferring the “one and done” format of movies. With Our Flag Means Death, though, it was much more manageable. The first season (a second hasn’t been confirmed, but it feels almost certain to happen) has a total of 10 episodes and includes a stellar cast, a handful of fun cameos, and Taika Waititi as the infamous Blackbeard!

It’s also incredibly gay, and I mean that in the best way possible. Too often queer folks have to deal with the bare minimum of representation in film and TV, or awkward stereotypes. Our Flag Means Death wears its sexuality on its sleeve. Many of the main characters are LGBT and express themselves freely. Several romances develop that are very sweet. (I won’t spoil!) The writing when it comes to this feels natural, so much so I was actually surprised to find out the creator, David Jenkins, is straight. The pirate crew itself is a found family, loving and supportive even in the ridiculous comedic scenarios they get into. It’s TV comfort food, and I am eating well.

Docuseries Recommendation: The Investigation (Efterforskningen)

Paul Keelan: The Investigation (Efterforskningen) is all about the slow, bureaucratic processes of solving a challenging and bizarre case. Some might consider it procedural porn, but there is nothing graphic or sensationalistic about this sobering murder mystery. With restraint and poise, the six episode docuseries follows the stoic and somewhat taciturn Head of the Copenhagen Police’s Homicide unit, Jens Møller, as he investigates a grim decapitation that occurred on an eccentric homemade submarine.

Many existential subtexts and questions linger just outside the framework of this series. Are the financial and emotional strains of a drawn out investigation—requiring months of deep-sea diving and expensive equipment to recover evidence—worth it? Why do we expend more energy and resources toward avenging the dead than we give to the living in need? What compels the head of homicide to be more preoccupied with a murder victim than his own pregnant daughter—duty, ego, pride?

As Jens and his team scour endless documents, forensics, and the bottom of the Baltic Sea, I began to think about their endeavor in somewhat pathological terms. Unfortunately, the docuseries does not question any of the material philosophically. It assumes that the detectives are performing a noble civic duty and portrays them in hagiographic light—with the same religious fervor Fincher and Mann ascribe to their protagonists. The ethic and ideology presented is simple—there is something inherently dignified about men and women diligently working to uncover the truth. The costs of this effort are irrelevant, non-negotiable.

Instead of grabbing our attention with gross and repugnant details, The Investigation takes a stolid and understated look at the methodical and intellectual strategies that homicide units adhere to when solving a near perfect crime. From figuring out how the police dogs could smell and geolocate a corpse rotting at the bottom of the Baltic Sea via the scent of decaying oils and fats to cross-examining postmortem findings to highlight incongruities in the accused’s testimony, the series makes a spectacle out of the assiduous and painstaking effort our civic institutions will deploy to piece together the past.

Why we are so fixated on justice is not the focus here. Our obsessive and unwavering commitment to parse over minutia to prosecute a killer is solely what the series cares about. And from this prioritization, an ulterior motive of The Investigation is revealed—programs like this are also created as a stark reminder that we will do everything in our power to ensure no one ever gets away with murder. They are, essentially, a salve for those whose fear psychopaths—and a warning for those with psychopathic tendencies. They invoke deference and reassurance on the premise that no one outsmarts the police.

Directed and written by Tobias Lindholm (he also wrote/directed A Hijacking, The Hunt (2012), and co-wrote Another Round), The Investigation (Efterforskningen) is currently streaming on HBO Max.

Written by TV Obsessive

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