CHECK : The Lights – Season 1, Episode 1, Fingerprint
This Valentine’s Day, Starz began airing last year’s BBC miniseries The Luminaries. Luminaries is based on the novel of the same name by Eleanor Catton and is set in New Zealand during the gold rush of 1860. The series is directed by Claire McCarthy and stars Eve Hewson, Eva Green and Himesh Patel. I was drawn to The Luminaries because of Eva Green’s involvement, as she is one of my favorite actresses and I don’t see her very often. I’ve never seen Eve Hewson in anything, but I recognized Himesh Patel in Yesterday 2019. I haven’t read Eleanor Catton’s novel yet and I don’t know much about the New Zealand gold rush era, so I’m going in with low expectations.
The Fingerprints pilot introduces us to Anna (Eve Hewson) and Emery (Jaimes Patel) as they meet on a ship bound for New Zealand. Aside from the usual pleasantries, Emery tells Anna it’s her birthday and they agree to have a drink when they’re settled. Things do not go smoothly for Anna, because a boy immediately steals her handbag. She tries to follow him, but it’s ma’am. Lydia Wells (Eva Green), who retrieves the bag and returns it to him. She tells Anna that there are over a dozen women in New Zealand and they need to stick together. Anna went to the wrong bar thanks to Lydia’s intervention, so she and Emery miss each other. She notices that her wallet is missing from her purse. Emery wants to go looking for Anna, but a local man, Francis Carver (Marton Csokas), tries to persuade him to make a sponsorship deal with him. But their discussion is interrupted by a fight and Emery walks away. Anna is looking for Lydia Wells, the only friend she has made in New Zealand. Lydia offers Anna room, board and payment for services in her living room. Flashbacks in the press at various times reveal that nine months later Anna is an opium-addicted prostitute and is in prison on suspicion of murder. Her dress is mysteriously filled with gold, some of which she uses as collateral. A brief flashback reveals that the dead man is Lydia’s husband, Crosby Wells.
The Luminaries is a rare case where I don’t know where to start, and I suspect it has something to do with the structure of the series. It reminds me of the first episodes of The Witcher, where the story keeps going back and forth between different eras without warning. In the end, I liked The Witcher, mostly because of the characters and the world building, but I think some people just didn’t get through the first few episodes. Until the end, we didn’t really know what was going on or what the show was trying to convey. Of course, only one episode of The Luminaries was released (at least in the US), so I don’t know if this trend will continue for all six episodes, but I hope not. One example where this technique was used well was the first season of Westworld. Of course it’s been downhill since then, but I’ll always remember the excitement as the pieces fell into place over the course of the season. The reveal of the Man in Black’s identity was really shocking to me, even though I know some fans were expecting it. I think it’s because this show has made the effort to engage the audience with the characters and their situation first, and leave the background where it belongs. Showing where your character starts and ends to create a strong contrast isn’t a bad idea, but I want to know who the character is and why I should care about him or her. This episode is just under an hour long, and I don’t think I know much more about Anne Wetherell or Emery Staines than I did before I saw it. Lydia is certainly intriguing, but I trust Eva Green’s performance more than the script or direction.
The rest of the cast is also very good, although it’s hard to judge their abilities when they get so little. Eve Hewson’s performance as Anna is very real. She gives her lines very simply, and when she realizes her money is gone, she doesn’t seem as upset as you might think. Even when she agrees to become Lydia Wells’ prostitute, it seems so simple. She negotiates as easily as if she were ordering breakfast. If she arrived in New Zealand with her eyes wide open and all those dreams, what would it do to be tormented by food and bed? We don’t know. Not only does she not fret about it, she doesn’t even look worried. I’m not saying she should be angry, but if she wants to take the case and she’s okay with it, they can get to the bottom of it, but they won’t. What’s also curious is that she put her wallet in Ms. Wells’ house and agrees to work for them anyway. Now she has the money, and more importantly, she knows she can’t trust Lydia and probably shouldn’t be living with her. I don’t understand this heroine, and the authors don’t do much to make us care about her or sympathize with her choices. Emery looks even more like a blank slate. He goes to a birthday party with Anna and is clearly in love with her. That’s all we got. Other than Lydia and what I think is a breeding pair, most of the others aren’t doing much either. There is a general atmosphere of resentment in the town, especially against Lydia as a single woman. But they don’t do much, and she already knows that Lydia can’t be trusted, but she agrees anyway. I really don’t know what they’re trying to say here. It’s also odd that they’re investigating racism against indigenous Maoris and Chinese immigrants, while Emery doesn’t have that problem. I’m not saying I want the show to be about racism, but it’s just weird and confusing.
I’m not sure what the Luminaries are trying to accomplish. There are some great scenes on display, and Eva Green is there, so that’s an automatic point in my book. But the other actors don’t get much attention, even in scenes that could have easily been moving. Mixed timelines and bland characterizations are not for me, and with only six episodes this season, they need to pick up the pace quickly. The gimmick of the moment is already done, and it can’t carry the whole show.
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