#FIRSTLOOK: “THE ESSEX SERPENT”
By David Baldwin
Cora Seaborne (Emmy-winner Claire Danes) is a widower in London circa 1893 who has never been able to make her own decisions, never mind pursue any of her own interests. When she hears of a possible mythical serpent terrorizing a small town in Essex, she moves into a cottage nearby and begins investigating. The more she learns however, the more things become stranger.
THE ESSEX SERPENT, based on the novel by Sarah Perry, is the type of series that opens rather mysteriously, before instantly becoming a grim slowburn that fills every frame it can with intense fog and pale, washed out colour schemes. Cora’s bright red hair and elegant fashion pieces – at least in comparison to the impoverished locals she tries to befriend – are some of the only real colours that pop throughout the first two episodes I viewed of the six-episode mini-series. That is of course, if you do not count the blood from the gruesomely evasive surgery scenes. Those scenes are excruciating in their attention to detail, as is the sumptuous period production design, lighting and costuming. The level of authenticity and tangibility is staggering, blowing away any form of competition in one fell swoop.
Where I worry with this series is with its multiple storylines. The aforementioned graphic surgery scenes have not been very relevant to the larger story just yet, nor has a storyline built around the Socialist beliefs of Cora’s servant Martha (Haley Squires). Both elements just kind of get in the way of Cora’s investigation and her grappling with the abuse she endured at the hands of her late husband. Her burgeoning friendship with the local Vicar Will Ransome (Tom Hiddleston, decidedly less comical than he was in last summer’s Loki series) is another one of the mysterious elements I wish the Series focused and explored more. My curiosity is genuinely peaked by what is quite likely going to come to fruition. That said, with only four episodes to go, I am not extremely confident all of these storylines and the three others I did not mention will come together as cohesively as they should. I will continue watching, but will try my best not to raise my expectations too high.
What I will keep my expectations raised for is the acting, which has been quite enjoyable so far. Danes is just as terrific as always (though she is substantially more reserved here than she was on Homeland), as is Hiddleston, who slips into the skin of that vicar a bit too smoothly. Squires puts in solid work, with Frank Dillane and Jamael Westman stealing scenes as the mysterious surgeons just waiting to factor into the larger story. The Ensemble is great, and help keep THE ESSEX SERPENT moving – even at its most glacial moments. Here is hoping our patience will be rewarded.
The first two episodes of THE ESSEX SERPENT begin streaming on AppleTV+
on Friday, May 13, 2022, with fresh new episodes arriving every Friday.