These days, any time a new murder mystery series devotes an entire season to a single small-town police investigation, it swiftly earns the label of Scandi-noir (or Nordic-noir or Euro-noir or, um, Earth-noir?). In the case of Witnesses (Les Témoins), it's French-noir. The crime series also received the nickname "the French Broadchurch" – perhaps because both shows are set by the seaside and a female/male duo investigate a crime.
However you label it, Witnesses certainly includes all the components we've come to expect from a series of this type, without feeling clichéd. Season two, which commences on SBS tonight and is already available to view at SBS On Demand, promises another complex crime to freak out over. But first, a refresher on season one...
A set up full of horrors
From its opening scene, Witnesses established itself as a show that refuses to shy away from the gruesome. Quickly introducing us to the ingenious "show house murders" in all their disturbed glory, it was clear this wasn’t going to be another sullen missing child murder mystery.
The show house murders (whether actual murder is involved is another story) worked as follows – three bodies, recently turned cold, were exhumed from three different cemeteries and brought into a show house, then arranged into a familial motif for the authorities to discover.
We enter the story during the discovery of a second such trio of staged corpses and learn a framed photo of Paul Maisonneuve (Thierry Lhermitte), the former chief-of-police, has been left on the scene. A haunted man who left the force due to a horrific car accident (which may have been an attempted suicide), Paul also happens to be the one-time mentor of our brilliant protagonist: detective Sandra Winckler (Marie Dompnier).
Our brilliant protagonist is back
Sandra is an intuitive and perceptive detective who is holding onto her own cryptic ghosts, but can still relax enough to do a solid impression of a rabbit to make her co-detective laugh. She’s moody without being morose and hard-working without constantly reminding the world of that fact.
The more Sandra investigates the show house corpses, the more she realises the need to investigate her former mentor’s history. Thanks to Paul rejoining the force, that becomes a season-long dance. Their history is problematic – he wasn’t exactly a stand-up individual and she mysteriously walked out on his mentorship prior to graduation. As you’d expect, Paul knows a lot more than he’s letting on.
And after six episodes of whiplash...
It's definitely worth checking out season one of this massive maze of a series before diving into season two. Like any great murder mystery, you’re thrown at every turn. And, due to the operatic nature of the crimes (and shorter episode order), the elaborate twists, reveals and red-herrings are way easier to stomach than in anything like the US version of The Killing.
I’m not even going to try and boil down the entire season into a spoiler-free summary, so without giving away specifics, you get to encounter corpses, tense interrogations, dodgy realtors, burned-out prisons, cemetery gunfights, more corpses, significant lipstick, gorgeous topographic cinematography, blackmail, Lady Gaga fandom, rampant chauvinism, an infidelity subplot, even more corpses and the most memorable wolf since Michael J Fox in Teen Wolf.
... We're ready for season two’s new case
Fifteen men turn up dead, frozen inside a bus. The thing that binds them is they’ve all been intimate with the same woman, an insomniac named Catherine Keemer (Spiral’s Audrey Fleurot). Sandra returns as the lead detective, and she and Catherine form a necessary bond in order to fight a common evil.
Witnesses season 2 airs Tuesday nights at 10:30pm on SBS. Both seasons 1 and 2 are available to stream on SBS On Demand.
Watch the first episode of season 2 right here: