It’s just an average cold, dark, rainy day in a medium-sized Flemish town – well, for a few minutes at least. Then the local police discover that a team of armed robbers have taken over a branch of the local bank and are holding everyone inside hostage – staff, customers, and two small children. The local police mobilise, including Detective Arne (Jeroen Perceval), bringing with them hostage negotiators led by Vos (Sophie Decleir), who do their best to try to defuse an extremely tense situation. It all builds up to a dramatic cliffhanger at the end of the first episode where a rescue attempt seems to go horribly wrong – and then in episode two it all goes back to the beginning of the day and we start all over again.
The Day pulls a trick familiar in movies, but rarely seen in series television: it tells one story from the overlapping points of view of multiple protagonists. The odd numbered episodes are told from the point of view of the police and negotiators trying to deal with the situation from the outside, while the even numbered ones tell the story from the viewpoint of those inside the bank, including chief criminal Elias (Titus De Voogdt), his sidekick Tommy (Bert Haelvoet) and the hostages, including Walter (Bob Snijers), Serge (Geert Van Rampelberg), and Freya (Maaike Neuville).
The Twists Keep Coming
Series creators Jonas Geirnaert and Julie Mahieu take full advantage of the fact that their audience is going to be paying extra close attention to make sure everything lines up across the twelve episodes. The whole point of showing the same events from different angles is to give us fresh insights the second time around, and they’re constantly putting a new spin on proceedings that seemed settled the first time we saw them.
This isn’t just a straightforward robbery-gone wrong; bank robbers don’t usually bring bombs with them for starters, and it doesn’t take law enforcement (well, some members at least) long to smell a rat. The thing is, thanks to the shifting perspectives the audience often knows more than either side individually – which means that we know when false assumptions are about to push both sides to the brink.
Pulling this kind of caper off requires a high level of planning, and not just from the criminals on the show itself. Geirnaert and Mahieu have clearly worked out the series in fine detail (reportedly they spent well over a year working on the script), and the events take place in a clearly well-thought out and defined world. This isn’t a show where things are being made up on the fly; the early episodes go out of their way to explore the settings both in and outside the bank, so that when the twists start coming we know what to look out for – and what isn’t going to work.
One Show, Two Worlds
At times The Day can feel like two separate but intertwined series – one focused on the frustrations and procedural dramas of the police trying to crack the case, the other a white-knuckle drama as a small group of people in an even smaller space are forced into a life or death situation. Much of the differing tone can be put down to the decision to have two different directors, with Dries Vos handling many of the hostage episodes and Gilles Coulier taking on the action outside the bank.
The story outside is told with lots of long takes and roaming cameras: when Vos first arrives outside the bank we get one long flowing take as she moves through the swarming police to her mobile HQ and from there to meet (briefly) with the head of the police operation, Ivo (Johan van Assche). The camera then follows him back out as he orders his men into position; it’s both an impressive piece of camerawork and a useful guide to where everything is outside the bank – information that’s only going to become more useful as the series progresses.
In the alternate episodes the action inside the bank is shown in a much more claustrophobic fashion, using cuts and close-ups to build up the sense of being trapped. It’s still the same grey day, but where the police episodes are (initially) more about people doing their jobs trying to make sure everything works out ok, with the hostages the story is more human. Their first episode begins with everyone getting out of bed to start their day, doing all the usual things – only because we already know what’s waiting for them, these everyday activities are filled with dread.
That’s the genius of this gripping crime series: while we don’t always know what’s coming, we know just enough to know everyone else is in over their heads.
The Day is streaming now at SBS On Demand: