DEATH AND OTHER DETAILS (2024)
Season One [Premiere]
Aired On: Hulu.
Release Date: 01/16/24.
Crime. Drama. Mystery.
"Detective Rufus Cotesworth and his protégé, Imogene, dig for the truth on a Mediterranean ocean liner where everyone is hiding something."
Death and Other Details is a dual murder mystery that has the sad fate of releasing alongside the fourth season of True Detective. Death and Other Details follows Imogene Scott, an orphan woman whose mother died in a car bombing twenty years prior to the plot. When Scott joins her surrogate family on a luxury cruise for a vacation, and becomes the primary suspect of the death of a passenger, Imogene will need to work with Private Detective Rufus Cotesworth to prove her innocence. The problem, of course, is that Rufus was the detective who gave up on the case of Imogene's mother’s death. In working together, they may just unravel two mysteries.
When discussing the merits of the show, it would be proper to start with the performances and direction of the show. Imogene Scott is played by Violett Beane, who plays up the standoff-ish nature of Scott well. This works well in contrast with Rufus Cotesworth, played by Mandy Patinkin, who is well mannered and patient in the face of Scott’s outbursts. The supporting cast all fit their roles well - they fit within the character archetypes needed for a murder mystery of this scope, and are mysterious enough to cast doubt on their whereabouts the night of the murder. The direction of the pilot episode comes from Marc Webb, and it captures these characters, and their world, well. Occasionally a scene will feel stilted due to the framing of a dialogue beat, but by and large, the pilot is well directed, and its technical aspects are stellar.
Firstly, the production design is great for the show. The first episode introduces us to the boat which is the primary setting of the show, a boat that has been outfitted to appear as though it came from the 1940’s. Every aspect of the boat, within the shows narrative, has to appear older than 1954. The real life production design team may not have worked within those restraints, but in order to maintain verisimilitudinous, the production design has to sell the audience on that narrative. And it makes for an exquisite looking show - every on set prop is tangible to the audience, and in the age of The Volume, it’s a great change of pace.
This is made stronger by the show's strong lighting and momentary editing - each scene is well lit and followable. And while this may appear to be the bear minimum for a television show, recent trends in the industry to have ‘night scenes’ be realistic by under-lighting a scene make it a treat to see any show return to the fundamentals and have a strong grasp of them - especially in the case of Death and Other Details.
The obsession with fundamentals doesn’t just sit within the shows technical ability - it extends into the structure and plot of the show, and here, we begin to see the elements that leave Death and Other Details stranded. Within the murder mystery, there is always a scene to introduce the audience to the core ‘suspects’ - in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, its literal interviews between the detective and those suspects. In Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, we see multiple scenes of these characters interacting on the train before the murder. These scenes serve a key purpose: allow the audience to learn about the suspects, their history, and possible motives for murder. The murder mystery as a genre invites participation from the audience - and Death and Other Details is no different. It opens with a monologue asking the audience to engage and look at every detail - and when combined with flashy visual effects/optical illusions, it's extremely effective. But looking closer also makes the audience painfully aware of when a scene exists to check a box.
Good film and television ensure that every scene is doing multiple things, to engage the audience at a variety of levels. Subtext is layered upon dialogue exchanges, action sequences propel the plot forward and define the themes of the text. A good scene does multiple things - exposition exists and is engaging because it’s related to the ‘conflict’ within a scene. And sadly, this is where Death and Other Details struggles the most. For a show about paying close attention, and for a show that understands the fundamental components of a murder mystery, so many scenes fall flat because they say what they mean and they mean one very specific thing. A sequence where the boat staff are made aware of the clientele is clearly the ‘introduce the suspects in broad strokes scene’, especially because we don’t see these staff for the rest of that episode. A sequence wherein our protagonists verbally spar isn’t layered with subtext - Imogene is extremely blunt about why she feels that Rufus Cotesworth is a fraud. It doesn’t leave much for the intrigued viewer to try and piece together, and with such long episodes, the show begins to drag.