The Mantis Has Scores to Settle ("TV Tuesday")

"TV Tuesday"...
For all that we like to bitch and moan about the Internet Culture we've been living in for the past couple decades--misinformation and fake news, anyone?--it has undeniably broadened our world and made things available to us like never before.

Case in point? Access to televised content from around the world! No longer are we relegated to "200 channels and nothing on" (because seriously, I've never considered the presence of dozens of shopping, religious, ancient game-show, and telenovela channels as "having something on"). No, now we can just flip to one of many streaming sources, browse to our hearts' content, and (eventually) come up with something intriguing... which for me, increasingly, has included a lot of dramatic TV productions from abroad.

Latest find? The French thriller, "La Mante" ("The Mantis").  [Mad props, by the way, to Netflix, for keeping track of what I stream, so they could pop up with an ad for "something you may like"; truly, it's like getting a recommendation from one of your pals who really knows you.]

So, what's the scoop on "La Mante"? A serial killer who's been imprisoned for 25 years reaches out to the police and offers to help, after a copycat begins recreating her crimes to a tee. 

Wait, what... "her" crimes? A female serial killer? Yep--rare birds that they are, that's what we have here, with Jeanne Deber. Even more interesting? The eight murders Jeanne committed were unspeakably gruesome affairs... nothing clean and quick like a simple injection or gunshot, but bloody, drawn-out, painful deaths by design.

The hook in "La Mante" is the special condition Jeanne makes in return for her assistance: she will only work with one officer... Damien Carrot, the son she hasn't seen for a quarter century, now 35, who grew up to become a policeman (and who has, for all that time, perpetuated the myth that his mama died in a plane crash).

What might otherwise be merely a boiler-plate scenario doesn't come across as such, though, thanks to some good writing and even better acting. The French cast is uniformly engaging, including the tired, older superintendent, Feracci (well-played by Pascal Demolon), whose job it is to persuade Damien to give up his undercover work and join the team as leader on the copycat case. (Damien reluctantly agrees, but only after securing the promise that no one will find out his mother is actually the famed killer.) Élodie Navarre gives a snarky performance as Szofia--the cop who'd been gunning for the position of team captain, but is passed over for reasons she isn't told--always clearly annoyed with everything about Damien, the outsider she neither likes nor trusts. [There isn't a lot of smiling or laughing by anyone in "La Mante"; it feels moody and dark... which to me, makes it far more effective.]

Manon Azem ably portrays the young wife--who wants nothing more than to add to their little family by having a child with Damien--as smart, supportive, but increasingly frustrated, as she feels her husband slipping away for reasons to which she isn't privy. Robinson Stévenin grabs attention with his--by turns--deliciously-sexy, creepy, or wistful demeanor whenever he's in the picture as Alex Crozet, a childhood friend of Damien's (who becomes a suspect). 

The real standouts, though, are the two main characters--Carole Bouquet as the complicated, intelligent, endlessly-fascinating (and absolutely beautiful) Jeanne Deber, and Fred Testot as Damien, the sad, serious man who has so very, very many demons in his past, due to his mother's infamous acts... and how he's tried to cope, ever since then. Whenever either character is onscreen, they're really good... but when they're together, playing off each other's energies and emotions, it's magic.

Is "La Mante" predictable? Sure, a bit in places. (Then again, I've read and watched enough thrillers to think pretty much everything is at least a little been-there-done-that, so I'm not gonna knock it for that.) Did I figure out who the killer was, before I was told? Yep... although not too early, and the why definitely wasn't obvious. 

A tidy six-part (so, coming in at just a little under six hours) series, "La Mante" is a thriller well-worth spending time with... and with one of the most-emotionally-rewarding final scenes I've seen in a long while. 




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