Netflix ‘1899’ Episode 4 Recap: “The Fight”
Okay, I get it now: 1899 is Lost. It’s just Lost! I mean, it’s Lost with no jokes and no heart-tugging Michael Giacchino score, which is to say that tonally it’s way, way different — different enough, I think, to insulate it from rip-off charges. But: trapped in the middle of the ocean because something went wrong with the vehicle you were using to cross it. A motley crew of passengers fleeing their troubled pasts. Secret connections between them. Mechanically induced teleportation. Mysterious strangers. Mysterious symbols. Maybe an eccentric gazillionaire behind it all. A boy with special powers. (Remember, that was an important part of Lost, once upon a time, before the showrunners realized children age in real time even if the characters on your show do not!) And flashbacks, hoo boy, flashbacks. Literally and figuratively, it’s Lost at Sea.
And you know what? Maybe that’s fine! Certainly if the rest of the episodes are as gripping as this barn-burner (“The Fight”), we’re in for a treat.
Our focal point character this time around is Jérôme. We learn that as a member of the French army, he was friends with Lucien, who wanted to impersonate a slain lieutenant in order to get out of combat and live the good life back home. When Jérôme opposes the plan, Lucien brains him, locks him up, and falsely rats him out as a deserter. This explains the extraordinary lengths he went to in order to get on the ship (I think?), and the medal he left in Lucien’s room.
But the main action revolves around the mutineers, both among the crew (the only people who know the ship has somehow vanished and been relocated to the point they were at when they first steered off course to look for the Prometheus, which of course is now nowhere to be found) and the third-class passengers. Now largely led by Iben, Krester and Tove and poor Ada’s religious-fanatic mother, they go on a cabin-to-cabin hunt for the mysterious boy from the Prometheus, who’s being scapegoated for all the mysterious deaths aboard the ship.
And there are a lot of deaths, as we see when Olek and Jérôme are forced to throw the bodies overboard. Watching them toss Ada’s little corpse into the sea…that’s tough, man, that’s tough.
Jérôme manages to escape, though, and hides in Clémence and Lucien’s room without divulging his connection to Lucien. Clémence is obviously very smitten with him, which is nice, considering all the misery going down. (Just for example, Lucien angrily barks at Clémence that he takes those little vials of medicine because he has seizures, and the medicine gives him erectile dysfunction, and he’s dying anyway, and he never told her because “you don’t give a fuck whether I live or die.” Wedded bliss!)
Anyway, other than creepy Daniel Solace monkeying with his interactive gizmo again and a pair of funny English coal workers doing a whole bit about the differences between werewolves and vampires, most of the episode is taken up by various cat-and-mouse games involving the “good” characters, loosely speaking — that would be Maura, Eyk, Olek, Jérôme, Clémence, Ramiro, and the Boy, who flock together, plus Tove, who doesn’t go along with her mom and an increasingly distraught Krester, plus creepy Daniel, who’s in with these people for god knows what reasons of his own — being chased by the mutineers. It’s fun stuff, but it doesn’t really bear beat-by-beat recapping. The point is to experience it.
The episode ends with the titular fight, a huge rumble on the rainy deck of the ship to determine the Boy’s fate. During the riot, Iben just tosses the kid over the side, to Maura’s horror.
But when the good guys retreat to the dining room, they all learn what we’ve already known, given his affinity for magic door-unlocking beetles that lead you directly to where you need to go and whatnot: There really is something weird going on with this kid. After a rumbling sound and a burst of light, he simply materializes inside the bar, then walks out and hugs Maura. Daniel, who I’m kind of convinced is the boy as an adult and who seems to have romantic designs on Maura (despite a ring-like laceration around one finger), watches intently.
Then “Don’t Fear the Reaper” plays, another hugely overused needledrop, though 1899’s creators are German and maybe these things aren’t quite as played out over there.
As you may have gathered, I’m well into the process of tempering my expectations for this show. Creators Jantje Friese and Baran bo Odar’s previous Netflix series, the aptly titled Dark, used its genre trappings in service of digging deeper and deeper into the emotional lives of the townsfolk who populated the series. Their connections were, for the most part, pretty obvious: They were friends, neighbors, coworkers, family members, lovers. Without the need to spend valuable screentime digging up big dark secret connections between all of them (don’t get me wrong, there were definitely a few of those, but it wasn’t all those), it could do the psychological legwork required to craft really compelling, empathetic characters.
1899 doesn’t have that luxury, and it shows, much as I enjoy many of the performances. So I’m in it for the genre thrills and chills at this point, without expecting much more. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be surprised!
Sean T. Collins (@theseantcollins) writes about TV for Rolling Stone, Vulture, The New York Times, and anyplace that will have him, really. He and his family live on Long Island.
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