Friday, January 28, 2022

REVIEW: 'In From the Cold' - Jenny's Secrets Are Exposed When Dragged Into a Covert Mission in 'What Is Burning?'

Netflix's In From the Cold - Episode 1.01 "What Is Burning?"

Stealth attackers hit Madrid. In the city with her teen, single mom Jenny finds her past as a Russian spy exposed. But that's only one of her secrets.

"What Is Burning?" was written by Adam Glass and directed by Ami Canaan Mann

For the majority of its run time, this premiere suggests this drama is going to be one type of show. Jenny is forced into working for the CIA after her former life as a Russian spy is revealed. And then, the last moment reveals that the show is going to be completely different. Sure, it will likely play into espionage drama and geopolitical tensions. But it seemingly doesn't trust itself to be a serious show about the covert actions of countries both in the present and the past. Instead, it has supernatural impulses. In this reality, shapeshifting technology was developed decades ago by the Russians. That aided Anya's skills that allowed her to be known as the Whisper. Chauncey is impressed that he caught Jenny and can coerce her into doing what he wants. A long-simmering mystery has finally been answered. The truth about what happened to the Whisper is finally known. Jenny is upset by that. Moreover, she doesn't know if she can return to her former life. She worries that she can no longer pull off the incredible feats she once did. But it's still all building to her being trapped in a bad situation and can only escape by turning into someone new. It reveals dimensions to this world. It's about the layers of mystery. Jenny goes into this new forced relationship believing she is working for the CIA. Then, it's revealed that Chris, the technical support guy, is also a criminal who took a deal with Chauncey over being imprisoned. That proves a pattern for how that guy operates. This is how he conducts business. But Jenny has kept many secrets about what the Russians have been capable of. She is known for offering creative solutions to problems. She is a secret agent who thinks for herself and doesn't just abide by the orders given. She clashes with Chauncey every step of this new mission. She blames him for having to give in to her former world. Of course, she can still react to save herself. She has the precise skills necessary for Chauncey to get to the bottom of the new mystery concerning three Spanish citizens turning against and even killing the people around them. It's all odd. And yes, the supernatural tease is present from the very beginning. It's a directorial flourish. The camera points out a shift in the eye color of the people undergoing this change. At first, it seems more like a way to signal something about to happen. Their behavior shifts. They immediately become lethal. Good samaritans apprehend them. The CIA is struggling to find a connection between the victims. They produce a lead that could prove fruitful. But it's also done with the understanding that this is someone copying Jenny's skills from her days as Anya. Even then, the show carefully maneuvers around showing the audience her full capabilities in that setting. An entire story is told in Moscow 1994. It's not about Anya in action though. It's built as another surprise that she is working an asset instead of genuinely building a romantic connection with someone. That was inevitable and glaringly obvious. That's the overall problem with the plotting of this show. It hopes a big reveal can immediately force the audience to second guess the drama that is currently playing out. In reality, it may just confuse people who wanted something different altogether. That's not even mentioning the existence of Jenny's daughter who is also in Spain. That gives something to connect back to Jenny's life out of the spycraft. But it's not capable of sustaining an entire subplot where the stakes don't match or aren't even ironic in the grand scope of things. It's the creative team pulling a couple tropes and genres together hoping that it's inventive and will create a cult following. That too has become formulaic over the years. It still requires investment in a character's journey. Here, it's mostly just dull and unoriginal without offering something of dramatic value or intriguing tension. It's a story being told because someone thought it was a compelling idea. In execution though, everything is lacking because the agency of the lead character is missing. That can't simply be fixed by having her pace around her hotel, drink all the booze in the room and cut her hair to find Anya again. That's hoping the external change is enough to convey internal acceptance and evolution. It's not because so little is understood about the characters when the plot is overwhelmingly suppose to be seen as more important. The mystery and how people respond to it just aren't that interesting.