Marseille Recap: No Bite


Season 1 Episode 3
Editor’s Rating *****
Benoît Magimel as Lucas Barres. Photo: David Koskas/Netflix

Only three episodes into Marseille, and I’ve already lost track of how many people Barres has slept with, propositioned, or led on and then rejected. The psychopath’s libido does not stop.

Barres adds at least three more to his total in “Crocodile,” beginning with a Paris-based national-party official still nursing a broken heart over their common political rival — she throws her support behind Barres’s mayoral campaign pretty much as soon as he’s done, er, throwing his support behind her. Then there’s Taro’s daughter, Julia, who may be smitten with her Tunisian fling, but is nevertheless overcome with grief about her mother’s arthritis and swoops in for Barres’s lips as soon as he steps off the plane. (He spurns her, despite earlier flirtations, and flirts with her roommate, Barbara, later in his office.) And finally, there’s the insinuation that, should it become necessary, Barres would be perfectly happy to sleep with the gay newspaper editor if doing so would aid his campaign.

Have I mentioned how laughably scandalous this show is? Marseille has quickly become a heavy-breathing parody of French high society, one that’s impossible to take seriously as drama — especially when combined with such ludicrous characters. By the third episode, we should toss all pretense that the series could be a prescient tale of a rapidly changing European city, despite vague overtures to class divisions, gang life, and inescapable political corruption. Instead, Marseille will only be enjoyable if it cranks the dial up to 11. This time, it gets halfway there.

It’s too bad the show can’t aspire to something greater — there’s certainly a need right now for a serious dramatic examination of urban politics in modern Europe. But we must play the hand we’re dealt. We have no choice but to accept that, after a longtime deputy mayor openly declares war on his mentor, he’d stay in his position so the two can snarl at each other while strolling down gilded hallways in City Hall. We must also accept that the deputy, who was raised in foster care, has been able to hide some very key details of his past — including his true birth date, how many foster families he’s had, and the fact that he never earned a law degree — until someone bothers to run a basic background check. Ditto that the mayor would receive anonymous threatening emails without attempting to track down the identity of whoever could possibly be sending them. There’s no rhyme or reason to any of this, just some pompous pronouncements that these men are stabbing each other in the back “for Marseille.” Gentlemen, your city would like a word.

Meanwhile, Julia’s old flame — yes, the same guy who tried to force himself on her in the pilot — is sporting some sweet new wheels thanks to his skills as a getaway driver for the street gang. Soon enough, there will be no turning back for this jewelry thief and attempted rapist. Apart from being just this side of noxious, Eric’s story line is also a giant snoozer, and the fact we’ve spent so much time with him is not promising for the rest of the season’s eight-episode run.

Then again, what has been promising about Marseille? Only its sheer daffiness, and in this episode, the much-welcome decision to finally shoot the picturesque setting in lovely sweeping hilltop exteriors. The concluding stinger suggests that the mystery woman sending anonymous emails to Taro is probably Barres’s mother — a real earth-shaker of a revelation. Of greater intrigue is the hint that Taro could, either intentionally or inadvertently, rope the president of France into his grand scandal. Now that’s what it looks like to go big or go home.

Baguette Bits:

  • The mayor’s cell phone has a big Netflix app anchored on its home screen. Real subtle, guys.
  • We’re starting to get into the weeds of French election procedure, so here’s a primer on the two-round voting system, which is alluded to briefly in this episode. Hmm … I guess we are learning something, after all.
  • For those who think I cannot grasp the locally specific entertainment value of Marseille because Je suis americain, note that French critics are also panning it. (“Cowshit.” — Le Monde)

Marseille Recap: No Bite