Now we're getting somewhere! The twist at the midway point of Marseille's first season is so delicious, and yet upon reflection so nakedly telegraphed from the first scene of the pilot, that it officially qualifies this show as a political soap opera. Why would Taro say that Barres is "like a son?" Because the man is his son, the product of an affair — a fact his boss turned rival has only just now discovered. Ça, c'est un scoop.
Series creator Dan Franck is obviously going for some Greek-tragedy implications with this latest revelation — the royal family demolished from within by the illegitimate son. Along those lines, we also see Barres begin to make passes at Taro's wife, Rachel. It's a classic Oedipus strategy, if Oedipus had known and endorsed his prophecy. But something strange happens in the closing moments of "Intox," if we can recover from guffawing long enough to notice it. This show has become accidentally intriguing.
Let's be clear: Marseille is still every inch an overblown imitation of American serial dramas, and continues to traffic in unsubtle visual metaphors. (Barres literally abandons his latest political ally in a press scrum, mere seconds after we are reminded yet again of his duplicitous nature.) It also remains incompetently staged, as when it shows two characters typing out a text conversation, setting their phones down between each message. These are the bigger existential problems for the program, and for Netflix's dream to make this binge-worthy enough to hook an entire country.
But the centerpiece of Marseille, this dick-swinging contest between two political titans that threatens to ensnare all of France, is finally showing some teeth in a what-crazy-thing-will-dock-at-this-port-next kind of way. Between the campaign scenes (like the standoff at the seafood market), Barres humiliating Taro by catching him rooting through his office, and the barbs thrown on local TV, a spark has finally been lit under this show's pacing. Like the single grand piano note that cues on the soundtrack for every histrionic revelation, Marseille's constant need to underscore itself is both obnoxious and occasionally stirring.
"Intox" finds one of the co-leads inching toward complexity, while the other continues his stampede toward absurdity. Taro, who's prided himself on being a man of the people, is now underhandedly orchestrating the leak of a scandal big enough to threaten an entire political party. But Barres, whose insatiable libido has already made him the Anthony Weiner of Marseille, tries to seduce the newspaper editor in a laughable scene where he basically lunges for the guy's swim trunks while trying to make Picasso sound sexy. Though the show makes light of how this deputy mayor has turned his city into a sexual playground, the way he so easily manipulates a young staffer after some bright poll numbers is stomach-churning, given how such encounters play out in real life.
In league with the gangs of the city's northern ghetto, Barres later has his first encounter with big-nosed underworld boss Farid, whose driver, Eric, has swiftly grown in reputation while still carrying a torch for Taro's daughter, Julia (currently exploring the limits of a romance built on revealing no honest details about herself). The scenes of Barres cutting deals with criminals strain very hard to tap into an edginess that remains elusive, and it doesn't help that Benoît Magimel has made Barres far more charismatic, colorful, and sinister than the bad guys he's working with.
Gerard Depardieu remains a fun presence in that grand mayor's office, and Franck has been smart in at least one regard by tampering down the focus on Taro's vices. (Yes, we know he does cocaine. We don't need to see him do it anymore.) It would be fun to see Depardieu tangle with the rest of the show's cast more often, including the wildly underutilized female characters, who once again exist mostly to flirt and doff their tops.
We may have to lower our expectations for the rest of the show, but that doesn't mean we have to crater them. Less than 200 kilometers from Marseille, new works from the greatest minds in cinema are being screened in Cannes. Considering the many, many things Marseille does wrong, the two cities might as well be on different continents.
- I'm disappointed that the show has done so little with the fact that the mayor's daughter works at the city newspaper. Let's add this to the list, too: How does a reporter continually lie about her own background, without any sort of admission that she may have chosen the wrong profession?
- As has been noted elsewhere, Magimel is giving his character a Marseille accent only when in public. He uses a Parisian accent in private, as befitting his two-faced nature.