In the span of a mere 35 minutes, Marseille viewers witness the following images in this episode:
- A soccer pep rally in which the team chants the name of a politician, as though they’ve just won the big game.
- A young blonde who strolls onto that same soccer field in a jean-shorts-high-heels combo, and a camera that trains intense scrutiny on her entrance despite the fact she never utters a line of dialogue in the scene.
- A villain who shadowboxes stock footage of the city he’s trying to conquer — and somehow loses.
- A bouquet of roses flying through the air in slow motion, followed by an unironic pan across the petals strewn on the ground.
- An angry confrontation between the mayor’s daughter and the driver for the local mob boss, capped with the immortal accusation, “Did you send that tweet?”
- Another altercation between the same two characters, this time in front of the newspaper office, which unfolds without any press interference.
Each successive sequence in Marseille piles the absurdities ever higher. Your tolerance for such cheap, soapy machinations will vary. Mine certainly has. I dug last episode’s revelation that Deputy Mayor Lucas Barres is the illegitimate son of longtime incumbent Robert Taro, because it was the right amount of juice to keep the show moving. But “Face à Face” only stalls for time, and it does so while insulting the patience and intelligence of its viewers.
Does anything of actual significance transpire in this episode, between the milked-dry melodrama? Barres kicks Sabine to the curb as soon as she outlives her usefulness, which we’d already established at the beginning of the previous episode. Julia breaks things off with her charming Tunisian squeeze, Selim (Nassim Si Ahmed), after learning he has a history of thievery. Odd choice, given that she knew about his friendship with certified no-gooder Eric and his hardscrabble life in the slums.
Meanwhile, Taro attempts to broker a truce with Barres by laying his true paternity out in the open. (Isn’t he supposed to be struggling with a life-threatening illness?) He proceeds as though his rival wouldn’t have already known, as though his entire political career — and all the lies and backstabbing that went along with it — hadn’t been so obviously calibrated to strike back at Taro for exactly this purpose.
This is the intelligence-insulting part: Why should we treat any of these revelations as earth-shattering, rather than business as usual for Marseille’s Marseille? Such is the challenge of not having laid down enough narrative track to support eight episodes. Did you notice the uptick in transition sequences? Me too. There’s certainly enough of them, between all those exterior pans of the city — you know, the ones that have been warped in cheap laptop-editing fashion — and the useless slow-motion flashbacks to moments from earlier in the series. It couldn’t be because the filmmakers are trying to frantically patch over scenes that lack narrative momentum, could it?
If only it were as easy to jostle Marseille into action as it is for Farid and his henchmen to crash a Taro campaign event (yet another utterly laughable sequence in an episode full of them). Further mano-a-mano showdowns between Taro and Barres still carry some promise, as does what I can only presume will be a season-capping reckoning for the troublesome usurper. But if there’s still useless filler yet to dock at this port, such small pleasures will soon cease to be much comfort.
- Julia finally gets her first writing assignment at La Provence, though the fact she still wants to use a pseudonym suggests she has not yet grasped the finer points of journalism.
- Rachel Taro treads in place all episode: We see only that she is further distraught over her arthritis, tries once again to play cello through the pain, and inches closer to an affair with Barres without actually embarking on one.
- The brief black-and-white flashback is unpleasant for many reasons: It involves a minor character, its meaning is kept deliberately oblique, and the series has established zero precedent for backstory flashbacks. What’s it doing here, except to mock us?
- I know I harp on this show’s aesthetics a lot, but it frequently fails to meet a base level of technical competence. There are moments in this episode where even the framing is off.