The Final Battle
Gérard Depardieu as Robert Taro, Benoît Magimel as Lucas Barres.
Nous avons fini, peuchère. In the spirit of Eurovision, which was broadcast last weekend for the first time in the U.S., I award the finale of Netflix’s first European show nul points: for bailing on the climactic Taro-Barres debate after only a few minutes, for ending the entire season on a laughable cliffhanger that presumes we would tune in for a second round of such trash, and for rendering this entire eight-episode ordeal a definitive waste of time. It does make me want to visit the real Marseille, but only out of pity. The city can’t be this detestable in real life.
One reason to be grateful for the end of this failed grand experiment is that we’ll never have to hear Barres sneer, “Power is not given, it’s taken” in voice-over ever again. His last utterance comes near the end of “The Final Battle” (pause for some laughter en français directed at that episode title), after a dizzying number of twists and turns in the days leading up to the second-round mayoral election. There’s tons of empty brooding, the best of which comes when Barres peers out from behind a plaster-cast model of a suspiciously big-nosed someone’s face, to look at … nothing. He’s alone in his apartment. A fitting visual summation of the entire series, where smoldering glances frequently substitute for complexity, arcs turn on nothing at all, and characters seem like bad plaster molds of more recognizable dramatic figures. Much like Netflix’s own France advertising campaign, it’s all a game of face swap.
Turns out Rachel Taro’s two-story pratfall was not her character’s deal-breaker, and I suspect no one was more upset by this development than Géraldine Pailhas herself. Rachel’s still kicking — well, not kicking, because she’s been paralyzed, but she’s awake and whispering non-apologies to her family. (Meanwhile, the orderlies move her around by picking up the edges of her bedsheet, which one hopes is not the typical level of medical care afforded to Marseille’s first family.) Her predicament leads to the one genuinely subversive moment of the entire series: During the debate, Taro learns that his wife will be “fine,” yet still makes an especially dire announcement to the masses in order to win sympathy votes.
Even this spark quickly fades. The scenes where Barres confronts his mistress in her office over her double-secret mob affiliation reduce this show, in its final moments, from the somewhat endearing descriptor “political soap” to just a straight-up “soap.” I understand people enjoy soap operas, and I don’t begrudge them the pleasure, but I do take issue with disguising one inside something that allegedly had grander ambitions. Netflix didn’t set out to make Plus Belle la Vie, and yet here we are.
We leave this fun house the same way we entered it: With Taro shoving drugs up his nose in the smoky blue corridors of Marseille’s Vélodrome soccer stadium. This time, he collapses in what we presume is a coke-induced heart attack au moment précis où he wins the election, with Barres putting aside his series-long feud so he can cradle his father’s exhausted, disappointed head in his arms as the sounds of cheering crowds rally around them. It takes a special kind of contempt for your audience to pass off such a slapdash copy-and-paste job as some kind of full-circle dramatic revelation. So much for “modernizing Marseille,” eh?
But then again, Marseille reeks of contempt for its viewers, including the assumption that drugs and boobs would conspire to create suitably “adult” drama — and, in a broader sense, ensnare a French audience and the good graces of the country’s film industry without any creative heavy lifting. Throw a couple stars into a localized story, mount an expensive promotional campaign, and you’re done, right? No quality control necessary. This wasn’t how the streaming giant approached the launches of its many successful U.S. series, and if the service winds up tanking in France, Netflix will be getting what it deserves.
- Forget Taro’s refusal to get makeup, what kind of campaign staff lets their candidate enter a live televised debate with his cell phone sitting right in front of him?
- Gérard Depardieu has never looked more like deceased Toronto mayor Rob Ford than when he freely admits to having used cocaine throughout his 20 years in office.
- This entire series had only one kind of transitional music: A feverish strings-and-piano combo that sounded like Alexandre Desplat fell asleep with his face on the keyboard. No matter the mood, that was what we heard. Au revoir, fortissimo low-octave note. You have blessed me with night twitches.
- Merci beaucoup to those who have stuck with these increasingly deranged recaps. Now, as a way to make amends for the damage Netflix has inflicted on French culture, please watch an equivalent amount of François Truffaut films. Ne vous inquiétez pas, they’re online … on Hulu.