“That’s the first of the 10 Commandments, right?” “Sure, and you’re Brad Pitt in Se7en.” That’s the kind of dialogue you can expect from 13 Commandments, Walter Presents’ new show. The gritty crime thriller sees a serial killer line up victims in accordance with the Bible’s 10 Commandments, a scenario that sounds so much like Se7en that the show openly acknowledges it in its opening episode. The message is clear: this a series that knows what expectations you have and it won’t hesitate to play with them.
Written and directed by Maarten Moerkerke, there’s an immediate sense of being in a pair of confident, capable hands. We’re introduced to our two main detectives, Peter Devriendt (Salamander’s Dirk van Dijck) and Vicky Degraeve (Marie Vinck), one old, one young, both equally saddled with baggage; the former is a divorcee with a daughter and a preferred prostitute, while the latter is a former Special Ops agent scarred by trauma of a more visceral, visible nature. We see them paired together by Belgium’s Federal Criminal Police, we witness her doing aerial yoga in her solitary home (triggering multiple flashbacks to a nasty accident) and, most of all, we witness them attending a growing number of crime scenes.
So far, so standard. But our lead duo are excellent (particularly Vinck) and there’s intrigue stuffed into each new detail they uncover, as they’re faced with the assault upon a young Turkish girl, which may or may not be some kind of honour killing. Another man, meanwhile, is torched alive in a remote urban location. The connection between the two is the real surprise, just as much as the fact that neither victims are actually murdered – the way each one is left to survive promises much more troubling twists than a mere serial killer story, placing this closer to the Saw franchise than the fantastic TV show Messiah (another Se7en-like series).
But what impresses most of all is the show’s steady pacing, as Moerkerke’s direction teases all manner of unusual reveals but never rushing to show them all off (it was, apparently, inspired partly by A Most Wanted Man, Anton Corbijn’s rivetingly glacial spy drama). The much-publicised hook of the show’s culprit eventually becoming a cult-like celebrity in his own right, meanwhile, promises something really quite original (between this, Cordon, Clan and Professor T, Belgium may be your new TV nation of choice). By the time the first commandment appears – Thou Shalt Have No Gods Before Me, writ in ominously large letters – you’ll be too wrapped up in the mystery to puzzle over why the show’s title extends to 13 instead of 10. We can think of a 14th: thou shalt not wait to binge the whole lot.
13 Commandments premieres at 10pm on Channel 4 on Sunday 18th March, with the whole box set released simultaneously on All 4 and Sky On Demand.
For more information on the other foreign-language shows available, see our Walter Presents TV guide.