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Don’t you hate it when you turn up to work at the train station and you find dead body with a bull’s head stuck on top? That’s what happens at the start of The Passenger, Walter Present’s newest TV box set – and it’s a sinister omen that promises a darkly gripping thriller.
Within minutes of the gruesome discovery, the minotaur and King Minos’ labyrinth have been name-dropped. A mysterious murder with ties to ancient mythology? It might sound like True Detective, but these kind of conceptual killings have been on our screens for decades, going back to ITV’s Messiah, starring Ken Stott, and David Fincher’s Se7en. The Passenger’s premise might also suffer from being the latest in a long line of crime dramas on Walter Presents, whose library of foreign-language TV has mostly consisted of detectives investigating murky mysteries and bloody corpses.
But while The Passenger promises standard thrills for genre fans, it also has one surprising ace up its sleeve: Captain Anaïs Châtelet. Played by the remarkable Raphaëlle Agogué, she’s the kind of hard-nosed detective that all crime thrillers should have. Where the genre normally presents us with world-weary men, carrying years of marital strife, career stress or drinking habits, Anaïs is a breath of fresh air: she’s young, she’s good at her job and she won’t take nonsense from anyone.
That’s evident as soon as she turns up at the crime scene (she’s the first one there, naturally) and realises that her prime suspect, who was found with a blood-drenched hammer wandering the streets, has been taken to the Pierre Janet psychiatric hospital. She pushes her way to see him without even his doctor noticing, unafraid to rile her man to extract information from him.
The doctor? That’s Matthias Freire, who says he’s all too happy to help her with her investigation – but immediately begins to throw obstacles in her way, insisting she follow due process, neglecting to tell her of new evidence and generally appearing evasive. The excellent Agogué is magnetic to watch, but Jean-Hugues Anglade makes for a great foil to her straight-forward presence, bringing a poker face that keeps her and us guessing about his past – and adds a chemistry that manages to swing nicely from suspicion to intrigue.
In a typical TV series, that kind of relationship would be fuel to fire up season upon season of twists and turns, but The Passenger again has a promising trump card: it’s only one season long. Based on a novel by Jean-Christophe Grange, there are enough unanswered questions at the beginning to draw you in, but also the guarantee of answers come the finale. Underscoring all those tiny differences to the norm is the story’s setting, with events kicking off in Bordeaux – a far cry from the usual backdrop of grimy Paris. It’s that kind of touch that injects life into the series’ more conventional elements, with director Jérôme Cornuau shooting it with as much style as he does the eerie bull’s-headed dead body. The result is that ideal combination for a winter’s night box set: a thriller that is comfortingly familiar, but promisingly new.
All episodes of The Passenger are available to stream exclusively for free on All 4’s Walter Presents.
For more information on the other foreign-language shows available, see our Walter Presents TV guide.