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From New Zealand, and on Sundance Now, a Mystery Series with a Twist
December 4, 2019  | By David Hinckley
 


Detective Sgt. Jessica Savage knows all about playing hurt.

In the opening scene of The Gulf, a six-part New Zealand crime mystery series that becomes available Wednesday on the streaming service Sundance Now, we see Jessica and a man being whipsawed around the inside of a car that has just plunged into the water.

We soon learn that the man was her husband and that while she survived this brutal accident, he did not.

As Jessica recuperates in a hospital bed, gulping pain pills, a police colleague visits with startling news about a case Jessica worked five years earlier.

A young boy named Nathan, who disappeared in that case and was presumed dead, has turned up alive. His whereabouts over the previous five years, alas, remain a mystery, since he seems to have turned feral. He is afraid of everything and does not speak.

Even before the extent of Nathan's PTSD is clear, Jessica (Kate Elliott) has checked herself out of the hospital, though not without ensuring she has a good supply of morphine. It hurts her to move and even to breathe, but she's not letting this case go. The cops blew it five years ago, she says, and she's determined that won't happen again.

That's not an easily achievable goal. Nathan, behind the wall of a protective child psychologist and an angry father, is no help in accounting for his lost time, or what happened to him on the school trip from which he disappeared.

Jessica also faces internal police challenges. She's not the easiest person with whom to work, and she has the added problem of having lost much of her short-term memory in the accident. It will come back, but meanwhile, her confusion on key points frustrates other cops, who in turn become reluctant to follow her investigative lead.

This being a crime drama and all, naturally there is an ominous backstory about Nathan's disappearance. Naturally, the people involved have been hoping it would stay buried permanently. So those bad people create obstacles for Jessica, some of them potentially lethal.

By spinning out the story over six episodes, revealing details one deliberate leak at a time, The Gulf invites comparisons to shows like Broadchurch and The Killing.

The prominence of a troubled lead female law enforcement officer feeds into those comparisons, which are not unfounded.

Happily, the writing is also in that league. The Gulf is a mystery in the best sense, as viewers are also tasked with figuring out what happened. A large cast weaves its way through the story, with familiar complicating characters like Jessica's teenage daughter Ruby (Timmie Cameron).

Ruby has the usual quotient of adolescent resentment and exasperation, which doesn’t make Jessica's challenges any easier. It does make their pursuit more entertaining for those of us at home.

 
 
 
 
 
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