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Old Friends, New Murder: 'The Gloaming'
March 22, 2021  | By David Hinckley

A person who wakes up every morning thanking the Lord for escaping a childhood hometown is forced, suddenly, by circumstance to return.

It's the plot that launches a thousand Hallmark movies every December.

The Gloaming, an eight-part miniseries that launched Sunday on Starz at 9 p.m. ET (and is rerun), is not one of them.

The Gloaming, an Australian import, employs a less popular yet still familiar TV premise: a law enforcement person forced to return home because some terrible crime has been committed there and only his or her expertise can help solve it.

Naturally, this homecoming opens a nightmarish box of uncomfortable secrets and bad memories. All of the things this person left town to forget.

Alex O'Connell (Ewen Leslie) thinks that being a successful cop in Melbourne has liberated him forever from Tasmania, where some unspecified but clearly awful thing happened in his teenage years.

Then the Tasmanian cops encounter a grisly murder, and Melbourne helpfully offers a big-city pro to lead the investigation. That would be Alex.

When O'Connell arrives home, feeling no nostalgia, he discovers the lead local cop with whom he will be partnering is Molly McGee (Emma Booth).

Turns out they knew each other years ago, and they share some unspoken experiences that, apparently, were part of the reason Alex bolted.

Small world. Awkward world.

Complicating things for Alex, the murder case doesn't lend itself to the quick and easy resolution that would get him onto the next plane back to Melbourne.

The victim can't be positively identified, which hinders the investigation. The ID they do find on the body is from a woman who died years earlier and apparently had a connection to both Alex and Molly.

The world keeps getting smaller and more awkward.

Fortunately, both Alex and Molly are competent detectives who slowly and painstakingly parlay the tiny bit of available evidence into a picture of what may have happened here.

To the delight of neither, they also gradually realize this murder could connect to a long-ago cold case.

All this unfolds at a deliberate pace, which feels appropriate to how a case with all these factors would unfold in real life. That enables us to spend time getting to know the story's other characters, including many townspeople with less than admirable agendas. The list of suspicious characters in The Gloaming is not short.

What measurably enhances the ride is the show's setting and look. It's beautifully filmed, with gorgeous scenery everywhere, and oddly enough, the fact that some of that scenery feels creepy doesn't make it less visually attractive.

The storyline, similarly, is sprinkled with eerie and disturbing images: unexplained noises that sound like screams, lights that blink on and off, ominous flocks of crows darkening the evening sky.

These hints of the supernatural don't make The Gloaming into science fiction, exactly. They do suggest there may be corners of the world, like Tasmania, where everything that happens isn't immediately explicable.

All in all, it clearly would have been less stressful for Alex to stay in Melbourne. Since he's now in Tasmania, we all get to see how that works out.

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