Adventures in Streaming: Residue (2015)

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *
* now with spoilers *

Residue (2015) is a UK miniseries originally slated as a pilot of sorts for a longer series; unfortunately Netflix (nor anybody else) picked up the series, which caused a lot of confusion among the viewers as to the meaning and plot of the miniseries. As a miniseries, Residue poses more questions at the end than at the beginning, and literally answers none of them; we don’t know what happens to the main characters, we don’t understand what was happening in the quarantine zone, we don’t know who the “bad guys” really are, and we don’t see a path from where the story ends to any kind of resolution. This in turn causes the action to feel sluggish – since it leads to a non-ending – which casts a negative light on the acting, because they’re focusing on actions more than on character development.

But this assessment, although understandable, is unfair. When viewed with the knowledge that it was meant to lead into a fully-fleshed-out thriller-mystery, and that the cliffhangers were meant to be addressed completely in the subsequent series, Residue is in fact a really intriguing pilot; it presents interesting characters, a Big-Bad that may or may not include a supernatural component, and a creepy phenomenon that kills seemingly randomly and by unexplained means. The characters are well-placed within the action, their motivations are clear, and their basic … well … character is established (who’s good, who’s bad, etc.). The romantic relationship between the two main characters is realistic – neither unbelievably gushy or jaded or tense; they’re just two people who struggle to find time for one another with their time-sucking jobs.

Some of the criticism revolves around the secondary characters – the ones who fall victim to the creepy phenomenon – not being well-explored, or their deaths adequately explained. Their demise feels abrupt and occasionally choppy … unless you realize these images are overtures to later explanations and explorations that the series was going to offer. In that light, these people – whose faces we remember vividly but whose time in the story is so brief – provide a mystery that we want very much to solve.

It does have the trope that, in fact, the characters’ own government is either the Big-Bad or very well aware of the Big-Bad and doing nothing about it … but there’s a great deal of ambiguity about just where the conspiracy begins and ends, and which of the characters may or may not be fully on board with it. A secretive, uncaring government is almost a cliché plot device at this point, but on the other hand, a quarantine-zone situation would have to involve government somehow, so I don’t know how the trope would be avoided in this case.

Ultimately, Residue as a pilot gives just the sort of unresolved mystery and compelling characterizations that would make me want to go ahead and watch the series … but it was (very unfortunately, I think) not allowed to tell its full story. So we end up with a well-done half of something – not the best way to end a three-episode jaunt, but also not the fault of the show, which I believe made a very good start with a solid and engaging premise.

7 out of 10