Who would have thought that the rather inconspicuous murder of a pizza delivery guy could spark a lengthy investigation into the British intelligence bureau and government? As isolated as those two occurrences may seem, it is their camouflaged connection that immediately becomes the premise of the joint BBC and Netflix crime procedural “Collateral.”
The first episode of the four-part series starts out on a seemingly unspectacular note, as delivery driver Abdullah (Sam Otto, “The State”) is chosen — notably last minute — to drop off a pizza at a London apartment. It isn’t until he is murdered in cold blood on his run that this appears to be a more carefully calculated death scheme than a random driver swap. From that moment on, the show picks up the pace and delivers a couple of knockout performances — particularly that of Carey Mulligan (“The Great Gatsby”) as Kip, the chief investigator of the case.
Mulligan, in a role unlike many of her usual prim and proper characters, is focused, hard-hitting and inexplicably composed as Kip. After all, she reveals that this small-town homicide has hate-crime written all over it. Syrian refugees living in a garage, Abdullah and his sisters are not only poor and desperate for financial assistance but also are facing some more global implications: immigration and human-trafficking victimization. Even though the story of “Collateral” isn’t necessarily focused solely on her, Mulligan manages to give the series some much needed stability when subplots become overly complex and cluttered. She is both easy to follow as a character and compelling to watch as an actress.
With so many different parties being involved in the planning, execution and aftermath of Abdullah’s murder, “Collateral” quickly becomes swamped with storylines. The cursory cuts between the British government, police force and military angles were not only visually dizzying in their abruptness, but also made it difficult to stay on top of the sequence of events. While it is a intriguing twist to, for once, take a crime drama out of the traditional police station and interrogation room and introduce it to the world stage, there was just way too much going on.
As muddled as “Collateral” gets, its eclectic music selection remains a refreshing constant and adds some charisma to the most lackluster of scenes. Songs from the likes of Van Morrison to Queen to British reggae-rapper Stefflon Don brought rhythm to the dense rhetoric and, at times, stole my attention completely.
In an attempt to make a political commentary on Brexit, Britain’s state of immigration laws and the inconsistency of law enforcement, “Collateral” loses its sense of self as a procedural and wades into unchartered territory. On paper, a crime series that tones down the mystery and emphasizes the deceitfulness of social institutions has the potential to really make a statement, but not if its plot is as loose and convoluted as this one.