'Bodies' is a Genre-and-Time-Bending Crime Thriller

Kyle Soller as DI Hillinghead in 1890, Jacob Fortune-Lloyd as DS Whiteman in 1941, Amaka Okafor as DS Hasan in 2023, and Shira Haas as DS Maplewood in 2053 are all part of the same case in 'Bodies'

Kyle Soller as DI Hillinghead in 1890, Jacob Fortune-Lloyd as DS Whiteman in 1941, Amaka Okafor as DS Hasan in 2023, and Shira Haas as DS Maplewood in 2053 in 'Bodies'

Matt Towers/Netflix © 2023.

Content Warning: This show contains graphic violence, up close images of autopsies, and an explicit suicide in the first episode.

Adapted from the DC Vertigo comic of the same name by Si Spencer, the new Netflix limited series Bodies is a smart, fascinating crime and conspiracy tale told in four separate time periods in London. Initially announced in early 2022 and put into production later that year, the series has been promoted in the U.K. reasonably well, but its limited series status has led it to be undermarketed in the U.S. despite casting British BBC A-lister Stephen Graham (Time) as Elias Mannix, which is a shame because it feels like an instant hit. There is a slight X-Files flavor mixed with a hint of Doctor Who. The mystery is riveting, and puzzle pieces are laid out for the audience like delectable morsels.

Four separate detectives, played by Kyle Soller (Poldark), Jacob Fortune-Lloyd (The Great), Amaka Okafor (The Responder), and Shira Haas (Unorthodox) in 1890, 1941, 2023, and 2053, respectively, all find the same corpse in the same street in Whitechapel. Told in shifting but congruent timelines, each of the four detectives finds the corpse in the same condition: Naked, missing an eye, with a tattoo on his left wrist.

The series starts in the current present-day 2023, where Detective Shahara Hasan (Okafor) is a badass Muslim cop. She’s introduced by showing incredible stamina and determination in a high-speed pursuit on foot, running down armed suspect Syed (Chaneil Kular). The chase ends with Hasan discovering the corpse and Syed insisting as he runs off that he didn’t kill the man.

Amaka Okafor as DS Shahara Hasan in 2023 awaits the autopsy in 'Bodies'

Amaka Okafor as DS Shahara Hasan in 2023 in 'Bodies'

Matt Towers/Netflix © 2023

In 1941, Detective Karl Whiteman (Fortune-Lloyd) is a cop on the take, tasked with removing a dead body. The shadowy organization who pays him signs off their clandestine phone call with a recurring phrase: “Know you are loved.” (This motto repetition is reminiscent of The Prisoner.) When Whiteman retrieves the body, we see it is the same corpse that Hasan found in 2023. Then, in 1890, temperate but firm Detective Edmond Hillinghead (Soller) is called to the same back alley of Whitechapel, where a dead body – the same one from 2023 and 1941 – has been discovered.

A journalist is also found on the scene taking pictures of the body; Hillinghead arranges to retrieve the finished photographs and original plates as police evidence. When Hasan and Hillinghead attend the autopsies of their victim, we get a split screen effect showing the examination simultaneously in 2023 and 1890. Both detectives learn the same information about their respective bodies: They are dealing with a John Doe, and importantly, although the victim was shot in the eye and has no exit wound, no bullet was found in his brain either in 2023 or 1890.

In 1941, Whiteman runs into trouble trying to transport the corpse to the drop point: There’s an air raid, and a fellow cop is also following him. When Whiteman is about to be exposed, a bomb explodes, killing the other cop and burying Whiteman’s transport car in rubble. Whiteman escapes through the windshield. Later, the shadow organization expresses their extreme displeasure with the turn of events and ends the call with a very menacing, “Know you are loved, Sgt. Whiteman.”

Shira Haas as Iris Maplewood and Stephen Graham as Elias Mannix await the autopsy in 2053 in 'Bodies'

Shira Haas as Iris Maplewood and Stephen Graham as Elias Mannix in 2053 in 'Bodies'

Matt Towers/Netflix © 2023

Once again, the time period shifts: We are now in 2053, meeting Detective Maplewood (Haas). She drives an electric car through the Whitechapel neighborhood when suddenly all the streetlights surge and explode. This is a hallmark of all the other crime scenes: Shortly before finding the body, our detectives all experience explosions of electric lights. Maplewood asks her smart car to scan the neighborhood for an electromagnetic pulse, and the car finds an anomaly in a nearby alley. Maplewood investigates, where she finds the same naked body that appeared in 1890, 1941, and 2023. Except when Maplewood is examining him, he suddenly coughs – this corpse is alive!

The show does a great job of seamlessly switching back and forth between time periods and making you care about the detectives – Hasan in particular. Watching a well-written, capable woman of color in a lead role is inspiring. Not only is she a great cop, she’s a good person and a loving mother. Despite a valiant attempt, she is heartbroken and traumatized when she cannot save Syed’s life.

In 1890, one of the crime scene photos reveals a suspect reflected in an alley window. When the coroner sees the suspect, he is instantly terrified and warns Hillinghead to burn the photo if he values his life. We are then treated to a three-way split screen as the three detectives pore over their case. The effect is stylish and well done. The whole time, the series keeps the propulsive momentum going. Where is the story leading? What sort of conspiracy is afoot? Will there be elements of the supernatural? Is there time travel? Quantum physics? Magic? It’s hard to pinpoint the genre yet, but the possibilities are part of the fun.

With eight nearly-hour-long episodes, Bodies streams on Netflix starting Thursday, October 19, 2023, and is worth your time. 

Marni Cerise headshot

A writer since her childhood introduction to Shel Silverstein, Marni adores film, cats, Brits, and the Oxford comma. She studied screenwriting at UARTS and has written movie, TV, and pop culture reviews for Ani-Izzy.com, and Wizards and Whatnot. You can usually catch her watching Hot Fuzz for the thousandth time. Find her very sparse social media presence on Twitter: @CeriseMarni

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