Saturday, March 31, 2018

REVIEW: Tabula Rasa (live action TV series)

Tabula Rasa is a Belgian mystery/thriller series. I feel like it needs major content warnings but, at the same time, the most necessary ones count as huge spoilers. My solution to this problem is going to be to include them in the LibraryThing version of this review, hidden by spoiler tags.


Seven or eight months prior to the series' present, Annemie (Mie) was in a car accident that left her unable to create new memories. She and her family were forced to move to her parents' old home after Mie forgot that she had something on the stove and set their old place on fire. In theory, Mie's parents' old place should at least be familiar to her, and she and her husband arranged things so that she could live as normal a life as possible - an alarm on the front door to remind her if she forgot to close it, a tracker on her cell phone so she could call family members if she got lost, a panic button, a GPS to help her go places on her own, etc.

However, in the series' present Mie is in a mental institution. She can't remember how she ended up there and her family is forbidden to discuss potentially upsetting topics with her. A police inspector, Wolkers, regularly visits her to ask her questions about Thomas De Geest, a missing man. Mie was the last person to see him alive and may know what happened to him, if only she can unlock her memories.

I watched this on a whim. The description sounded interesting, and I was hooked by the end of the first episode. My primary concern was the series' TV-MA rating - I wasn't sure why that rating had been assigned and I was worried that later episodes would reveal that Mie had been raped and had forgotten it. For those with similar worries: as far as I can tell, the TV-MA rating was primarily for on-screen sexual content and a bit of on-screen nudity. There is no on-screen or off-screen sexual violence.

From the beginning to almost the very end, this series was excellent. Things went off the rails a bit during the last half hour or so, but it wasn't enough to ruin the show for me. I can definitely understand, however, why the few complaints I've seen about the show were centered on the very end of the series. Things happened that took care of a few loose ends but that, at the same time, tied everything up a little too neatly and easily to be believable. Oh, and one more complaint: the stuff with Vronsky near the end bothered me and seemed unnecessary.

The way Mie's memory loss was depicted was fabulous and turned the first four or so episodes into a mixture of mystery and horror. Her mind would try to fill in the blanks in her memory by blending events and times together, resulting in surreal and sometimes horrifying moments, such as a scene where she thought something was coming after her from under her bed sheets. Also, Mie would see red sand any time she was in the process of losing memories. To her, the sand was a real, touchable thing, but it was just one more way her mind was trying to make sense of her world.

Mie not only had to try to remember what happened to Thomas De Geest, she also had to try to remember what happened between her and various family members. As the series progressed, her knowledge of who she could and couldn't trust changed. Everyone was hiding something from her, but why they were hiding things from her was just as important as what they were hiding.

I thought that the way character relationships shifted was fascinating, although I didn't always like how certain things turned out. Is there such a thing as multi-generational family therapy? Because I feel like Mie and most of her family could use it. Even though I could understand why they did some of the things they did, I really felt they needed to learn how to communicate and express emotion in healthier ways.

All in all, this was an excellent series, even considering how off-the-wall the last half hour was.

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