Thursday, October 4, 2018

REVIEW: La Mante (live action TV series)

La Mante is a short French thriller TV series, only 6 episodes long.

Yes, I know my tag for this post includes the initial article for the series even though I normally skip initial articles in my tags. 

Warning: my review will include major spoilers, but I'll save those for the very end and will make sure to note when I'm getting to the really spoilery part. If you're really worried about spoilers, this review will be cross-posted to LibraryThing, where I have the ability to use spoiler tags.


Content warnings for this series (not necessarily a complete list): torture, gruesome deaths and bodies, transphobia, references to rape, and references to child abuse and pedophilia.

Years ago (Wikipedia says 25), Jeanne Deber, La Mante (the Mantis), brutally tortured and killed several men who were, in one way or another, guilty of harming their families. She was eventually caught and imprisoned. In the present, a copycat killer is exactly copying Jeanne's murders. Jeanne says she might be able to help the police identify and capture the killer, but she will only speak to them via her son, Detective Damien Carrot.

Damien wants nothing to do with his mother, but he does want to stop the killer. He agrees to meet with Jeanne and be part of the team hunting the copycat killer, but he had a condition of his own: no one on his team (except the man who was originally responsible for capturing La Mante) is to be told that Jeanne is his mother and that he's meeting with her regularly to collection information.

Okay, so the premise is far-fetched as heck, and only gets more far-fetched later on. I know nothing about French police work, but I doubt La Mante's deal would ever have been agreed to and, even if it had, Damien's team wouldn't have been kept in the dark about it. Damien probably wouldn't have been put in charge of the team. Oh, and speaking of suspension of disbelief issues, I nearly lost it when Damien and his boss (?) decided that it'd be a great idea to steal a therapist's patient list since going the legal route and getting a warrant would be too difficult and take too long.

But I kept watching anyway, because Carole Bouqet was absolutely wonderful as Jeanne, and I loved the complex and tension-filled scenes between her and Damien (Fred Testot). Although Jeanne was certainly a cold-blooded killer who'd done absolutely terrible things, she also deeply loved and missed her son. She wanted to see him and yet knew that he hated her.

I loved Jeanne's complexity. As the series progressed, viewers learned the motivations behind her killings, as well as how she viewed them in comparison to the copycat's killings. In her mind, she'd been doing the world a service, since the men she killed were abusers, rapists, and more. The copycat, on the other hand, seemed to have no rhyme or reason behind his or her victims.

So, Jeanne was fun. But man was Damien's lying difficult to put up with. His own team was kept in the dark about things that could have helped them do their jobs better. The entire time he'd known his wife, Lucie, he'd told her his mother had died in a plane crash, and he continued to lie to her as she started to uncover some of the truth. I could understand some of what he did, but the stuff with his team, especially, was inexcusable. I also felt bad for Lucie every time he yelled at her.

Although she aggravated me, too. Damien had been dragging his feet about having a child with her, seemingly content with being the stepfather of Ninon, Lucie's child from her previous marriage. Lucie kept bugging him about it, insisting that he wouldn't truly want a child until he'd talked about and properly grieved for his mother. When he finally broke down and told Lucie that he didn't want to have a child, she was deeply upset. I kept wondering if they'd just never talked about any of this before, or if Damien had previously told Lucie that he didn't want to have children but was happy raising Ninon, and she just assumed she could change his mind at some point.

Still, the twists and turns in the case were fun, and I enjoyed pretty much every scene with Jeanne in it. The last couple scenes in the final episode were fabulous. It's unfortunate that the big revelation in the final couple episodes put such a bad taste in my mouth.

This is where I get into GREAT BIG SPOILER territory. If you've read up to this point and think you want to watch the series, quit now and go do that. If you're still iffy about the series and have further questions about the content warnings, which are part of the big spoiler, then read on, but be aware that I'm going to give the series' biggest revelation away.

Okay, here I go.

In episode 5, Damien learns (with some guidance from his mother) that the copycat killer is the daughter of one of Jeanne's victims. The daughter, Camille, had seen Jeanne murder her father and came to idolize the woman she viewed as her savior. In the years after Jeanne was imprisoned, Camille kept an eye on Damien and tried to see to his happiness. She also eventually decided to continue Jeanne's work via the copycat killings.

It's eventually revealed that Camille is a transwoman whose father beat (and raped?) her because she insisted she was female. Once the police learned this, if the subtitles were accurate, some of them continued to refer to her using feminine pronouns while others began referring to her with masculine pronouns. The mixture of pronouns made the misgendering especially obvious. At any rate, at some point Camille got all the necessary surgical procedures to transition, but whoever did it botched her vagina and something to do with her stomach. (She made it sound like surgery had briefly somehow given her a functional womb but that it had failed and nearly killed her. When her stomach bleeding was first mentioned, I had assumed it was maybe an ulcer. I found this entire part to be confusing.)

All she wanted was to meet someone who was sexually attracted to her and maybe have a baby. Instead, she couldn't have a baby and every man who saw her naked was horrified by her vagina. She decided to take this out on them by making the men who rejected her the victims in her copycat killings. Then it was revealed that Camille's current identity was Virginie, Damien and Lucie's friend, so apparently this completely botched surgery only botched her vagina, because not a single person who'd known her had suspected she was trans.

As much as I liked the series' final moments, even that was spoiled by this Camille/Virginie stuff. Jeanne brutally and horrifically murdered several people, but in the end she still got to redeem herself in her son's eyes. Virginie, on the other hand, remained a monster until the very end - no forgiveness, on-screen or otherwise, from either Damien or Lucie. Even her killings were presented as being more monstrous than Jeanne's, because her victims hadn't done anything wrong other than reject her sexually.

Despite the strain the premise put on my suspension of disbelief, I enjoyed the bulk of this show and absolutely loved Carole Bouquet's performance. However, revealing the copycat killer to be a monstrous transwoman who descended into murderous rage due to a botched MTF surgery struck me as being both gross and unnecessary.

No comments:

Post a Comment