Unlike so many noir detectives, this Mason is no womaniser. Now and then he has convenient sex with Lupe (Veronica Falcon), a blunt, hard-drinking pilot who owns the airfield and is the opposite of a glam noir femme fatale. He has an estranged ex-wife, a young son and no visible future.
Rhys plays him with absolute clarity. Sometimes Mason will break into a house and steal evidence. “The way I see it, there’s what’s legal and there’s what’s right,” he says. Smartly, Rhys doesn’t go for a stereotypical tough-guy delivery, but has a calm, straightforward, slightly defeated tone. At times Mason is a selfish jerk, but we see that his behaviour comes from a desperate need to simply survive. Mason often works as an investigator for a gentlemanly lawyer, EB Jonathan (John Lithgow), who draws him into the case that runs through the series. A baby is kidnapped, with gruesome results, and when the child’s meek parents become suspects, Jonathan takes on the defence. But the parents, the police detectives, even Jonathan himself, have murky secrets in their pasts. In one of the series’ many delightful small touches, Lithgow adds a sly, contemporary nod to the line, “Who tells the truth anymore?”
Some grisly images, particularly of corpses, are scattered through the series. Those scenes are so jarring, the jolts may be harder than intended. Like the World War One flashbacks, which seem tossed in half-heartedly, these elements are not organically blended in. But the character and plot are nicely balanced. As Mason’s character evolves, the story becomes more intricate, and he becomes fiercely determined to solve the case, even while the likely suspects keep shifting.
Gayle Rankin (Sheila the She-Wolf in GLOW) is especially nuanced as Emily Dodson, the kidnapped child’s distraught but mysterious mother. She is in the thrall of a money-making church and its glamorous, peroxide-blonde preacher, Sister Alice (Tatiana Maslany). More entertainer than spiritual leader, Sister Alice is a radio preacher who promises her congregation miracles, including to raise a loved one from the dead. There is something so suspicious about Alice, her overbearing mother (Lili Taylor), and the wealthy businessman who supports their church (Robert Patrick), that we’re constantly wondering who is the most sinister. Their plot glancingly touches on themes of fame, belief and fraud.