What I’m Watching: Mosaic

When I sit down to watch an episode of a TV show I’ve recorded, or of one on Netflix or Hulu in a series I’ve started from the beginning, I only do so if I know I have time to watch the entire episode. I guess it’s the nostalgic part of me that’s trying to preserve the experience of watching television pre-DVR and streaming—it’s the same reason I like to take at least a couple days after I finish a season to let it sink in before I start the next one. Mini or limited series work well for this, since it means I only have to find 6 or 7 hours to finish a series instead of 40 or 50, and it was one of the reasons we decided to watch HBO’s Mosaic.

The other reason was a pretty big one: the series is set in fictional Summit, Utah, and was shot in Park City (which is actually in Summit County). I’ve been going to Park City every year since 2013 with Jeff’s family—but more on that coming after I get back from this year’s trip next week. That being said, we recognized almost all of the locations where the show was shot, which certainly added a level of intrigue and faux-familiarity to the murder mystery.

I should also mention that while it was released as a six-episode series on HBO, Mosaic was originally developed as an app, in which you could follow the story arcs of specific characters and get their viewpoints on the central murder. It was only after all of this content was shot that the idea arose to release it as a limited series on HBO, which I suppose is why the network didn’t advertise it much. While some articles I’ve read have encouraged checking out the app if you enjoyed the show, mainly because it (supposedly) gives you a more definitive answer at the end of who the culprit really was, I thought it was incredibly compelling as a series.

The show opens on a scene of a cop telling Garrett Hedlund‘s Joel that he is about to be arrested for murder and recounting all the evidence that has been compiled against him, before immediately jumping back in time 4 years, to what we can assume is before the murder. This structure pulls you in right off the bat, while also challenging you to keep an open mind as the story unfolds, knowing in the back of your mind who the police believe committed the crime. By starting the series with this scene and then going back to tell the story chronologically, creator Steven Soderbergh is basically yelling in your ear to be wary of unreliable narrators, which ends up working because he never sticks with a character’s point of view long enough for us to get comfortable with or really trust him or her. Establishing this wariness in the viewer is exactly what you want to do when you’re presenting a classic whodunit, and this method of doing it was very effective.

The plot was very intricate, and if you try too hard to follow it or put faces to names you’ll get frustrated—but you don’t really have to in order to enjoy it. The captivating Sharon Stone plays children’s book author Olivia Lake, and I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Her character was emotional, vivacious, impulsive and tragic all at the same time. Since seeing him in the film Country Strong in 2010 I’ve always been excited to see Garrett Hedlund, and he turns in a great performance here as well. Devin Ratray plays Nate, a Summit police officer trying to trust his gut who also exemplifies one of the themes of the series: The idea of how dangerous it can be to fixate on one solution. Or, in other words, the danger of trusting your own opinion, of convincing yourself that you’re the most reliable narrator in your own story.

Soderbergh does some really interesting stuff with camera angles and soft focuses, so if you’re someone who picks up on those things they provide an additional element to think about, an additional layer of narration to consider. I still haven’t decided if I’m going to dive into the app in hopes of elucidating some questions I still have, though I’ve never been keen on watching television on my phone because of the size of the screen. And if I don’t, I am certainly willing to accept the miniseries for what it was: thought-provoking, sad, challenging and a little fuzzy around the edges, but in a good way.

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