This name of this series, The Kettering Incident, is somehow very apropos of the series itself. It’s somewhat stiff, somewhat foreign-sounding and a whole lot confusing. Building on the current spate of sci-fi mystery shows, this one brings to it a little of The O.A., as it also stars a mysterious blonde woman who returns home after a long absence (though this one is a spidery 6’3″ blonde), a smidge of Stranger Things, as a kid on a bike mysteriously vanishes into the woods (though this one looks to involve either UFOs, or a murder, or both) and a touch of The Returned, as others in this small town seem to disappear and come back somewhat changed (though with Australian-tinged English accents and not French-tinged French). The issue is, of course, if you’re going to borrow from all over the place and remind the audience of all sorts of successful and less-successful shows out there, you better damn well shore up your plan and deliver something equally stunning and/or unique as the others without just seeming like a ripoff. The result here? Eh.
The general rundown of this show’s narrative is that a doctor from London, Anna Macy (Debicki), who has some clear issues — including fugue states where she loses time — bottoms out in London and returns home to her Tasmanian hometown where she hasn’t been in fifteen years. Turns out she was involved in a suspicious disappearance years before when the aforementioned girl on a bike — her best friend, Gillian — vanished into the forest when in her company. And then Anna was apparently found with blood all over her, blah, blah. Yeah, that probably didn’t look good for her. But, whatever the case and her level of guilt, the town kind of turned their back on her and blamed her for her friend’s death — even if there was no actual evidence of her involvement. Like any small-town drama, there is lots of intrigue about dudes cheating with other men’s wives, questionable parentage of various characters and lots and lots of collusion and cover-ups by cops, business people and families. And lots of grief. Lots and lots of grief — all shown in tracking and long-shots of crashing waves, deep forest and mist-covered mountains — all the craggy and beautiful terrain of their Tasmanian island. And, of course, weird behavior of animals. There is always weird behavior of animals, both wild and domestic in these shows for some reason.
The thing that then tips this from being your prototypical European child-murder and small-town intrigue show like a Broadchurch, Happy Valley or The Missing and into that sci-fi realm is the seeming inclusion of UFOs or something other-worldly. There are these UFO-ish lights and a strange ear-piercing sound that seems to precede the demise or disappearance of townsfolk. There is some creepy, invasive moss-like growth that seems to grow on or near people who have walked around the area where said lights have shown up, and folks appear with weird markings in a particular pattern on them that seems to indicate they’ve been infected by something possibly alienish. Not to mention the giant moths that also gather and swarm around people or places for some unknown reason. There is also the matter of dead bodies being moved long distances, our protagonist’s flashbacks and blackouts that always seem to end up with someone missing or dead and various allusions to something not entirely normal going on, including a twin moon in the sky that nobody seems to notice, a UFO conspiracy group meeting in secret in the woods and Anna’s comatose mother suddenly awaking, only to lead her to some joint in the forest.
If it all sounds kind of messy and convoluted, it is. First off, everyone is a white Australian person. There are some confusing familial things going on, to be sure, but I had issues even remembering who was who, as they all just kind of blended in with one another. Sure, they gave one dude facial hair and there were some with white hair and others with brown hair, but remembering who was whose cousin and/or illegitimate daughter was like trying to follow a Gabriel García Márquez novel. Add to that a lot of head-fakes, red herrings, nonsensical diversions and an overall pall and you get waxing and waning interest from the viewer from episode to episode. Like a lot of its British ilk, this show is also completely humorless. Anna Macy never smiles, never really emotes much at all, but walks around like a giant mopey katydid, sometimes Googling shit and other times just lurking in the background watching people at funerals from a pasture. I was also distracted that she was quite a bit taller than her father (and probably a foot taller than her mother), which is totally just something that my obsessive mind would focus on, but if you’re going to get the world’s tallest actress to play the lead, maybe you should cast someone equally gigantic to play her cop father. Anyway, the story progresses through its eight episodes, with very little view into where its going until the eighth episode. Perhaps this was an attempt in its original showing to keep fan theories from spoiling the mystery, or perhaps it was just problematic storytelling. Either way, the narrative was incredibly confusing and, even when all is kinda-sorta revealed in the last hour, it’s ultimately not at all clear. I thought perhaps it was just me and my inability to focus on the through-line because I was always trying to remember who the logging guy with the hat was, but I checked out a couple sites and realized that even the hardcore fans were left shrugging at the show’s revelation and unresolved resolution. The creators of the show were clearly banking on a second season (which I don’t think has been confirmed yet), as season one ends opening up more questions than it answers.
There is a lot of television out there. There is a lot of sci-fi television out there. In fact, you could even go back and watch some classic sci-fi tv like The X-Files and get a lot of the same thing out of it you do out of this series. In fact, this whole thing feels like it could have been shoved into a one-hour episode of The X-Files — and, in fact, might have been, if I scroll through the synopsis of all the episodes. If there is a second season of this series, the writers are going to have a lot to untangle and explain, but the question is whether or not the audience will hang with them through it. I might, but will quickly sour if they can’t streamline some of the character interactions and at least make their main character, Anna Macy, more compelling and involved in her own story.