New Apple TV+ thriller Liaison is a highly ambitious series about sex, espionage and state secrets. It’s positively studded with international talent, and has a veteran action director at the helm.
The six-episode miniseries, which premiered Friday, stars bona fide French film icons Vincent Cassel and Eva Green. It was created by prolific French TV writer Virginie Brac, who’s attempting to cross over to the American market.
It’s a handsomely mounted and well-performed tale of a hacker who throws a monkey wrench in the geopolitical works as cyberterrorists threaten the safety of Europe.
Liaison recap: ‘Storm Warning’
Season 1, episode 1: In the series opener, entitled “Storm Warning,” somewhere in Damascus the Syrian military is closing in on a hacker named Samir (played by Aziz Dyab). He’s alone in a warehouse, and they come in guns blazing. But somehow Samir gives them the slip.
Now he’s Gabriel’s (Vincent Cassel) problem. Who’s Gabriel? He’s one of the guys the French government calls when they want something ugly done quickly and quietly? Black ops, I think is the phrase. They contacted the French embassy in Syria and want to seek political asylum. It’s Gabriel’s job to find them, make sure their documents are in order, and protect them before the Syrians can kill them.
What do the hackers know? They claim they have information on impending cyberattacks on the whole of Europe. The French government agrees with its military attache, Didier (Stanislas Merhar) — it’s time to take action. Samir is desperate for this, and agrees to all of their terms. He’s not alone, you see. He’s got a wife, Myriam (Lyna Dubarry), and a baby, and a fellow hacker named Walid (Marco Horanieh). That part might present a problem when they get to border control.
London takes a hit
Across the English Channel, British cabinet minister Richard (Peter Mullan) is being briefed on just such a cyberattack. Someone hacked into the Home Office’s DMZ and uploaded a cute animation that would appear to portend dangerous things indeed. Perhaps a bombing.
His aide Alison (Eva Green) stops him from throwing a tantrum in the briefing room, but he’s nervous all the same. She doesn’t take Richard’s concern so seriously. When Richard calls later, Alison lets her boyfriend, lawyer Albert (Daniel Francis) answer the phone. The couple celebrate one of his legal victories by heading to bed instead of taking the call. They’re being together bothers Richard, too, though he won’t admit it until he gets drunk at a party later and calls her again. Turns out Richard was right to worry. Someone hacked into a dam’s central computer, froze its gears remotely, and flooded London.
A kidnapping, some torture … you know, the usual
Gabriel gets kidnapped during the rescue operation. Samir and Myriam get away, but Gabriel is taken and tortured before a fellow mercenary (Yan Tual) recognizes him and frees him. Everybody’s looking for the hackers. It’s nothing personal — not even the toenail they ripped off.
Gabriel heads to Paris to regroup. He asks one of his handlers, Dumas (Gérard Lanvin), how he was found out so easily. His guy only lets him know that the hackers are hot property.
Once Samir and Walid make it to London, they get jobs as waiters in a hotel so they can lay low and stay near London’s power players. They try to get in touch with Mark Bolton (Patrick Kennedy), the head of London’s cybersecurity department, but Gabriel finds them first. He beats Walid senseless in an elevator, and steals a USB drive containing confidential information. But he earns a nasty stab wound for his trouble. Gabriel tries to catch Samir but loses him on a London street.
Everyone’s search for the hackers
Bolton is in hot water, and the arrival of Samir with confidential information could have been useful. But now, with the hackers having already done massive damage (which Bolton assured Richard wouldn’t happen), he knows his head’s on the chopping block. Furthermore, the attacks aren’t going to stop anytime soon.
He tries to resign, but Richard won’t let him. Bolton knows he’s going to be the government’s fall guy and doesn’t want any part of it, but Richard assures him his life’s going to be a lot worse if he takes his head out of the noose. He also asks Daniel to take Walid’s case when he wakes up from the beating Gabriel laid on him. His girlfriend, Richard’s aide, begs him not to take the case. He too will be a fall guy come the right moment. But Daniel doesn’t want to hear it. He smells a high-profile win and won’t be distracted.
Liaison is smart and stuffed with action and stars
Film and TV veteran Stephen Hopkins directed all of Liaison, and the miniseries proves both better and worse than I expected. Hopkins’ coverage sometimes makes zero sense, and he’ll cut to random angles in conversations for no real reason. He lights some action sequences in that awful too-dark turquoise that’s so in vogue right now for some reason. And the color grading is so charged up you lose subtitles in some scenes.
But he’s basically good in a gunfight — you gotta give him that. Hopkins came of age in the go-go ’90s, directing such high-profile action movies as The Ghost and the Darkness, Predator 2, Lost in Space and Judgment Night. He then took some time off because I’m guessing none of those movies is your favorite.
Not to impugn his talent or anything — I had fun watching his movies — but maybe TV is the safest place for him. It lets him thrust his neon intrusions into a more straightforward narrative. Liaison moves like a cheetah and is never boring. You have to give Hopkins some credit for that.
Excellent writing, with acting to match
The rest of Liaison‘s appeal comes down to Virginie Brac’s no-nonsense writing (ah, to not be condescended to by a geopolitical thriller script) and the almost absurdly overqualified cast. Stanislas Merhar, Eriq Ebouaney, Irène Jacob, Peter Mullan … to say nothing of stars Cassel and Green … I mean, these are serious talents, and we haven’t really even gotten to a bunch of their characters yet.
This is the most promising start an Apple TV+ thriller has yet had. And while I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that it’s all that star power dragging me over the finish line, I’m not made of stone. I like watching superstars as much as the next guy, and Liaison‘s got a dozen of ’em.
Watch Liaison on Apple TV+
New episodes of Liaison appear on Apple TV+ each Friday.
Watch on: Apple TV+
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.