Apple TV+ thriller Liaison gets down to the dirty business of statecraft this week as Alison and Gabriel head to Brussels for different reasons. A daring refugee camp breakout leads to almosts and what-ifs that drive Alison mad.
Plus, a couple of unfortunate lackeys get put through the ringer — and Britain is still under attack. The episode, entitled “Manipulations,” delivers another solid hour from a team with enough star power to light up London.
Liaison recap: ‘Manipulations’
Season 1, episode 3: French mercenary Gabriel (played by Vincent Cassel) is out of London and getting debriefed by his boss, Dumas (Gérard Lanvin). While he was in the British capital looking for rogue hackers Samir (Aziz Dyab) and Walid (Marco Horanieh) — who stole information relevant to a wave of cyberattacks on the city’s infrastructure — and panicking when he couldn’t do it, Gabriel let slip to Dumas that he had a Hail Mary option if need be.
Well, the need has arisen. Now Dumas wants to know how Gabriel’s going to fix this mess he made. (Samir is missing and Walid’s in the ICU.) Gabriel finally confesses his secret weapon: It’s Alison Rowdy (Eva Green), his old girlfriend, who now works directly under British Cabinet Minister Richard Banks (Peter Mullan). Dumas reminds Gabriel that she was the one who left Gabriel. In fact, she built a career out of testifying against him for some unspoken crime back in the day. Dumas’ advice reads more like that of an old, concerned friend and less like a spymaster.
Shakedowns and shadowy moves
The next day, after they’ve had a chance to scrub through Alison’s stolen phone (Gabriel’s parting gift to himself when he left London), Dumas reveals a new assignment for Gabriel. Realizing that they’re being placed in a difficult position by their backer, French secretary Didier (Stanislas Merhar), Dumas wants a little insurance for his firm.
So he’s sending Gabriel to shake down Didier’s mistress, Sabine Louseau (Laëtitia Eïdo), and to kidnap Samir’s wife, Myriam (Lyna Dubarry), to force the hacker to reveal himself. After Gabriel introduces himself to Sabine on the train to Brussels, they hit it off enough that they exchange numbers.
Then it’s off to the refugee camp (in disguise as a French aid worker) to give Myriam the hard sell. She agrees to come with Gabriel. It’s pretty heartbreaking.
Problems on every front
Meanwhile, Alison’s dealing with her own crises. Her boyfriend Albert’s (Daniel Francis) daughter Kim (Bukky Bakray) was in a terrorist attack last week. One of her schoolmates finally succumbed to his injuries and died. Kim’s guilt complex is going to get much worse, and Alison must show up for her at a time when she’s needed most at her job.
Alison also needs to go to Brussels to talk to Sabine, her contact with the French government. And she’s bringing poor, put-upon Mark Bolton (Patrick Kennedy), head of cybersecurity for the British government. When the terrorist attacks started happening, Mark tried to resign. But Richard wouldn’t let him, because he wasn’t anxious to let a fall guy out of his sight for too long if his team proved unable to stop the attacks from doing more damage. Mark and Richard, thus, hate each other. And Mark hates Sabine even more, because she prevents them from seeing anyone official. This is because Didier is paying her to do it.
What no one knows is that Mark has other masters. He meets with Didier’s partner, shady financier Bob Foret (Eriq Ebouaney), who chews him out for messing up an appeal to stop Britain from joining a European Union cybersecurity pact. The French want to hold England hostage in exchange for security contracts, and Mark didn’t quite realize what he was signing up for when he took their money. (In one of my favorite touches on Liaison thus far, Bob’s office looks like a panopticon.)
Who can you trust?
Gabriel’s extraction gets off to quite a shaky start. As Myriam’s getting her things together, some other interested parties show up in hazmat suits pretending to be some kind of medical authorities. They say she needs a vaccination. When she disagrees, they just start dragging her to their car.
Gabriel catches them, disarms as many of them as he can, and flees. They hit him with a taser, and he manages to drive up the block before passing out. Myriam doesn’t know what to do. So she picks up his phone and dials the first number in it, which happens to be Alison’s.
She soon arrives at the scene, getting them off the side of the road and checking them into her hotel room. (Stephen Hopkins, our director, does a smart thing here by introducing the luxe hotel room in one sweeping, awed shot, to highlight just how uncommon all the splendor is for Myriam. Alison then has to do a little sensual first aid on Gabriel, but remembers herself before fully giving into her urges.)
When hackers attack
Just as Alison’s trying to explain that she can’t be with Gabriel anymore, Richard calls with more bad news. The hackers seized control of the London power grid, and they’re shutting off power at random as a flex. Mark and Alison head back in to talk to Sabine the next day. When she stonewalls them, Mark distracts her and Alison goes up to talk to her boss, Mr. Vandermeer (Nikolai Kinski). Alison gets a handshake from Vandermeer and leaves with a “f*ck you” smile for Sabine.
Then she calls Didier, who says to not be at the meeting that night to sign the deal. Sounds like something bad’s gonna happen. Sabine decides now’s the time to kvetch about her life with the handsome stranger she met on the train. Gabriel and Sabine get a drink at the hotel, and Alison sees them leave in a taxi together, which brings up all kinds of bad feelings. Then Gabriel gives Sabine a little sensual first aid of his own.
Alison heads into her meeting with Vandermeer but excuses herself to use the restroom to gather her thoughts after seeing Gabriel with another woman, a political rival no less, and sees something odd. The same guys who attacked Gabriel at the camp the other day (whom we recognize but Alison does not) all leave the men’s room at the same time. She investigates and finds Bolton dead in a stall, apparently having hanged himself (though, of course, it was murder).
Bet you can’t take your eyes off Vincent Cassel and Eva Green
This is the best episode of Liaison so far. Knowing the players, and finally having a coherent view of the entire game board, makes it easier to sort out your sympathies. Plus, it’s just good clean fun watching Cassel and Green do their thing in the same room.
Green’s goth emotionalism plays like a symphony orchestra next to Cassel’s untouchable cool. He’s famously a guy who will do any kind of part if the experience promises to be interesting. So there’s always a degree of “I could take or leave this” to every performance he gives at this budget level. But he’s never once phoned anything in. He’s just one of those guys from whom you can’t look away.
Together, the two make Liaison must-see TV, but it’s not like the rest is a letdown either.
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.