Apple TV+ international espionage thriller Liaison recovers from a few body blows this week, in an episode appropriately entitled “Carnage.”
Mark Bolton is dead and Alison might be next, but she won’t roll over for anyone, even with boyfriend and mercenary Gabriel trying to get her to see sense. Sabine wants out, Didier’s in the hot seat, Dumas is getting nervous, and London is still in danger. Liaisons pleasures are major even if it does feel deliberately minor in a lot of important ways.
Liaison recap: ‘Carnage’
Season 1, episode 4: French mercenary Gabriel (Vincent Cassel) has just finished seducing French government official Sabine Louseau (Laëtitia Eïdo) when she gets a call. British security head Mark Bolton (Patrick Kennedy) killed himself at the office, minutes before he and his colleague Alison Rowdy (Eva Green), Gabriel’s ex-girlfriend and current conspirator, were meant to sign an agreement to get England into the European cybersecurity program.
Sabine was paid by her boyfriend, a shady French cabinet minister named Didier (Stanislaw Merhar), to freeze them out. It didn’t work, so he hired mercenaries to kill Bolton to send a message. Gabriel needs to know what Sabine knows, so he slept with her under the guise of a foreign aid worker. And on his way out of the apartment, he put spyware on her computer for his boss, Dumas (Gérard Lanvin), to listen in on her conversations and see what she gets up to.
When Sabine hears they killed Bolton, she realizes Didier implicated her in something far more nefarious than he’s so far let on. She finds Alison and tells her the breadth of the conspiracy. She also says she can’t help any more than she already is because she knows they’re both being watched. They seem to be doing OK, but then Alison goes one further and says not to trust the hot guy she slept with a minute ago. That’s too spooky for Sabine. How does Alison know about that? How does she know Gabriel? Just what is happening to her?
Cyberattacks threaten London
Meanwhile, Samir (Aziz Dyab), the hacker who’s been trying to sell information about a current (and still-impending) wave of cybercrime, which is the reason Alison and Bolton were trying to get the deal signed in the first place, finally contacts his wife, Myriam (Lyna Dubarry). She lets him know she’s safe and staying in a hotel room paid for by Alison after Gabriel extracted her from a refugee camp.
Alison goes back to scream at Gabriel, but he’s too concerned after the news of Mark’s death. Mark was, after all, her peer on this cybercrime deal. If they can kill Bolton, they won’t hesitate to kill her, too. She doesn’t want to take his advice, however. She’s too mad at him for sleeping with Sabine.
Didier and Dumas have a little conference about Alison to discuss whether she’ll be a problem. Dumas has a problem, because Didier’s people are with a group called Antropa, and those are bad people. Black market weapons sales and the like. Dumas may be a bit of a crook, running black ops and other underhanded extra-governmental procedures, but he’s still technically on the right side of French law. Antropa is not. Didier assures Dumas that’s not who’s pulling his strings. But who then does Didier’s associate Bob Foret (Eriq Ebouaney) work for?
England is on edge
Regardless, England is running out of time. Alison’s boss Richard Banks (Peter Mullan) is downtown when the latest cyberattack happens. The terrorists, who have been hacking into the London power grid and shutting off the juice to dams and train controls, almost crash a jet when they seize control of its computer systems.
Alison figures out right then and there that they’re not dealing with terrorists as the world understands them. Something much more pointed is happening than some kind of political campaign. Of course, we know that Foret and Didier are at least part of this scheme, and they want to extort the English with pricy private defense contracts. That’s why the French sent Gabriel to retrieve Samir. He knows about the people behind Antropa. Richard tells Alison that Antropa already made overtures to the English to protect them, as every minute England is under threat, millions of lives are at stake. She says to pump the brakes until she can find out more. And she encourages him to be skeptical until they get a fuller picture of the situation.
Alison gets a visit from her boyfriend, Albert (Daniel Francis), who knows from the police in London that she and Gabriel might be connected. Alison, of course, denies this. But Albert’s neither gullible nor foolish. He won’t be kept in the dark for long.
Sabine gets a visit from Didier to try and make sure she’s going to stay on his side in the mission to stonewall the English, but she rejects him. Even if he is the father of her son, she won’t be a party to murder. Gabriel gets a tip that it’d be easier to fake Samir’s death than to keep trying to protect him, but he’s being followed when he leaves with Alison and Myriam to go get him.
You got us into this mess
This next part is one of the few things in Liaison I don’t find credible — enough so that I’m bringing it up, at any rate. I know spy shows rely on a certain level of suspension of disbelief. But when Bob and Didier get together to talk about the problem of Alison, they chicken out on the idea of killing her because her dad (Patrick Malahide) is a high-ranking military guy who got Banks his job. If they kill her, the retaliation would be swift and merciless, is the argument.
OK, but that would be true if anyone found out what these guys were up to. I don’t really see how faking one person’s death is worse than anyone else’s. Admittedly, if she died in a mugging or something, it might raise her veteran dad’s hackles. But it’s not all this other underhanded stuff they’re doing isn’t equally risky for a thousand reasons.
I know the show needs a “good” reason for the villains not to kill the hero but this seems … thin.
Blackmail and other bad stuff
Didier has a better idea, anyway. Dumas gave him something from his private collection of old CCTV recordings. Something that will just as effectively undermine Alison’s credibility in the public eye and with her bosses back home. And that ought to leave Banks with no choice but to sign with Antropa.
Samir is less than thrilled to see Myriam arrive with Gabriel. That’s not surprising, seeing as how the last time they met, Gabriel killed Samir’s friend and fellow hacker, Walid (Marco Horanieh). But if Myriam trusts Gabriel, and they’ve been honest with her up to now, he knows he can at least temporarily put aside his doubts.
The group heads to Alison’s dad Jack’s house to drop off a decoy (Madi Belem) dressed like Samir for the cameras. They put him in the old man’s panic room in a secret corner of his basement. Jack doesn’t love that Gabriel’s back in the picture, given his and Alison’s complicated romantic history. And he’s even less happy when the blackmail from Antropa arrives — footage of Alison killing someone at a rally when she was younger.
When in doubt, bust out the guns
Then the guys with guns show up. Gabriel winds up shooting Jack in the gut, and it’s unclear whether he’s doing it out of pure self-protective impulse or because he’s trying to stop the guy from getting murdered by Antropa’s thugs.
I like little bits of moral ambiguity like that. And Liaison is full of great actors delivering them. (I especially love Patrick Malahide. He’s always such a welcome presence in genre pieces like this.) Even the little niggling logic qualms melt away when the exciting stuff happens. Next week picks up with a gunfight at the Rowdy compound, so I’m excited for that.
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.