Notes on Streaming: UNIT 42 Solves Cyber Crimes, Wins Tough Hearts

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas (@peteramartin)
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Notes on Streaming: UNIT 42 Solves Cyber Crimes, Wins Tough Hearts

An old-school procedural is modernized with warmth, empathy, and technology.

Unit 42
Now streaming on Netflix.

The first episode is tight, twisting, and tumultuous, leading to a nail-biting conclusion that kept me tense and nervous throughout. Of course I wanted to watch more!

The Cyber Crime Unit of the Brussels police force in Belgium, known as the titular Unite 42, is charged with solving crimes that are made possible through the latest technology. The four-member team hacks, decrypt and otherwise puzzles out a violent crime each week, all while dealing with their own personal issues.

The series showcases various aspects of technology that are used by people to commit crimes and then try to cover them up. In contrast to something like Black Mirror, which takes a more philosophical, social-issue view of possible technology dangers to mankind, Unit 42 is far more grounded, looking at how individuals can be affected by the wonders and dangers of social media, new medical research and the like.

Rather than any sort of blanket condemnation of technology, the series examines how the cases impact the team members. Sam (Patrick Ridremont) returns to police work as newly-installed head of the unit after the death of his wife. He is haunted by precious memories as he also must raise his three young children on his own.

Billie (Constance Gay) is a brilliant, yet young and inexperienced police officer with a checkered past as a computer hacker. Nassim (Roda Fawaz) is quietly gay and Middle Eastern and a little less brilliant than Billie. Like Sam, Bob (Tom Audenaert) is middle-aged and is a family man, though he is far more seasoned with technology; still, he's often the comic relief. The unit reports occasionally to Helene (Helene Theunissen), a crisply efficient leader, and is often assisted by the department's forensics expert Alice (Danitza Athanassssiadis), who just happens to be deaf.

Created by Julie Bertrand, Annie Carels, Charlotte Joulia and Guy Goosens, the French-language series reminds me of old-school U.S. television crime shows, in that one case in each episode is solved in less than an hour. So there's satisfaction in knowing that it's not necessary to binge the entire series at once to know how any particular storyline will be resolved.

What made me binge it -- I've seen all 10 episodes -- was that the characters are well-defined and invite empathy. The team members actually feel like a team, each with strengths and weaknesses. None of them radically transforms into someone else, but we learn more about them, gradually. And though the main plot -- the "A" story, if you will -- is resolved in each episode, the "B" and "C" story threads develop throughout the series, bringing greater insight into the motivations of each character.

It's also notable that the criminals do not fall into standard-issue 'evil bad people' tropes. They are not necessarily career criminals, but, rather, individuals who sometimes fall into crime rather than consciously setting out to do harm to another.

Directed by Indira Siera, Roel Mondelaers, and Hendrik Moonen, the dark and stylish series looks good on television and pay dividends for viewers who watch more than one episode (i.e., certain actions pay off, eventually, in a non-frustrating manner).

Summing up: Recommended.

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