1899 poster

"1899" premiered on Netflix on Nov. 17, and on Nov. 30, it was the current third most watched series on Netflix behind “Wednesday” and “Crime Scene: The Texas Killing Fields.” It has been received with mostly positive reviews, with Rotten Tomatoes rating it at a 79% on its Tomato-Meter and an average audience rating of 75%.

This show was created by Jantje Friese and Baran bo Odar. The plot of the first season follows a group of immigrants leaving London for America on a ship called “Kerberos.” Four months previously, another ship called “Prometheus” embarked on the same journey, only to disappear. “Kerberos” comes across “Prometheus” on its journey and finds the ship abandoned except for one passenger.

I was intrigued by this series from the time I first saw it on Netflix. It was one of the first days after it premiered and was broadcast as the featured show at the top of Netflix’s home page. I watched the trailer and thought to myself, “I love a period piece and a mystery,” so I added this show to my list of things to watch.

The show was appealing to me because of its gorgeous cinematography and production. I was thoroughly impressed with the dedication to creating a tense and eerie atmosphere through the setting of the show. The lighting in particular was instrumental in creating unease – the show has a general color scheme (that I noticed) of darker, cool tones. I mean, it’s set in 1899 … it’s not like there was fluorescent lighting at the time, but the show was mostly made up of grays and dark blues, and it made the mood very mysterious.

In my opinion, the cinematography is the best part about this show. For one reason or another, no other aspects of the show worked for me.

I felt like I had no idea who these characters were or what their relationships with each other were until I was well into the show. I understand that the show is meant to be mysterious, but I felt like it was more important to have mysterious moments driving the plot, not to make every aspect of the show so mysterious that I had to google the main character’s name after I finished watching the first episode. I liked that each character has their own story, but I didn’t actually like any of the characters.

The acting – if the actors were told to act as if they cannot, under any circumstance, say what they’re thinking or doing and to look stiff while doing it, then they were perfect. Again, there’s a fine line between making the show mysterious in plot and making the show so convoluted and answerless that no one knows what’s happening.

The soundtrack – it added to the unease, I will admit. However, most of the music was the kind that gets described by Netflix’s subtitles as “ominous synth music.” That’s not inherently a bad thing, but when you’re watching it and you have more fun pointing out the way Netflix is describing it in the subtitles than you do when watching the show, then it’s not super effective. Using Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’ as the main theme for the intro of each episode was a great decision, in my opinion. It’s one of those songs that is so well done that you wish you had that kind of talent, and it sets the mood for each episode perfectly. It’s eerie and makes your skin crawl, but it’s ominously beautiful.

The editing – I watched this with some of my friends who want to be filmmakers or critics because I thought they would add to my understanding of the show, and they did … because they agreed when I said that the scenes didn’t offer many stakes. This is where I get into my issue with pacing, too: everything moves so slowly. If we cut out the scenes where characters communicated through sparse words and mostly meaningful gazes, then I think we would get a lot further a lot quicker. The show is so slow that I verbally exclaimed multiple times “Oh my God, get on with it already!” While the cinematography was beautiful, like I said, the slowness and editing didn’t aid me in understanding the story.

Finally, the plot – it seemed interesting. The premise, in my opinion, was fun and new. Without spoiling anything, I will say that the twist at the end of the series was a letdown to me. It’s something that has been done before, and I wish there was more originality. Granted, the twist in this show is a twist that is becoming more popular in film and media, so I will offer some points back to the writers if they began developing this show before this trope became so popular. On the other hand, the basic motivations of each character were clear and I understood them – again, no spoilers, but when characters became more focused on finding out the mysteries of “Prometheus,” I became lost. I wish that more of the original motivations of the characters had been satisfied throughout the show, but that’s my bone to pick with the writers.

Overall, I don’t think I would watch this show again. I don’t feel like I benefitted anything after watching it, but I understand why it could seem interesting to some people. Maybe slow-paced mystery is incredibly appealing because people like learning about all parts of the show as it progresses. I personally could not get past the fact that I felt like I didn’t know anything, and I was ultimately unsatisfied with the climax of the show. I wish I liked the show more because it seems to be popular and well-received, but I just couldn’t align myself with it.

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