Critipeg: Blood & Water

“Fiksation” ★★★½ out of 5

New episodes air Sept. 24 on Netflix

Netflix’s Blood & Water is a South African teen drama series that follows highschooler Puleng Khumalo (Ama Qamata) as she attempts to unravel the mysterious disappearance of her older sister Phumelele.

Narratively speaking, one of the more interesting aspects of the show’s first episode “Fiksation” is the details surrounding Phumelele’s disappearance. Early on, it’s established that Phumelele was kidnapped as an infant, with no leads or theories as to who took her and why.

For Puleng, this is an especially difficult emotional burden to bear. She feels like she and her younger brother are second-rate compared to the memory of Phumelele.

The show establishes this dynamic by demonstrating how Puleng’s mother Thandeka Khumalo (Gail Mabalane) devotedly marks Phumelele’s birthday each year, turning it into a relatively lavish occasion that serves as both a celebration and memorial.

In this moment, and other instances where Phumelele is spoken of, a lot of attention is put toward exploring Puleng’s frustrations. Her turmoil here is easily conveyed, well-acted and extremely relatable, despite the relatively uncommon nature of the tragedy she lives with.

The area where the first episode falls short is the mystery.

While the show presents an interesting twist to Phumelele’s disappearance, the way it seeds it into the story is somewhat ham-fisted.

For instance, there are a few moments where Puleng – as she’s trying to investigate her sister’s disappearance – converses idly with her friends and peers, and from that stumbles into an idea or revelation that moves her progress on the mystery forward.

During these moments, the dialogue becomes a little too on-the-nose. Or, even worse, the dialogue spells out a connection that is otherwise easily inferred.

Even still, as the layers of the mystery are pulled back one by one, a good amount of intrigue is produced. There’s clearly an in-depth network of secrets, betrayal and lies that are waiting to be unearthed throughout the plot of the show. Fortunately, the dialogue doesn’t hinder the intrigue too much.

Plus, other aspects work well enough to enhance the show’s quality. Particularly the cinematography, set design, music and lighting gel well together and create a cohesive viewing experience.

Overall the first episode of Netflix’s Blood & Water is worth a watch. Despite its shortcomings, “Fiksation” is the pilot episode, and the show will more than likely improve in quality throughout the later episodes. With the second season right around the corner, now would be an ample time to catch up on the first season in preparation for new episodes

Published in Volume 76, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 9, 2021)

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