If you binge-watched the fabulous true crime drama Mindhunter , and you’re now wondering where your next serial killer thriller fix is going to come from, wonder no longer. A TV series, La Mante (The Mantis) airing on Netflix is equally binge-worthy — even though it’s totally fictional. I hope.
The series is in six episodes, and is subtitled. I read somewhere that a dubbed version is available, but I didn’t check that out. Subtitles don’t bother me. In fact, I could even welcome them for English- language TV shows, given the “mumbly” bad sound of a lot of British and American TV on flat screens nowadays. In any event, the series was definitely must-see TV for me since one of the main characters in the new thriller I’m writing is the son of an executed serial killer.
Homage to Hannibal
The Mantis is a homage of sorts to the serial killer thriller of all time, Silence of the Lambs. Instead of cannibal Hannibal Lecter however, the serial killer in this series who offers help in capturing the copycat killer terrorizing the suburbs and countryside around Paris is — a woman. So, a pretty neat twist on the original — especially since she is also a mother who was separated from her only son, Damien (what’s in a name??) when he was ten. She was arrested and torn away from him in a traumatic scene shown in a brief flashback.
Gruesome Serial Killings
Now, some twenty years later after three very grisly new killings (involving decapitation, emasculation and tons of blood which the French are not shy about showing) Jeanne offers her expertise to the cops on condition that she works only through Damien. Her son is now an undercover cop on a narcotics team.
It has been an extremely well-guarded secret , known only by Damien, Grandpa Charles, (Jeanne’s father,) and a handful of law enforcement types(judge, prosecutors and defense lawyers) that twenty years before Jeanne confessed to eight gruesome serial killings — of men who had sexually and physically abused their wives and/or children — allowing the cops to close the cases in exchange for some concessions. These included allowing her to change her name to Deber (to protect Damien,), but better known as The Mantis, and the cops’ co-operation with a story put out by Charles that Jeanne Carrot, his daughter and Damien’s mother had perished in a plane crash off the coast of Africa.
Flawless Serial Killer Thriller
The Mantis is an almost flawlessly constructed and plotted thriller. There is no need here to raise the very minor apparent inconsistencies that struck me. Watching strictly with a writer’s eye, I may have been too exacting, or may have simply somehow missed an explanation given that the series is subtitled. The questions raised, anyway, do not affect the enjoyment of this perfectly paced thriller series. I intended to watch just one episode on the afternoon I tuned in, but ended up watching all six (my birthday present to myself.)
My Mother, the Serial Killer
There are three narrative arcs which are tightly intertwined with the main story of the investigation into the copycat killings which replicate to a “T” the original murders committed by the Mantis.
First, the mother-son arc starts with a son (Damien) who is hostile to his mother, and doesn’t want anything to do with her outside of the information she can provide to him and his team.
He despises her for committing crimes that took her away from him, and for sentencing him to a life of nightmares which he can’t share with his wife, Lucie. Initially, he is not interested in understanding the horrendous, personal demons that drove his mother to kill eight men. He takes off his wedding ring each time he meets with her to preclude any questions from her into his personal life.
Second, there is the narrative arc that follows the disintegrating marriage of Damien and Lucie (who has a daughter from a previous marriage.) Damien’s nightmares stemming from his mother’s arrest for crimes he didn’t understand when he was 10, return on his appointment as lead investigator of the team pursuing the copycat killer. This is a secret he cannot share with his wife which naturally sets Lucie off on a path to conduct her own investigation in which she enlists the help of her friend, Virginie.
And, of course he cannot explain to Lucie that his reluctance to have a child with her stems from his deepest fear that he will pass on a murderous gene from his mother to his child. Woohoo!!!!! Of course, this is where I fell in love with this series given that one of the main characters in my third thriller is also the son of a sadistic serial killer. (In my thriller, the serial killer is a male, and his son deals with the possibility of passing on a murderous gene in an entirely different way, and with disastrous consequences.)
Motive for Serial Killings ?
The third narrative arc is The Mantis’s story. Played by classically beautiful actress, Carole Bouquet, the Mantis is an enigma to her son, the cops and to the viewer. Why does she offer help to the cops? Because she genuinely wants to help the investigation? Because she is bloodthirsty, and wants to relive her own past sadistic killings? Or because she wants to spend time with her son, and redeem herself in his eyes? Also, what did she do to Damien’s father? Who is Damien’s father? Was he one of The Mantis’s victims? And, of course, ultimately, Damien and the viewer need an answer to the question of what really drove her to kill eight men?
Almost immediately after the Mantis is transferred to a luxurious, empty French chateau to better help Damien pursue the copycat killer, she proves her worth by pointing out a detail that sets the cops on a promising trail, but which nevertheless leads to a dead end. The investigation continues the with cops, aided by the Mantis zeroing in on a childhood friend of Damien’s who is now an artist living in a fabulous Tribeca-style loft in an artsy Paris suburb where he creates graphic, wildly gory comic books.
Some other reviews of this TV series come with warnings about the bloody scenes the cops encounter as they pursue the copycat killer. It is indisputable that some scenes are gory enough to send a viewer out of the room, screaming: a victim is seen drowning as a huge hospital laundromat fills up with water; another victim is strung up from the rafters, gagged and slashed to pieces; a third victim is seen by the cops on live TV as the copycat killer hobbles him, breaking his ankles and knees with a huge wooden mallet in preparation for finally finishing him off.
As someone who closes her eyes firmly shut at any sign of blood on TV, I view it as a testament to this show’s extraordinary storytelling, plotting and pacing that a TV series this bloody kept me watching.
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SPOILER ALERT & APOLOGY
Finally, I must note that the series has provoked the ire of some members of the LGBTQ community (in tweets posted just after the series initially aired) just as Silence of the Lambs provoked protests from the same group. Antagonist Buffalo Bill in that book/movie was skinning women to make a “woman suit” for himself, and was therefore, according to some in that community, promulgating a negative, and cliched image of “self-loathing, or downright insane LGBTQ antagonists.”
I could be putting my foot into my mouth here, but I honestly did not arrive at the end of this series with its big reveal as to who the copycat killer is with the thought: ‘Oh yeah sure that makes sense because all transsexuals who can’t find love will turn into sadistic serial killers.’ Of course, it’s not my place to declare what is genuinely offensive to a community of which I am not a part. As “woke” as I like to think I am, I do not walk in their shoes.