Stay Close, 1.1 [includes spoilers for 1.1]

These posts and any comments in them will contain spoilers. PLEASE do not read them if you wish to take a fresh look at each episode when it becomes available in your region, or you have time to watch it.

DISCLAIMERS: I’m not sure that I’m suited to this kind of blogging any more, but I thought I’d give it a try. I have not read this novel; I am on record as being “meh” to negative about Harlan Coben’s work; I have not followed the pre-broadcast publicity in more than an extremely tangential way; I have strictly avoided spoilers up till now; I am not familiar with Manchester or Blackpool; and I have not read any advance reviews of the show. So this is not going to be the level of detailed blogging I did for Berlin Station, where I recognized most of the exteriors and a lot of the interiors, and I don’t know if I have the attention span at present for the blow-by-blow snarky summary that was so popular back then, either. I also don’t know if I will blog all the way through it — but these posts are an attempt to revive my critical faculties. I will decide at the end of each episode whether there will be a next one.

With that in mind, here goes. Reminder: SPOILERS. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.


First impression: Stay Close appears to follow a standard dramatic set-up for a thriller. What the Germans call “heile Welt” (ideal, unbroken world) is revealed as standing on shaky legs, and the outcome of the attempt to maintain the present idyll in the face of its challenge from the chaotic (in this case, criminal) past is the motor of the action in the piece. The explosive past threatens the more desirable present.


The show’s opener visualizes the threat to the unbroken world in very literal terms, with a number of items associated with idyllic family life exploding in rather dramatic fashion. Here, Richard Armitage’s name is paired with cracking (what looks like) Fiestaware. That’s sad. I like Fiestaware.


Its credibility for the observer, in turn, relies on a subset of one main question — how much do we care about either the secret, or the consequences of its unveiling? First, do we we believe the risks to the ideal world from the past are so severe that the main character is justified in trying to prevent or avoid its revelation? In this case, would it really ruin Megan / Cassie’s life just to tell the truth? How much does she have to lose? (There’s the subsidiary problem of how much maintaining her unbroken world could mean to other characters affected by the deception. Does keeping her secret mean causing concrete harm to others?) Second, do we believe that the antagonist really has an interest in stirring up the past, or perhaps, do we feel that if the past is stirred up, the antagonist will feel compelled to take decisive action?

I took the time to lay out this conflict scheme mostly because if you think this slow starts slowly (and I do), I think it’s because it’s not clear until much of the way through episode one what the secret is, and I don’t know if I buy into the “Megan’s entire world will be destroyed” half of the equation. It didn’t help me a lot that her potential losses were visualized primarily in heavily capitalist terms (nice house, bougie friends, standard suburban vehicles, upwardly mobile tennis-playing daughters, etc.), so that I felt somewhat alienated about the goal of the exercise for much of the episode. It didn’t help that we were give a mother-in-law with dementia, who to me looks frighteningly like she’s going to end up a hostage to fortune.


I will definitely say that if I were going to sympathize strongly with this protagonist’s problems, Cush Jumbo could make me do it. I love her smart, classy everywoman vibe.

In contrast, it does seem like the concrete threats of Megan / Cassie’s past (in the form of physical violence, potential homicide, etc., on the part of the aggressors) are more potent, but they are not fleshed out especially well and the identity of the aggressor seems somewhat diffuse. What’s confusing is that on the one side, “Stewart Green” seems to be the aggressor and on the other, he’s also a missing person who seemed to have an entirely respectable past. This is part of the puzzle we are meant to solve. I don’t know how much I care, though, particularly at the beginning of the episode.


Fanny and Bofur are the detectives sent to solve the problem. That alone is amusing — maybe funnier to me than the fact that they are supposed to be former marital partners. I can’t imagine that would work in a professional situation or even be allowed, but whatever.

Part of the issue there is that the structure of the episode makes it unclear what the problem is — this is not so much a case of burying the lede (we do see something concerning happening right away the beginning, at a club called Vipers — ooh, foreshadowing) but, instead, of muddying it. There’s a yelling young man; the cops follow up later; I didn’t even realize it was the same guy; it wasn’t clarified fully who he was until later on. Again, yes, I know this is part of the problem we are supposed to solve; but it’s presented in such a fragmented way that it doesn’t really reach the bar of being suspenseful. The young man’s problems are not presented in a very urgent way, even the cops don’t think his disappearance is all that serious, and it’s not entirely clear until very late what the connection to Megan / Cassie is supposed to be. Important detail: he never takes his necklace off.

In a conspicuously unobtrusive scene, Ray (Richard Armitage) finally appears as a paparazzo who is stalking a colorfully dressed bar mitzvah boy — in cahoots with a bouncer named Fester (the best thing I can say about this is that it might be a very lame joke).

You’ve still got it, baby.

Leaving aside whether it’s as tasteless as Coben and Armitage apparently think to do this kind of work, I’m not at this point entirely buying Armitage in the role. He’s got the look, and the accent sounds convincing to me, but in general I find him just a little bit too crisp to be completely credible in this allegedly “low life” persona.


Also, I feel like maybe he’s had some maintenance done recently.


But he’s still really good looking.

Watching this episode also made me think that the cinematographer has a real gift for shooting the individual against an interesting background. In many ways, this is visually better TV than I anticipated. Some examples:



This precise observation extends to the scene where we see Ray’s interior — pushing at the war photographer past Armitage mentioned in an interview — very interesting to see.


It’s also hard to watch this without wondering whether Armitage is living out a life-long fantasy about tattoos (remember the talk about Lucas North) that he can’t ever fulfill in real life for some reason?


This connection — Ray’s stolen camera uploaded a picture to the web of the young man (Carlton Flynn) from the first scene — seemed really implausible to me. I don’t see how Fester could have connected that blurry image to that young man.

At about a half-way into this episode, we finally get a clue to Megan / Cassie’s past — a woman from that context passive aggressively confronts her at her daughter’s tennis match and now they meet up. The woman — Lorraine — warns her about “Stewart Green.” Again, flashes back to an apparently sordid and threatening past. Then-Cassie ran away suddenly from her previous lodging, even leaving a plastic ring behind that the woman thinks was meaningful to Cassie.

The cops are able to locate the missing Flynn boy to the club from the first scene — which we have now also seen in Megan / Cassie’s flashbacks. They visit it and are assured there are no tapes from the point of Carlton Flynn’s disappearance. Then we’re back to Cassie’s perspective.


Not very subtle — the Shaw Family Rules point out to Megan / Cassie that she’s in trouble.


She gets a scene with her elder daughter where her daughter is skeptical that her mother could have been so rebellious, and where she looks for information about Stewart Green.

Then we see Ray outside of the “Dream” sculpture (near Liverpool), where the picture Fester found was taken.


Gratuitous Richard Armitage thumbshot. Do you like the rings, or not?


He photographs some suspicious blood on a rock.

And then, in a move, I find really improbable, Megan / Cassie shows up at Green’s (widow’s?) house and actually talks to her. Really? If you’re trying to run from your past, probably not the best choice to run straight at it. Mrs. Green makes her and she drives away.


Had I been the cinematographer, I wouldn’t have been able to resist this, either. (Although the first glance I had made me think it was “Schlock’s fun palace.” According to Trip Advisor, it’s not only a real place, but a “whole kingdom of family fun.”)


Of course, she also drives out to the sculpture, in order to experience another flashback, as Mrs. Green tells Bofur (okay, his actual name is Broome) about the visit. Megan / Cassie then tries to track down a figure from her past (Harry Sutton, played by Eddie Izzard) who is now a tapped-out junkie. While visiting him, his roommates attempt to rob her, but she knocks them out (again: how realistic? but very resourceful and admirable) and escapes. This is the point where I start to like her enough that I am starting to be less bothered about how weird I find her behavior.

She returns to her ideal world, but meanwhile, Ray is looking through old photo albums. (Wow. Photo albums.)


Further gratuitous Richard Armitage thumbshot.


He and Megan / Cassie were clearly a thing, and it’s a good memory. We even see her getting the ring. These glimpses are interspersed with segments of her trying on her wedding dress at home.

But the ending is ominous. These pleasant scenes are cut through with scenes at Vipers, where we find Lorraine (duh dun). Megan / Cassie finds an old blond wig in her closet. Lorraine is looking at “archive” footage of the club where Megan / Cassie is there, wearing that wig.

And then another series of interspersed cuts. Megan / Cassie’s daughter is at home, wearing and playing with Carlton’s necklace. A shot shows Carlton and her daughter at Vipers. His father is looking at a picture of him with the necklace, and she’s playing with it. Megan / Cassie was right to be suspicious.


OK, at this point I’m (a) not gonna lie — this is not compelling enough that I would have watched another episode without the Armitage incentive. However (b) I am going to watch more of it for that reason and (c)I promise to blog about it when I do.

Continues here.

~ by Servetus on January 1, 2022.

49 Responses to “Stay Close, 1.1 [includes spoilers for 1.1]”

  1. I’m sorry for the loss…of your fiesta ware. snort.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I watched 5 episodes last night, up to 2.30 CET. I think I like it more than The Stranger. But that might change at the end, who knows.
    p.s. happy and healthy New Year 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I still haven’t watched The Stranger. But I think now I finally will sometime. I was losing the belief that I’d find the energy, ever.

      Happy New Year to you, too and let’s hope for a real upswing.


  3. Noting that Ray’s interior (if not necessarily the camera work) was part of Armitage’s preparation for the role — as mentioned in Radio Times piece.


  4. I have watched the first episode. I found it very similar to the Stranger with chase in woods sequence, middle class affluence, cheesy family. I did wonder whether the set for Megan”s family home was the same one used in the Stranger; the leafy residential road looked the same as the one in the Stranger.
    I found the plot and the production to be contrived, heavy handed and formulaic. I agree with you that RA doesn’t have the air or quite the look of a low life photographer.
    I would not normally watch but for RA. Hope his presence and performance can hold my attention.


    • I wonder how long this weird moralism can serve as a plot engine for crime stories. That doesn’t seem to be standard in English drama anymore.


  5. “Stay close”‘s secret appears more plausible to me than “The stranger”‘s tbh, apart from the fact that Cassie/Megan hasn’t really left her neck of the woods which seems quite implausible. Would it really take 17 years to unearth this past? I watched it completely in the meantime. It’s quite bingeable despite all its questionable storylines and stereotypes, still I only watch because of RA. I really like Cush Jumbo and I really hope RA keeps to his promise: no more Coben in the foreseeable future.


  6. I watched the whole thing, and am disappointed that I found it disappointing. I’m not going to bother analyzing why. I’ve been reading Harlan Coben’s books for decades (I’m a New Jersey girl, and I’m familiar with all the places in his stories). I’ve liked them well enough to keep looking forward to new releases, but, as with most prolific writers, some books are better than others. All in all, I’ve liked the European adaptations of his novels (French, Polish, Spanish) better than the UK ones. On the whole, I find them to be more concise, not wandering off into other, unresolved directions. (Which was my biggest complaint about The Stranger — the whole subplot about the teenagers, which was not in the book, was completely extraneous, and served no real purpose IMO.)

    All that being said, it was great seeing Richard again — it’s been a real dry spell. I’m too old to have to wait so long between projects. 🙂 That said, the “Ray Look” from the 17-years-ago portions, with the somewhat shorter hair and black leather jacket gave off some real Sir Guy s.2 vibes — which I loved! I may have to dig out my dusty old DVDs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am really happy to see him again. I’m glad I haven’t watched The Stranger yet. And if I’d seen that (which is apparently a lot like this?) essentially two weeks after Vanya, it would have been hard on me.

      Coben: I feel like the novels are fine for an airplane trip. Diverting if you don’t think about them.


  7. I just watched 2 episodes and… meh … I’m not buying it at all. Well, I’ll try to finish the whole thing but I know that I’m not a fan of Harlan Coben’s novels (I think I’ve read 1 or 2 in the past)….
    One thing made me smile : Richard is using a Canon camera (and me too).

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Two thoughts: Cush Jumbo reminds me very much of Nicola Walker from Spooks. Also, I like Fanny and Bofur together, they have nice chemistry.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I watched the first episode last night and will probably watch an episode each night now ( my normal viewing pattern). It was pretty much what I was expecting – based on The Stranger, Safe and The Five. I think that with HB I have to get into a headspace where I can overlook the implausible plot lines and just enjoy the cast – he seems to be a producer/ writer that good actors want to work with and always assembles a top notch cast. Whatever else Britain is currently stuffing up, it’s drama schools still turn out the finest actors in my opinion – even the supporting parts were excellent. It was lovely to see Jo Joyner (Fanny from N&S) in the role of detective and ( agreed I don’t think it would be allowed) ex wife of police partner James Nesbitt.

    RA was pushing all the right buttons for me. The longer hair, stubble, northern accent and the man must have a portrait in his attic because in that beanie he didn’t look like he had aged much since Sparkhouse. I liked that Wardrobe have found a cheap and nasty leather jacket for him – rather than a Belstaff.

    I would also watch with or without RA , although I’m hoping that getting third billing means we get to see a lot more of him.


    • I think it’s fairly clear Ray has some skeletons in his closet — I think we will get more of this. Totally agree about the look, and also about British actors.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I just happened to come across this last night while sitting with my mom who’s terminally ill. Wound up binge watching the whole series, but like you would’ve never bothered if not for RA who’s still looking gorgeous. This series reminded me a lot of the last Netflix thriller RA started in so seemed very formula driven.l and of the plot seemed completely implausible, e.g. RA’s character searches the woods and finds his friend’s body, but the cops didn’t bother..duh. Pretty much came away thinking had such high hopes for RA and somehow he’s working on this Netflix crap? So had to stop by to read your thoughts. Wishing you a very Happy New Year, Servetus.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nice to hear from you, and Happy New Year to you, too! I’m sorry to hear that your mother has worsened and I will say a few prayers for you both.


  11. Just finished the whole thing. I think fragmented is the right word here. Won’t say more, don’t want to spoil too much. Best thing for me was seeing Richard in something new. 🙂


  12. First up, Happy New Year Serv!
    I binged Stay Close yesterday, New Year’s Day (it was very hot here so hibernating inside anyway) and finished it at 1am last night. RA aside, it’s a top cast, and there was enough in each episode to keep me watching, but I’m pretty sure it was all about Ray for me! Like Bolly, RA certainly pushes all the right buttons for me. I’ll watch it again but only for the scenes that he is in. Having said that, I did enjoy Safe without RA’s presence, however, I started Gone For Good (French adaptation) and struggled to get into it.
    I found it difficult with SC to keep track of what was flashback and what was the present, the various characters and their part in the convoluted plot, but that became easier for me as the episodes unfolded.
    I’ve never been one for critical analyses of movies etc, I either like something or I don’t, but I certainly found myself identifying similarities/tropes with other Corben works so they must’ve been pretty obvious lol. Looking forward to reading your thoughts – and others’ – in posts to come.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agree re: flashbacks in this show — I sometimes have a hard time keeping the timeline straight.

      I wonder about the whole bingeability thing. What I’ve learned since “getting the remote back” is that I don’t love bingeing; my ability to watch episode after episode of something in a row is very heavily contingent on mood and I have to be feeling fairly lethargic to even want to watch that much at once. But I think this show is (a) trying to make watchers binge and (b) written with that in mind. It seems to want you to keep moving forward and not ask any questions — so it really flies past fairly important points on the assumption that the viewer will, too.


  13. Happy New Year to ALL ! Could someone tell me when Netflix airs it in France ? Hasn’t been publicised at all (unlike The Stranger).


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  15. Oh I have missed your reviews! I enjoyed Close to Me more than The Stranger (apart from RA being the lead in the latter). With these Coben thrillers, there are so many implausibilities, holes, silliness, that the only way I can get through them with exploding is accept them as part of ‘Coben World’. Grimy, grungy, Ray is extremely hot.


    • Thanks. (I have missed “me” too in a more general sense. Hope I’m still there.)

      Ray is extremely hot. That combo of plaid shirt and leather jacket is unbeatable. Absolutely unbeatable.

      Liked by 1 person

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