Transportation Murder Mystery Departure Provides One Last Chance to Enjoy Christopher Plummer
Two seasons of Canadian suspense drama are available on NBC streaming service Peacock.
Departure. Available now on Peacock.com.
This is an odd review (and the first one in the comments to say "they're all odd" will immediately get his or her teeth slapped out by the Reason Rapid Response Team) of an odd show. The Canadian-made suspense-mystery Departure first aired on Tundra TV or whatever they call it up there in 2019 and practically nobody saw it—even though it starred Archie Panjabi and Christopher Plummer, two of the most sinisterly alluring actors in the known universe—because the opening round of the Newfoundland Junior Buffalo-Chip-Flinging or something was airing that month.
Then, in 2020, the new NBC streaming service Peacock, going on line for the first time, picked up Departure's first season. But the show's American launch was sucked into the black hole that COVID-19 was making of TV last summer.
Now Peacock is trying again with the debut of Departure's second season. The bad news is that the second season isn't quite as good as the first; the good news is, how would you know, since you almost certainly didn't see the first one? And the even better news is that the entire six-episode first season is still lurking there on Peacock for those of you who had wagers on the buffalo chip competition and couldn't look away.
The show's taut first season was something close to a masterpiece of the genre. In the very first moments, a new super-model British passenger jet goes nose-first into the middle of the Atlantic, taking hundreds of passengers, as well as the stock of the entire British aeronautics industry, with it. Howard Lawson (Plummer), the chief of the country's aviation safety agency, moving quickly to stabilize the situation, persuades ace investigator Kendra Malley (Panjabi)—in seclusion since her husband died in an auto accident that also left her badly injured—to come back to find out what happened.
The writing was razor sharp, doling out new suspects episode by episode. Was the plane deliberately crashed by its pilot, a bigamist rendered suicidal when his wife and child found out about his gay husband and other child? Or by an Arab terrorist turned Israeli spy traveling incognito? What does it mean that an airline software tester was aboard? And what about that Putinesque Russian oligarch whose fortune took a hit from one of Malley's previous investigations?
Yet for all the spiffy characterizations and plot twists (you really won't know who or what caused the crash until the final seconds of the last episode), it's the presence of Plummer and Punjabi that's like an eyeball magnet. Plummer, though he became famous for playing the gooey pop of the von Trapp brats in The Sound of Music, spent much of the 1990s in ravishingly evil roles as a Nazi or a werewolf coddler or a one-eyed Klingon warlord. Panjabi was even more terrifyingly mesmerizing as Kalinda Sharma, the beautiful, ruthless, sexually omnivorous and generally bad-ass legal investigator in the CBS political-legal drama The Good Wife. Departure lacks the malevolence quotient of Plummer's and Punjabi's previous work, but you still can't turn your backs on them.
That's not quite so true in Departure's second season, which has just gotten started on Peacock. For one thing, Plummer is barely present; the 91-year-old actor suffered a fall at home during the production that first incapacitated and finally killed him.
The real problem with the second season, though, is that it much-too-rigidly adheres to the model of the first. This time, Malley—unaccountably now working for the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board—is investigating the collision of a high-speed train with an oil-tanker truck somewhere in rural Michigan that's killed several dozen people and—stop me if you've heard this before—slipped a banana peel under the stock of the train's operating software.
But wait! There's more! Aboard the train was a Mexican-cartel bookkeeper on his way to rat his business associates out before a federal grand jury. Did the cartel try to get him? Or the FBI, still holding a teeny grudge against the cartel for killing a bunch of its agents? Then there's the corpse of a co-owner of the train, whose specialty was the software. When an autopsy reveals he was murdered during the crash, the suspects start multiplying like malign bunny rabbits.
And that luddite Michigan gubernatorial candidate, giving wrathful speeches demanding that trains be run by engineers rather than computer, is not really a suspect, but she's complicating Malley's investigation by sowing a Canadian's-eye-view of American xenophobia. "What are you, some kind of hatchet-job lady from India?" shouts one of the train's operators when he meets Malley in a line that is not intended to be funny.
The fact that Departure's second season is such a clone of the first won't be a problem if you haven't seen the first, which I'd guess is true of about 107 percent of the viewing audience. The second season is still well-plotted and satisfyingly mysterious as long as you're new to all this. On the other hand, the first season is better written and has Plummer.
And just to complicate this decision even further, there are season two's epic Canadian culinary moments. First Malley, sitting in a café for lunch, is told that the daily special is "Dinty Moore," which so far as I know, is canned stew. Meanwhile, one of her male assistants is asked out on a luncheon date by a pretty Canadian policewoman. "There's an amazing food truck up that way," she says, gesturing seductively. "You up for some pulled pork poutine?" No wonder Canada's population growth is plummeting.