REVIEW: “Departure” (Peacock Original)

Have you seen Lost or Manifest and found yourself wanting a drama about a plane disappearing under mysterious circumstances that didn’t have any kind of supernatural element? Then Departure is the show for you. The newest show on the Peacock streaming service is exactly the kind of grounded political thriller that those who felt Lost was too fantastical might be craving. However, the series is a bit of a mixed bag. While its premise is great, it would likely be better served by a two-hour film instead of a six-episode series that draws the narrative out in tension-breaking ways. What should be an exciting thrill ride is frequently filled with pointless detours and tension-killing padding. On the whole, though, it’s still pretty fun. (3 out of 5 wands.)

(This review strives to be spoiler free. However, you have been warned.)

Departure (created by Vince Shiao)
Passenger plane Flight 716 shockingly vanishes, and brilliant investigator Kendra Malley (Archie Panjabi), alongside her mentor Howard Lawson (Christopher Plummer) are brought on to lead the investigation. When battling forces threaten to undermine their work, Kendra must find the truth and stop it from happening again.

The show begins promisingly. The first episode opens with the crash of British Global Air’s Flight 716. It’s an extended sequence showing most of the events leading to the plane’s disappearance over the Atlantic Ocean. From there, we’re introduced to Kendra (Archie Panjabi), a former TSIB investigator, as she’s being recruited by her former boss, Howard (Christopher Plummer), to investigate the plane’s disappearance. Kendra is our way into this mystery and she is the focal point of the show. Alongside Dom (Kris Holden-Tied), a former Scotland Yard detective, she leads a team of TSIB agents as they work to find any survivors of the plane crash and uncover what, exactly, brought the plane down. It’s a great premise, so, what’s the problem? The problem is that there’s not enough story to fill six forty-five minute episodes. At best, this is the plot of a great film. But here? It’s surrounded by too much padding and feeling to be particularly effective.

As I said, the first episode starts well enough. It hits the ground running and never lets off the gas. At times, it feels like too much has happened, but it’s easy enough to go along with as you get swept into the world that’s being built. The second episode, however, slows things down considerably and the show doesn’t manage to fully recover its energy and tension until the fifth and sixth episodes. Those middle three episodes aren’t necessarily bad, but they’re just packed with too much filler. During these episodes, it feels like the show is running in circles. Leads get chased, but they’re obvious red herrings that leave our characters exactly where they began. While the first episode felt too busy, the second, third, and fourth feel like they could easily be condensed into one episode. There are interesting moments scattered through these episodes, many of which do sow the seeds for the show’s conclusion, but they’re surrounded by so much filler that they’re not as exciting as they should be. These episodes are never slow enough to be boring but they lack the energy that flows through the show’s first episode and its final two. About midway through the fourth episode, though, the show picks up momentum and deftly speeds toward the mystery’s conclusion. 

Ignoring my issues with the show’s pacing, the plot is solid enough. Aspects of the mystery’s conclusion are easily predictable, including one “twist” that could probably be guessed by looking at the show’s cast list, but it’s a lot of fun watching Kendra and her team figure out all the tapping. It’s a compelling mystery that’s executed well enough. Plus, it’s refreshing to have a show about a disappearing plane that doesn’t have any science fiction or fantasy elements – and I love science fiction and fantasy. It’s a very binge-able show at, as each episode ends in a manner that leaves you itching to watch the next. While the pacing is a mixed bag, Departure is still a fun watch. 

Like the plot and pacing, Departure‘s characters are a mixed bag. Kendra easily gets the bulk of the show’s character development and screen time and, as a result, she makes a compelling lead. While the show never got me to care much about her backstory, I was invested in her success. The same can’t be said for the rest of the characters, who range from archetypal, at best, to paper-thin, at worst. Everyone in the cast does a solid job, but their characters are all underwritten and underused. The most egregious examples are some of the most important characters. Christopher Plummer’s Howard has very little in the way of distinct personality traits. He’s mostly just there. The same is true for Chris Holden-Ried’s Dom, who mostly fills the archetypal male-supporting-character who might be a romantic interest. Even Kendra’s son, AJ (played by Alexandre Bourgeois) never fully connects. He forms a big part of the show’s subplot but is never developed past the archetypal teenage role. It’s mostly the same for the rest of the cast as well. Some of them fare better than others, but all of them feel underwritten and underused. It’s never enough to make the show unenjoyable, but it’s certainly noticeable and contributes to some of the weaker elements of the show.

At the end of the day, Departure is an enjoyable enough watch. It’s nothing special, but its central mystery is compelling enough to hold your attention. The narrative isn’t strong enough to justify the show’s length and would probably have worked better as a feature film, but the show is never slow enough to fully lose your attention. The characters are a mixed bag, but they’re buoyed by solid performances from the entire cast. The visuals are nothing to write home about, but they do the job. Ultimately, it’s a fun binge. It’s sort of refreshing to finally have a show about a missing plane that doesn’t try to explain the plane’s disappearance with some supernatural force. It’s a grounded narrative containing some genuinely thrilling moments. If you’re craving something like this, it’s worth a try, even if it’s not all that memorable.

3 out of 5 wands.

Departure premieres on Peacock September 17th.

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