The killer in the new AMC+ drama rag doll draws the attention of London police through a particularly gruesome MO: he crafted and carefully positioned a cobbled-together murder victim from the pieces of six murder victims, leaving authorities to solve half a dozen murders while trying at the same time to work their way through a list of six future targets.
It’s one of those puzzle things where, after watching three episodes of rag dollI really don’t know if Freddy Syborn (Murder Day before), adapting rag doll of the novel of the same name by Daniel Cole, acknowledges that it makes a metaphor rather than a TV show. There is no doubt that the Ragdoll Killer has a particularly frightening methodology, nor that rag doll because a television series has enough nerve-wracking moments to satisfy impressionable devotees of the genre. At the same time, impressionable enthusiasts of the genre are most likely to recognize that the series itself is a patchwork of well over six familiar serial killer movies and TV shows. Its only originality is the often chaotic assembly of familiar elements. Think Criminal reparationsif you are a follower of yarn.
Largely assembled from the best serial killer stories.
Before we meet the Ragdoll Killer, we have to meet the Cremation Killer, who sets his victims on fire or something before he’s caught by Detective Sergeant Nathan Rose (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) and then released because Rose has cut corners in pursuit of the case. Rose’s ethical compromises and their consequences leave him so damaged that he attacks the cremation killer in court, then spends time in an asylum working his way through various kinds of PTSD.
Rose returns just in time to join the Ragdoll case, which is handy considering the body was found in a building directly across from hers. It’s very convenient because many of the body parts appear to belong to people connected to the Cremation Killer, and very convenient because the names on the Ragdoll kill list end in… Nathan Rose.
Rose is rusty as a detective and generally emotionally rusty, but he returns to work, partnered with former protegee Detective Inspector Emily Baxter (Thalissa Teixeira) and Detective Constable Lake Edmunds (Lucy Hale) , who is gay and American because someone realized that this particular patchwork needed more audience-spanning elements.
Syborn has some commentary he wants to work on here, seeking but never quite finding genuine humor amid the pile of dismembered limbs. There is talk of the entrenched patriarchy of British law enforcement, driven in large part by Edmunds’ monologue about his higher education, which serves as weak justification for his presence among the London police. There are jokes about the British tabloid press and the need to fetishize and brand around serial killers. None of this is insightful, and most viewers won’t particularly care for the occasional lecture.
There is an interpretation of rag doll in which Rose’s self-flagellation reflects a genre that blames itself for its fascination with the inner workings of the serial killer’s mind. But I don’t think the show is that smart, partly because rag doll is positively stunned by the killer’s convoluted machinations, which are incredibly personal and calculating to an exhausting degree. He’s Hannibal Lecter meets Jigsaw meets Zodiac meets John Doe from Sevena combination of so many quasi-psychic killers engaged in so many cat-and-mouse games with so many different detectives that he’s never at any time scary or disturbing on his own.
All excessive business renders any attempt to play with mystery useless. You’re supposed to invest instead, I guess, in the partnership at the center of the show. But other than the forced banter, there’s not much there. Lloyd-Hughes, most recently seen going through traumatized moves similarly to Sherlock in the Netflix short-lived The Irregulars, is curiously drained and nervous. It’s hard to say if rag doll forgot to illustrate Rose’s abilities as a detective or if that omission is just another expression of her rustiness, but Lloyd-Hughes is sarcastic and mopey.
rag doll does more for Hale as a professional realignment — a less stylized palate cleanser after shows where cinematographers got lost in his eyes — than Hale’s presence for Ragdoll. It’s mostly the fault of the series’ writing choices. Hale is every bit as compelling as the scripts let her be, and she has a chirpy energy – toned down, however, from Perpetuity Where Katy Keen Where Pretty little Liars – which benefits the show. Also underwritten is Teixeira’s Baxter, who quickly became the character I wanted to see more of, if only because of how little we were given.
It’s basically irrelevant, but it’s probably a nod to the show’s overall failure to generate group chemistry that two Ragdoll characters go out for karaoke in an early episode and neither one nor the other. American Juniors Hale finalist.
AMC+ promotes the productive connection between rag doll and Kill Evebut the intelligent self-awareness that allows Kill Eve disrupting so many genre tropes is exactly what is missing on rag doll. Well, that and a central relationship worth following. Kill Eve has generally been afraid to imagine what it would be like without Eve and Villanelle at its center, and rag doll suggests that it was correct to set aside common narrative logic to protect its improbable core duo. The result in their absence is simply disappointing, derivative and austere.