Are sociopaths born, or are they created through a combination of environment, upbringing and childhood trauma? Such is the familiar question lurking beneath the surface of We Hunt Together, a six-part Showtime crime drama (premiering Sunday, Aug. 9) that pits a law enforcement odd couple against a pair of unlikely and dangerous lovers on the run. As far as genre efforts go, it’s a rather run-of-the-mill game of cat-and-mouse, although its engaging leads—and a few unexpected twists—go some way toward alleviating its familiar action and superficial engagement with its thematic concerns.
Created and written by Gaby Hull, and produced by BBC Studios (it originally aired earlier this year in the U.K.), We Hunt Together opens with the murder of Simon Goodbridge (EastEnders’ Nigel Harman), a cretinous playboy found by detective Lola Franks (Eve Myles) and her new partner Jackson Mendy (Babou Ceesay) tied to his bed, face down and wearing nothing but socks and a ball gag, a knife protruding from the base of his skull. Lola immediately bristles at Jackson, who’s transferred from the anti-corruption unit where he sniffed out bad cops, and whose cheerily dispassionate demeanor is at odds with her gruff bad humor. Still, even if their personalities don’t mesh, both agree that the perpetrator left Simon in this state in order to humiliate him, and since there’s no sign of a struggle—or a break-in—they deduce that the lothario must have been intimately involved with his killer.
Embellished by directors Carl Tibbetts and Jon Jones with some stylish slow-motion, color-coded visuals, and transitional wipes, the procedural component of We Hunt Together plays out in standard fashion. However, the series isn’t interested in mystery, instead paralleling Lola and Jackson’s investigation with the plight of those they’re looking for: Freddy Lane (Hermione Corfield), a blonde, cocky call girl with whom Simon was involved, and Baba (Dipo Ola), an immigrant from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who works as a bathroom attendant at the nightclub frequented by Simon and Freddy. When Baba rescues Freddy from a back-alley rape at the hands of Simon, she covers for him. Then, she seduces him in order to persuade him to kill Simon for her, and frame her former pimp Matt (Tom Andrews), who had quarreled with Simon at the club, for the slaying. Though such a noir-ish plan seems more than a bit dangerous, it largely goes off without a hitch, thanks to the fact that Freddy is a cunning femme fatale and Baba is a loner who’s comfortable ending strangers’ lives.
Freddy and Baba are an excellent murderous match, and We Hunt Together quickly focuses on how, and why, these seemingly dissimilar individuals became the monsters they are today. A clue to the answer comes via an early Jackson speech to Lola about how “chemicals and geography” are equally responsible for shaping our personalities and behavior. Jackson contends that a wealth of minute factors, many of them out of our control, form our identities, and lead us to make decisions and choices in the present moment. In other words, we’re a byproduct of both nature and nurture, although in the case of Freddy and Baba, Hull’s series primarily makes a case for the latter, teasing horrific backstory events that contextualize the duo’s current spree as an outgrowth of their prior nightmares.
[Minor spoilers follow]
By the beginning of its third episode, We Hunt Together reveals that Freddy’s craziness stems from an adolescent sexual abuse scandal at her boarding school, and that Baba’s lethal streak comes from his tenure as a child soldier in his violence-wracked homeland. Hallucinatory flashbacks to those incidents pepper the ongoing proceedings, and to create narrative balance, Hull also saddles her police protagonists—like their prey, a Black man and a white woman—with pressing issues. Analytical by-the-books Jackson won’t confront the wife who’s cheating on him, much to Lola’s chagrin. And Lola has a nasty heroin habit that takes up much of her free time, and eventually leads to a confrontation with her partner that puts both of their careers in jeopardy.
Except, however, that it really doesn’t, because We Hunt Together isn’t interested in overly complicating things. From its black-white racial dynamics and portrait of refugee hardships, to its mix of drug abuse, marital strife and childhood ordeals, the series introduces intriguing elements and then turns them into basic plot devices designed to move the narrative forward. They’re window dressing, not avenues of serious inquiry, which leaves everything feeling slightly shallow and tossed-off. That’s additionally true of Jackson and Lola’s rapport, which never quite finds a consistent combative groove despite the best efforts of Myles and Ceesay, who—aside from being the spitting image of stateside actors Julianne Nicholson and Sam Richardson (Veep), respectively—prove to be charismatic and forceful leads.
On the flip side of We Hunt Together’s equation, Corfield and Ola are an engagingly nefarious duo, she sensual and ruthless, he furious and damaged. Unfortunately, in explaining the yesteryear calamities now motivating them, the show tries to engender sympathy for them as well—a step too far given their cold, methodical homicidal conduct. Making matters worse, their victims are also far from likeable, meaning that for significant stretches, Hull’s tale involves villainous (or at least scarily broken) outlaws doing nasty things to other repugnant individuals. Given that state of affairs, the show’s equilibrium falters, compelling one to root for Jackson and Lola to a degree that’s out of step with the show’s even-handed treatment of its mirror-image main characters.
Even if the series is alternately too thin and heavy-handed, it provides enough thorny developments to drum up modest excitement. And Ceesay and Myles are often so amusingly contentious together that it’s easy to ignore the contrived clunkiness of their friction. Yet We Hunt Together’s argument that everyone’s every move is informed by past deeds (and experiences) is neither profound nor novel enough to sustain the hackneyed cops-and-crooks suspense it eventually delivers. A cliffhanger conclusion creates the possibility of a follow-up, but with such banal things to say in its initial outing, it’s hard to see why this hunt needs to continue.