What’s it about? Public prosecutor Seizaki Zen and his assistant have just been assigned a case to investigate kickbacks and false marketing by a pharmaceutical company. But in the process of investigating the files, Seizaki discovers that his case is just the tip of an iceberg. The real story points him to a political scandal with tendrils spreading across the newly established city known as the “second Tokyo,” Shiniki.
CONTENT WARNING for suicide and potentially underage sex work (offscreen).
Damn, Babylon. Way to come out of the gate swinging.
This might be the best premiere of the season: a tense, slow-burn legal drama that viciously punctuates its own simmering tension in the final moments. It’s worth experiencing spoiler-free, but if you’re worried about dark content, you should read on below the image for details.
Despite being so restrained, the first episode of Babylon manages to pack an astonishing amount of information into its first episode. Other shows might wait a few episodes before revealing that the small-time case is actually linked to something bigger and much more insidious, but not this show.
It’s wall-to-wall with revelations, ending with the reveal of Seizaki’s assistant dead by apparent suicide (hint: it is probably not suicide). It’s a moment that sidesteps blatant shock value but could be potentially triggering, as the shots are in silhouette but more than clear enough to show a body hanging by a noose.
This zero-to-sixty pacing clicked into place when I discovered that the writer of the Babylon novels, Nozaki Mado, did script work for my favorite hot mess of 2017: KADO: The Right Answer, another show that loved balancing long conversations about ethics with sudden bursts of unsettling violence.
For those who are worried, Babylon is already starting out on a much stronger foot, with the sense to drop escalating plot points throughout rather than coasting along until the big end-of-episode hook.
I don’t want to undersell how compelling that lead-up is, either. A lot of this episode involves people reading documents or sitting quietly beside one another, but it conveys its sense of stakes so well that the unspoken ticking clock feels ever-present in the background.
The visual design also soaks the insides of offices and cars with sunset orange tints and moody blues, heightening the sense of atmosphere. This is a premiere that absolutely knows how to do more with less.
The potential downside is that women don’t really play a notable role in any of this, at least so far. We see that Seizaki has a wife and child, but we don’t hear her speak. The young (although how young is unclear) sex worker who might prove key to the investigation doesn’t yet have any lines, nor does the other mystery woman Seizaki is investigating.
At best, these women will become rounded characters in their own right, and at worst they’ll be somehow exploited or murdered in order to up narrative tension. It’s too soon to read Babylon’s intentions, but it is a pitfall this type of story has a habit of falling into.
On the whole though, this came completely out of nowhere and hooked me despite my relative disinterest in police procedurals. And since Amazon seems to have made it a habit to drop three episodes of their licenses at once, I look forward to jumping back in as soon as I finish this review.