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Our Stay Close Netflix review gives you a feel for the latest adaptation of a Harlan Coben novel. Netflix has a multi-project deal with the novelist, a partnership that’s created hits like Safe and The Stranger. Coben and Netflix now present their latest murder mystery: Stay Close.
Cush Jumbo plays the heroine with something to hide, while James Nesbitt plays a detective with rough edges. The detective assembles old and new puzzle pieces to paint a picture that will hopefully put the past to sleep.
Stay Close Netflix review: Premise
The eight-episode mini-series goes down the well-worn path of the past coming back to haunt the present. Megan (Cush Jumbo) lives an idyllic life with the perfect family and a beautiful home. The aspirational tableau remains intact for all of two minutes. Then a piece of mail and a sighting at a sporting event quickly show us that there’s more to Megan than she lets on.
It turns out that the troubling mail and a face from the past are from Lorraine, an old friend from a previous life. She’s come to deliver a warning: “Stewart Green is back, and he’s looking for you.” This encounter shifts Megan’s time and attention from her present life and back to her past life as a stripper named Cassie.
We can’t forget the opening scenes of the series, where a young man named Carlton Flynn goes missing. He disappears on the same night as Stewart Green, sixteen years to the day. It just so happens that someone catches the last sighting of the missing man on camera, and the photos end up with our detective.
It’s worth mentioning that Stewart Green’s case haunts the detective. He happens to believe there’s a connection between the two disappearances.
Stay Close Netflix review: The plot
Watching this series takes you through Megan’s short trips to her past life as she seeks…something. Closure? A confirmation that Stewart is, in fact, alive?
The detective is also looking for closure as he investigates the disappearance of two men on the night of the opening scenes. His investigation has him crossing paths with Megan, who informs him that Green was abusive and controlling. He’s the reason that Cassie had to vanish sixteen years ago.
We also see Megan’s teenage daughter on a night out with a friend. They join other masked revelers to take in the sights and sounds of the annual carnival. The two girls end up at a strip club that they would love to access, except that they’re underage. They catch a lucky break in the form of a stranger who gets them into the club. His name is Carlton Flynn.
Themes and plot devices: Secrets
Certain motifs repeat as the plot unfolds, starting with secrets that come out into the open. Many of the characters in Stay Close have secret compartments in their lives, which split their personas.
At least one calm, level-headed character suddenly displays a violent streak. A suburban woman has street smarts that seem out of place in her seemingly sheltered life. Most importantly, the ‘perfect victims’ seem to have dark, dangerous personalities.
The irony is that the ‘open books’ in this story happen to live life on the fringes of respectable society. You see this with Megan/Cassie’s old lawyer and Lorraine, her old girlfriend.
Themes and plot devices: The carnival
All the big events in the story seem to happen on the night of the carnival. These events are primarily disappearances that lead to heartbreak in some quarters and new beginnings in others. It’s safe to say that the carnival shares the duality of many of the characters. The night seems festive and joyful, but it has a dark history that keeps repeating. It’s one of the most critical nights of many characters’ lives, for better or worse.
Also central to the plot is Cassie’s former workplace, a strip club that goes by the name of ‘Vipers.’ It is the scene of many situations, some of which lead to missing people.
Stay Close Netflix review: What we like
Cush Jumbo does a great job with the material, and she strikes a balance between stoicism and fraying nerves. At one point, you see her break a little as she looks at a list of values she teaches her kids. When her eyes settle on honesty, you can see the two faces of her double life weigh her down. The actress drops little gems like this all through the series.
Overall, the actors do an excellent job with their roles, delivering solid, believable performances.
Stay Close Netflix review: What we don’t like (It’s the execution)
On paper, this mini-series has a lot going for it, and people who read Coben’s novels would likely confirm this. It’s the transition from paper to screen that seems to run into headwinds.
For starters, a TV show that calls itself a murder mystery should keep you on the edge of your seat. Stay Close is not that show. A more charitable review would call this mini-series a slow burn with many moving pieces. The fast-forward button is a tempting option as the first few episodes play out.
The apparent slowness of the series is puzzling, considering that the layers peel off different characters at breakneck speed. So expect to endure the first couple of episodes before the different storylines come together. Dig deep into your reserves because you’ll need some patience. You’ll also notice oddities like:
1. Shaky premise
Cassie rides off into the proverbial sunset, which happens to be a short drive from her old life. This seems odd for someone who assumes a new identity, but it works for the show’s plotline. It’s convenient that Cassie lives so close to her old life that it catches up with her. Also, the show’s title does say to stay close, so maybe she’s just good at taking instructions. Shrug.
2. Jarring tonal shifts
Murderous clown twins shift the somber tone of the show to (checks notes) show tunes. Think of Barbie and Ken as dancing hitmen who spread a little cheer as they kill off a few characters. The antics of this sadistic team will leave you wondering who decided to go this route and why.
The murder twins are bounty hunters with an assignment to find Carlton Flynn, by the way.
3. A convoluted tangle of threads
Most of the characters have secrets that have a bearing on the plotline. You may need to take notes to keep track as the story unfolds. This type of complexity should make for an interesting show that’s full of surprises. Yet, these surprises may not drive you to invest in the story for some reason.
Stay Close Netflix review verdict: Should you watch it?
The numerous characters and their intertwined storylines tangle to weave a complex story. You’ll have to slog through the first couple of episodes before the plot speeds up. It’s pretty safe to say that the best part of the series comes in the last three episodes. That’s where you get your reward for sticking with the series to the end. Stay Close Netflix is a decent series to kill time with, but don’t expect to be blown away.