Elly McDonald

Writer

Losing my religion – two short TV reviews

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Transfer (Transferts, French TV series 2017) and Counterpart (USA TV series 2017)

Transferts (Transfer): this French TV series is brilliant.

Identity, mind-body, religion, politics, love, loyalty, corruption, bioscience, the future. French philosophy. And one very creepy – but strangely endearing – ‘little girl’ with a gun.

Am I entertained? Ooh yeah.

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Alexis Loret and Arieh Wortholter in Transferts

In the not so distant future, kind family man Florian wakes from a 5-year coma to find his consciousness has been transferred into the muscly body of special forces cop Sylvain – illegally.

While Florian’s consciousness slept, consciousness transfer technology has been medically developed “for therapeutic purposes,” to enable individuals with terminal illness or incapacitating disability to transfer their beings into the bodies of donors on life-support. The technology is frighteningly simple – some gel goop, some basic equipment – and perhaps inevitably, a black market has emerged, where individuals are choosing to transfer into other bodies for reasons narcissistic, frivolous and criminal, and black marketeers are none too scrupulous about how those other bodies are sourced.

Within two years the technology is outlawed, not least due to pressure from the Catholic Church and its French offshoot, a C21st technology-led mega-cult led by the politically ambitious Père Luc. “Transfers”, people who have undergone the procedure, must present themselves to the authorities to be branded and confined for life in a medical facility with amenities some compare to a holiday resort.

The transfer process has been banned not simply on ethical grounds but because some ‘transfers’ experience reversion – an unstable and potentially dangerous state where their consciousness starts to split and psychosis occurs.

‘Transfers’ who do not hand themselves in are hunted down by a paramilitary squad called the BATI. Florian’s misfortune (among several) is that Sylvain, his host body, was/is a brutal “hero” of the BATI. Woops.

Meanwhile, a sociopathic rogue transfer has commandeered the body of a small girl, and has a malevolent interest in Florian/Sylvain. Sometimes it might be easier to simply, um, die.

Transferts has been compared, frequently, to the Netflix series Altered States, which I’m given to understand is overtly futuristic and heavy on special effects and technological references. Transferts is not like that.

Instead, it’s concerned with the implications of consciousness transfer for human relationships, personal relationships. If my spouse changes body, will I still have sexual chemistry with that person? If another consciousness commandeers my child, can I love that entity? Within my sphere of intimate relationships, what is my hierarchy of priorities, in terms of who matters most to me, in extremis? (The philosophical dilemma of the rescuer with the boat.) If I change physicality radically, into a wholly different body, do I remain me?

If I no longer remain who I was, what am I? Am I a threat?

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Pili Groyne in Transferts

In fact the previous TV series Transferts reminds me of most is the UK series Ultraviolet (1998), memorable for introducing me to the work of actors Idris Elba, Stephen Moyer and Jack Davenport, but even more notable for rescuing the vampire genre from George Hamilton and ‘Love At First Bite’ and making soul-suckers really REALLY terrifying again. As they have remained since.

Ultraviolet had only the most basic special effects. Its impact relied on that ice in the soul the viewer experienced witnessing human and inhuman betrayals. Transferts has hardly any special effects; but it has that vampiric ice. Set in a city that in most respects seems like any contemporary European city, in Transferts it’s only occasional moments – ‘conferencing’ by hologram, the transfer technology – that remind us this is a future.

Like Ultraviolet, it touches on current, contemporary issues that raise ethical debate. In Ultraviolet, these issues included child abuse under cover of the Church, church-state collaboration, the status of ‘the Human’ and the status of the Other, and sustainability. In Transferts, issues raised include relations between State, Church and cult (again), the ‘rights’ and integrity (or otherwise) of the human mind-body-spirit, and also gender identity, and life extension technologies.

I’ve watched the six episodes of Tranferts Season 1. Now I’m hoping, hard, a Season 2 will be announced.

Not quite as OMG as Transfer but still intriguing: Counterpart, featuring a virtuoso turn – or virtuoso turns – by J.K. Simmons, a swarmy Harry Lloyd, and the bitterly beautiful Olivia Williams, a 50 y.o. actress willing to play ageing but devastating.

Sci-fi meets Cold War meets noir.

In Counterpart, Howard (J.K. Simmons) is shocked to learn the workplace where he’s held a low-level desk-bound paper-shuffler’s job for 30 years is a portal to a parallel world, a world which split from Our Side in 1997.

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Harry Lloyd and J.K. Simmons in Counterpart

For the first five years the two worlds developed along closely similar lines. Then, a pandemic hit the Other Side, killing millions. The Other Side believes Our Side developed and released the pandemic deliberately, to destroy them. Secret diplomatic relations uneasily contain the parallel stasis, but extremists have no patience with diplomacy and the balance is about to be seriously unsettled.

The entertaining conceit of Counterpart is that for each of us alive on Our Side, there is, or was, a counterpart on their side. Until Howard meets his counterpart, no counterparts have ever – officially – met. But what happens if counterparts substitute for their Other? What happens when counterparts collide?

This is another series with some interesting philosophical questions at its heart about identity. It’s played for entertainment, and thank god for that, but yeah: it’s smarter than the average Other Worlds.

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Olivia Williams in Counterpart

Author: Elly McDonald

Worked in the Australian rock music industry as a journalist and published widely as a poet before moving to London and spending the better part of a decade in advertising agencies. Returned to Australia and tried teaching, primarily teaching English to non-English speaking, newly-arrived refugees but also briefly as a high school classroom teacher. Has travelled Western Europe, North Africa, Russia, Northern India, East Asia, coastal USA, some Pacific Islands, and Australia.

6 thoughts on “Losing my religion – two short TV reviews

  1. Hi, I’m the screenwriter of Transferts. Thanks a lot for your kind appreciation. Being a long time fan of Australian culture, litterature and films (I’m also the french translator of Richardsons’s The Getting of Wisdom), I’m overwhelmed for having ben able to communicate with you and Aussie people with these series.
    Claude Scasso

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    • Claude, I am overwhelmed that you’ve seen my little blog piece. Thank YOU. Since writing this, I’ve rewatched the series, with my sister, who loved it too. I tried to obtain the DVD online but the only stockist I could find was Amazon France, and the details didn’t indicate whether there was an English subtitles option. (Schoolgirl French, what can I say?) Will there be a Season 2?

      Btw – I had to laugh that you’re the French translator of The Getting of Wisdom. I went to the school that book is about. When the film was made, the director and producer came to the school to select girls as extras and to audition for featured roles. I read for Lilith. The director said my reading was perfect for the role but my look was too contemporary. I hung out at the surf beaches that summer instead of being an extra.

      I love what you’ve written with Transferts.

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      • Elli, regarding the dvd, you’ve had a good premonition : there are no english subtitles on them. If it isn’t on PBS anymore, I can’t be of any help for now. it will be soon on Netflix but not in Australian territory. i may have a temporary solution but you will have to get in touch with me directly, not through this blog commentary.

        Alas, there won’ be any season 2. I’ve written an outline for it but, even if the series had a great success on festivals and among many aficionados, it didn’t reach enough audience for the channel we did it with. So it will stay as a one shot.
        If you have any question about it, I will be glad to answer.

        I’ve also seen Counterparts. i was sometimes disturbed by the slow pace of some episodes, but it is a remarkable series, and i’m proud you have considered Transferts at the same level.

        What you tell me about your connection with The Getting of Wisdom is astounding. Though I haven’t seen it for a long time, I like very much the movie (and the main comedian with her hairy dark eyebrows). Even if I’ve never been in Oz, I have a long time relationship with your country. I felt in love with the landscapes and the special blue of your sky first by seeing My Brilliant Career and Picnic at Hanging Rock. I wanted to come and attend a film school in Sydney, but I had to take a step back because my parents couldn’t afford to pay me the trip. Then, during the eighties, I’ve seen almost every film produced in Australia, from the best (The Last Wave) to the worse (Around the world in eighty ways), wiith a preference for the historical ones (We of the never never, Breaker Morant) and the closest to your culture (Sunday too far away, Don’s Party). I also read as much Oz’novelists I could and translated Jill Ker Conway’s The Road from Coorain (but never found an editor for it). In fact, I’ve done anything to know Australia BUT coming there. Will I someday ? I still hope though.

        Reading your blog, I couldn’t find any information about where you live in Australia ?

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        • Claude, Transferts is still available to view for free via SBS On Demand, the online streaming service of Australia’s multicultural TV channel SBS. I don’t know how long it will remain available there but it could be a year or two 🙂

          No season 2 is disappointing but might have an upside. IMHO Les Revenants lost its way in Season 2. Sometimes it works best to leave it open-ended.

          I live in a very beautiful small coastal town 90 minutes drive south of Melbourne, on the Bellarine Peninsula, at the start of the Great Ocean Road. If you do come to Australia, driving the Great Ocean Road is very special; and please visit me in Point Lonsdale.

          But I was born in Brisbane (Queensland), a child till age 12 in Adelaide (South Australia), a teen in Melbourne (Victoria), and spent my 20s in Sydney (New South Wales). In Sydney I met and in some cases was friends with many people who were part of, and in some cases important to, the flourishing of ’80s Australian film. I did my Honours year at Sydney University majoring in Fine Arts with a specialization in Film Studies. Earlier, I completed the pilot program in Scriptwriting by Correspondence through the AFTRS (Australian Film, Television & Radio School).

          When I auditioned for The Getting of Wisdom (which features several of my school friends), I had actually already met its director Bruce Beresford a few years previously when I was 11, although he didn’t connect the 11 year old with the 15 year old I was by then, and I didn’t mention it. In 1972 Bruce directed a dramatization for TV of a 1966 book written by my uncle Hugh Edward’s called Islands of Angry Ghosts, which told the true-life tale of a horrific episode in Australia’s past: the wreck off northern Western Australian in 1629 of the Dutch merchant ship Batavia, and the subsequent massacre of survivors on a small archipelago called the Abrolhos Islands, by a clique of mutineers led by a cultist. In the TV production, my sister, my cousin and I played children caught up in the massacre. I had short hair, so I was cast as a male, a cabin boy.

          I can totally relate to you not being able to study in Australia without financial support. When I was 17 I spent time in Los Angeles and was accepted into the Lee Strasberg Acting Institute, but I couldn’t fund it. Instead I spent most of my 17th year at the Valhalla Cinema in Melbourne, educating myself in international art-house cinema, and writing occasional film reviews for a counterculture newspaper. I think my first published review was of Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend, though why I was reviewing a 1967 film in 1978 I cannot imagine.

          Btw, my aunt Marti Georgeff has lived in Paris for the past 30 years and promotes Australian film and Australian-French film collaboration through her company Frogz Productions.

          Please feel free to PM me via Facebook (I have a Moominmamma cartoon avatar), or contact me here any time. All best wishes to you, Claude – Elly

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  2. Pingback: Netflix’s Transfers: Season 1 Review – Metawitches

  3. Pingback: Netflix’s Transfers Season 1 Episode 1 Recap – Metawitches

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