Harlan Coben’s Safe: episodes 1 and 2 review

Out now on Netflix, Harlan Coben's Safe is a promising mix of dark family drama and weirdness...

TV Review: Safe, Episodes One and Two

“People are entitled to their secrets,” says one of the characters early on in this Harlan Coben-created Netflix series, and then we’re immediately plunged into the business of proving that untrue. Everybody might have secrets but nobody is entitled to keep them, particularly once a teenage girl has gone missing from an affluent English gated community that is a great setting for strange and horrible happenings.

Safe starts off with the flavour of a soap opera. We follow a number of characters who live within this perfect, sealed off slice of suburbia, and while their houses are large and the communal barbecues seem like the perfect social occasions, they still all have their own problems, and are wrapped up in their difficult family relationships. More than one parent is struggling to communicate with a teenager who spends most of their time online or sneaking off to banned parties, and some marriages are much happier than others.

Everyone has their own issue to contend with, and that’s certainly true of widower Tom (played by Michael C. Hall); when his daughter disappears he has to admit that he knows very little about her life, and what he begins to uncover about it is a shock that reverberates through the community. A few extreme close-ups of Hall’s face work very well, heightening that sense of not really being able to tell what anyone is feeling or thinking; even when you’re staring right into the eyes of another person, they can remain a mystery – at least, until the end of the series when all will be revealed, of course.

Ad – content continues below

It doesn’t take long for things to begin to get darker, and there’s a really satisfying slice of weirdness in the first two episodes. The way technology is used within our daily lives without anyone really examining what living under constant surveillance means, for instance, is worthy of an episode of Black Mirror, and there is certainly more than a touch of black humour in some of the more extreme situations although it remains to be seen if Safe will continue in that direction, or whether that will get sacrificed for the sake of taking itself seriously as it builds to its conclusion.  

Having set up some interesting characters and relationships early on, such as Tom’s quiet best friend Pete (played by Marc Warren) and their bond from a shared past, Safe quickly becomes absolutely driven by its fast-moving plot, which involves revelations, car chases, interrogations, and more than a few action sequences involving Hall. He has a vital, believable presence as a desperate father. As a familiar face to many television watchers, his English accent might be off-putting at first, but I found myself getting used to it – no doubt helped by the fact that he really doesn’t have that much dialogue once the running around begins, and the disclosure of facts falls to other members of the cast such as Amanda Abbington’s Sophie, a police officer with a keen eye for detail and her own problematic home life that she tries hard to keep under control.

It’s that strange mixture of family drama tied with weirdness that intrigues me so far with Safe, and the way that those elements are divided. From flashbacks to car chases, we move wildly from domestic tragedy to comedic asides to fast-paced action, and it’s really only the geographical device of the gated community that unites all this. It makes for a really enjoyable watch that definitely held my attention, but it does mean that I’m not quite sure where my loyalties lie – but perhaps that’s the point. Nobody can be trusted, not even Tom or Sophie even though we’re mainly following their viewpoints. This is how the modern crime drama, particularly in the ‘child gone missing’ category works; no doubt there’ll be many more twists and turns before we get to a conclusion that might well be on the improbable side, to put it mildly. But if it ties in that sense of strangeness I got from these episodes and builds upon it in some way, I’ll be happy.

Totalling eight episodes in all, it would be easy to binge-watch Safe if it continues to move along at such a pace and find yourself entertained, and it’s certainly easy to enjoy strong performances by actors such as Abbington and Warren. Is it going to go anywhere fresh with the storyline? I’m holding out hope for that touch of the weird, but I doubt it. Still, I’ve started watching it and I’ll keep going because I now need to know what happened to Tom’s daughter. That’s the key to Safe, no matter what the characters might say – there are secrets, nobody is entitled to keep any of them, and we will uncover them all before the credits roll on the final episode.    

All eight episodes of Safe are available to stream now on Netflix.