A woman’s laptop screensaver illuminates a dark room. In the photo her hand rests gently on her husband’s shoulder — the pair smiling behind their three beautiful children in front of colourful bunting and a cake. A picture-perfect snapshot of domestic bliss. But the face in front of the laptop is a very different scene – the woman’s expression is wracked with fear and worry. She sifts through footage from her home security system frantically, when she suddenly pauses. The grainy video shows a dark hooded figure placing an unwelcome gift on her doormat.
People are complex beings and capable of hiding a well of emotion, past trauma and history. But it catches up with most of us eventually. And it’s these themes of secrets, double lives, and how hard it is to let go of the things that no longer serve us that go under the lens in Netflix’s addictive new British crime series Stay Close, streaming now in Australia.
The woman in question is Megan, a working mother of three, who is soon due to marry her long-term partner and father of her children. On the night she returns from her hen do, a congratulatory gift is on her doorstep, flanked with a card of a cartoon groom dancing with his bride. It’s addressed to a Cassie; a name from a past life. Her own. There’s ominously no message inside, which itself is a warning to say ‘I know who you really are and I’ve finally found you.’ That night she lays awake.
The eight-part series has been adapted from Harlan Coben’s New York Times bestselling book of the same name. Back in 2018, American writer/master of mystery Coben signed a five-year deal with Netflix; recent hits on the streaming site include The Innocent, The Stranger and The Woods – and Stay Close is just as packed with twisty intrigue as the rest, uniting British TV talent James Nesbitt, Eddie Izzard, Sarah Parish, and Cush Jumbo (who plays Megan).
Megan is one of three seemingly unconnected characters we’re introduced to in the first episode alongside Ray, a once-promising war photographer who is now stuck in a dead-end job snapping faux-paparazzi photos of celebrity-obsessed rich kids. Then there’s Broome, an obsessive detective who is unable to let go of a missing person’s cold case from years ago.
The opening scene of the first episode opens at the notorious local nightclub Vipers, kinetic with masses of revellers in fancy dress. The night is a blur and focuses on one of the punters on the dance floor who becomes disorientated when we suddenly see him tearing through the nearby woods, shouting after someone. He goes missing, and this sets into motion a ripple effect, unsettling the characters’ lives. At the same time, as promised, an old friend from Megan’s past comes forward to deliver some shocking news: that a violent man, someone who Megan wanted to forget and was presumed to be dead years ago, has now resurfaced and inevitably is looking for her. As the episodes tick on, we realised everything is tied together, and the viewers experience in real-time as our protagonists try to figure out how everyone’s dark secrets are tied together before all their lives come crashing down.
Cush Jumbo plays Megan perfectly with an acute openness and underlying ferocity. She is a woman who has escaped a violent past, and is plagued with that all-consuming relatable female guilt, well aware of the hypocrisy of advising her teenage daughter not to misbehave while repressing the truth about her former life. But she also isn’t a woman to be reckoned with – the shocking scene at the end of episode one is an eye-opener. And where is her daughter constantly sneaking off to at night?
At the heart of the show is a reminder that we all have a past, but that some individuals may harbour real atrocities that could threaten to ruin the quiet suburban lives that they have built. And once again, it is reiterated throughout that it is women who ultimately suffer the most – in life, love, family or their careers – due to whatever systemic structures grip them.