Violett Beane as Imogene Scott and Mandy Patinkin as Rufus Cotesworth in "Death and Other Details."
Everyone loves a whodunnit. They’re thrilling and captivating and always end in a satisfying revelation. And yet it’s easy for these classic murder mysteries to become predictable and tired. In a post-”Knives Out” world, no one wants to keep rewatching “Clue” with a slightly different roster of characters. We need modern mysteries with something to say, and Hulu’s “Death and Other Details” does just that.
The series, which premieres Tuesday, is a complex and gripping murder mystery that explores themes of class, power, deception and corruption — all in the middle of the ocean. Starring Mandy Patinkin and Violett Beane, “Death and Other Details” unfolds on a luxury ocean liner, where two wealthy families, the Colliers and the Chuns, are hoping to broker a major business deal.
Before they get the chance to close that deal, however, a guest is found murdered in his room. The guest in question, portrayed by Michael Gladis, is a near stranger to the group, and an obnoxious and entitled one at that, spending his brief stay on the ship drinking, smoking cigars, boasting about his wealth and being rude to the staff.
So when Imogene (Violett Beane), an outsider and friend of the Colliers, takes it upon herself to make him pay for his bad behavior by smashing his expensive watch, she unwittingly marks herself as the main suspect in his murder. To make matters worse, the detective heading the investigation is Rufus Cotesworth (Mandy Patinkin), the same man who failed to solve Imogene’s mother’s murder 18 years ago, which we see glimpses of in flashbacks throughout the show.
Rufus, whose accent can only be described as vaguely British, also serves as the show’s narrator, urging the “reader” to “pay attention” as the events unfold.
“If you want to solve a crime, any crime,” he warns at the start of the show, “you must first learn to see through the illusion.” Of course, that’s much easier said than done, even for Rufus himself, because what follows is one hell of an illusion.
Intent on proving her innocence, Imogene begrudgingly teams up with Rufus to find the real killer, but in their search for the truth, they find themselves with more questions than answers. As guests continue to drop dead, the two sleuths struggle to put all the pieces together. The only thing they know for certain is the name of one mysterious and powerful villain: Viktor Sams. And through it all, Imogene can’t shake the feeling that her mother’s death is somehow connected to the slayings on the ship.
Nothing about “Death and Other Details” is what it seems. From blackmail to family dysfunction to secret dalliances, there’s a lot going on underneath the surface, and there appear to be more connections between them than not. Though “Death and Other Details” certainly borrows elements from its murder-mystery predecessors, it is truly in a league of its own. Not only is the backstory far more elaborate, but the show also doesn’t shy away from commenting on privilege and class on a deeper level. Yes, the guests are pampered and the crew is overworked, but there is more to it than that. Through flashbacks and insights into the dealings of the Collier Mills company, we are shown a tale of greed and corruption at its worst. We see what can happen when wealth and power are abused and money is favored over humanity, and how those in power will use their influence to deceive. And none of this is simple or on-the-nose. It’s wonderfully woven into the plot as part of the mystery.
Of course, it’s not all death and injustice. The cast of characters helps add some much-needed fun and comedic relief to the show. Linda Emond, in particular, shines as Agent Hilde Eriksen, an Interpol investigator who boards the ship to help solve the murders and search for the “meat and potatoes” of the investigation. Her brusqueness, prompt lunch breaks, nighttime activities and interactions with Rufus and the guests on the ship add a healthy dose of humor to the show.
As a queer woman, I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention that there are not one but three lesbians in the show: Anna Collier (Lauren Patten), the soon-to-be CEO of Collier Mills; her wife, Leila (Pardis Saremi); and her ex, Eleanor Chun (Karoline). Yes, it’s complicated, but so is the series as a whole.
As the title suggests, “Death and Other Details” is all about the little moments, and no detail is unimportant, as Rufus heeds at the very beginning. But thankfully this doesn’t mean it’s too difficult to follow along or understand. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It’s quite thrilling to try to unravel the mystery as it plays out and to try to fit all the pieces into place.
With every new twist and turn, you can’t help but want more.