Season 1 of Unit 42 (Unité 42), a fascinating police procedural from Belgium, is streaming on Netflix. An excellent cast and well-written episodes make this series a stand-out.
The cyber crimes unit 42 (the answer to everything) investigates a different criminal in each episode. All of them involve crimes that use the internet or newer technologies to cause damage or take lives.
The Main Cast in Unit 42 (Unité 42)
I’ll use this photo of the cast to describe the characters. From the left is Sam Leroy (Patrick Ridremont), the head of Unit 42 (Unité 42). He’s a widower with 3 kids. He’s a good cop but he’s not a computer whiz like the people under him. His two older kids are Robin (Simon Caudry) and Emmy (Nola Tilman). He also has an infant. He’s currently enlisted his brother Tom (Thomas Demarez) to care for his kids while he’s busy policing all hours of the day and night.
In the green shirt is Bob (Tom Audenaert). He’s a good investigator with a big family and a past that leads to some questions.
In the middle, in scrubs, is the coroner Alice (Danitza Athanassiadis). She’s played by a deaf actress. In the beginning Bob does her translating from sign language, but before long Sam starts learning to sign. Bonus points for seeing a deaf actor play a scientist/doctor who is a leader in a crime fighting unit.
The woman with the long braid is Billie Bebber (Constance Gay). She’s a hacker with a colorful past involving all kinds of hacking activities. She has contacts in the hacking underworld and is a genius with a computer. She also has a secret agenda of her own. The female IT genius is, of course, my favorite character.
The two characters whose private lives get explored the most are Sam and Billie. As the series leads, they are the most developed and layered of the cops in season 1.
Back to the photo. The guy in the glasses and cap is Nassin (Roda Fawaz). He’s another IT genius. Nassin and Billie are the ones pounding on keyboards all the time, making connections and finding facts at the speed of electricity. Nassin is gay. We see him making dates with another guy, but we don’t really get into his life away from work. Maybe in season 2.
Finally, the blonde on the far right is the head over them all, Hélène (Hélène Theunissen). She’s not in the trenches on the investigations but she gives the orders. She also kills tropical fish and indoor plants with some regularity – a fact that isn’t spoken about but adds a bit of visual levity to the series.
There are unique aspects to Unit 42 (Unité 42). First is what I’m going to call ghostly presences. Sam’s dead wife Camille (Caroline Stas) is in every episode of season 1. She never speaks, she’s just hanging around the house. She sometimes guides Sam with his children, sometimes she shakes her head in dismay when he screws up. He feels her there and talks aloud to her, but he knows she isn’t really there. When he develops an interest in the coroner and starts learning sign language, she watches with approval.
The way the crime stories unfold there are glimpses of other ghostly presences – almost like flashbacks. But they are more than a normal flashback. It’s as if the dead person is there watching and waiting for the crime to be solved.
I credit the mostly female writing team for the unique way the stories proceed. The series was created by Julie Bertrand, Annie Carels, Guy Goossens, and Charlotte Joulia. They gave us a variety of crimes from eco-terrorism to child sexual abuse to revenge to murder by implanted heart devices.
Stylistically, there were lots of reflections – mirrors everywhere and reflective surfaces. Sometimes we saw multiple images of a person because of the placement of mirrors. Sometimes we saw one character in front of the camera while they talked to a person seen in a mirror.
Thematically, Unit 42 (Unité 42) slaps you in the face in every episode with the knowledge that absolutely EVERYTHING about your life is available online. Your whereabouts, your emails and texts, your browser history, your computer contents, your phone calls, and possibly the last time you kissed your kid goodnight. The series speeds everything up and makes all that information seem easy to get – but the point is made.
Creative camera angles helped us understand people and situations. Especially in Billie’s private space – which was an abandoned warehouse – the camera told us things no one was there to talk about.
Constance Gay as Billie was outstanding in terms of acting. There was a scene where she was crying out in pain and grief – the agonizing sounds she made and the pain in her voice felt real and intense. A memorable emotional moment. Overall, the cast was excellent.
Each crime was solved in its particular episode. The ongoing season-long stories were about the main cast and their personal lives. The big cliffhanger at the end involves Billie and the mysterious hacker she’s searched for through all of season 1.
Watch the Trailer
The best trailer I could find is dubbed in English. The series is actually in French. Netflix has a trailer in French.
I’m definitely eager to see season 2 of this excellent Belgian mystery series. Have you seen season 1 yet?