An Agatha Christie-Meets-'The White Lotus' Setup Will Make You Want to Keep Watching 'Death and Other Details'

Mandy Patinkin plays "the world’s greatest detective" in this ten-part murder-mystery, which also riffs on 'Knives Out' and 'Succession'.
Sarah Ward
January 17, 2024

There's no doubting that Death and Other Details loves whodunnits, or that it's made with a murderers' row of them in mind. Playing "spot the nod" is one of this ten-part Disney+ series' games. Sleuthing along with its plot is the other, obviously. So, as an odd couple with an age discrepancy team up to attempt to solve "a classic locked-room mystery" — the show even calls it such — among the preposterously wealthy on holiday, and on a boat at that, where everyone has a motive and a battle over who'll seize control of a family business is also taking place, gleaning what creators and writers Heidi Cole McAdams and Mike Weiss (who also worked together on Stumptown) have been reading and watching isn't a puzzle. Nudges and references are regularly part of the murder-mystery genre anyway; here, they sail into a tale that's also about what we remember and why.

Recalling Agatha Christie's oeuvre, its movie adaptations — complete with Kenneth Branagh's recent spate — and especially Death on the Nile is as blatant as knowing that no one onboard Death and Other Details' SS Varuna will be exactly who they appear. Thinking about Only Murders in the Building, Knives Out, Poker Face and The White Lotus is also instantly easy. So is pondering Succession, with narratives about business empires passing down the reins bound to pop up as frequently as detective capers even now that the HBO hit is over. But when other films and shows earn a wink here, Death and Other Details also digs into the purpose behind the minutiae that sticks in our memories. It's a savvy yet risky gambit, getting viewers ruminating on how they spy patterns and filter their perspectives, too, while chancing coming off as derivative. Mostly the series bobs in the first direction; however, even when it sways in the second, it still intrigues its audience to keep watching.

That seemingly mismatched pair: Imogene Scott (Violett Beane, God Friended Me) and the Hercule Poirot-esque Rufus Cotesworth (Mandy Patinkin, Homeland), with the second regularly dubbed "the world's greatest detective". Most folks might believe that label, but Imogene does not. The duo shares a history spanning two decades, from when she was a child (Sophia Reid-Gantzert, Popular Theory) mourning the shock killing of her mother that he couldn't solve. Back then, Rufus was on the case at the behest of the wealthy Colliers, who work in textiles, employed Imogene's mum as a personal assistant to patriarch Lawrence (David Marshall Grant, Spoiler Alert) and took the girl in when she had no one else. Now, both Rufus and Imogene are guests on a cruise chartered by them — she's there as basically a member of the family; he's accompanying the Chuns, with whom the Colliers are in the middle of a billion-dollar business deal.

The entire decadent jaunt is in aid of getting crucial signatures, securing the Colliers' future and anointing Lawrence's daughter Anna (Lauren Patten, a Tony-winner for Jagged Little Pill) as the next CEO — she hopes. Death and Other Details doesn't lack in people taking to the seas, though, not only including the aforementioned characters. Chun matriarch Celia (Lisa Lu, American Born Chinese) and her granddaughter Eleanor (Karoline, Dead Ringers), Lawrence's dutiful spouse Katherine (Jayne Atkinson, Baby Ruby) and coked-up son Tripp (Jack Cutmore-Scott, Oppenheimer), Anna's paranoid former-journalist wife Leila (Pardis Saremi, Hell of a Summer) and the Colliers' slimy long-serving manager Llewellyn Mathers (Jere Burns, NCIS: Los Angeles) are all onboard. So is ship owner Sunil Ranja (Rahul Kohli, The Fall of the House of Usher). The unruly Keith Trubitsky (Michael Gladis, The Company You Keep) is also among the passengers, until he's found dead via a harpoon in his cabin.

Everyone is eventually a suspect, from a pool that features Washington Governor Alexandra Hochenberg (Tamberla Perry, They Cloned Tyrone), the politically influential Father Toby (Danny Johnson, The Equalizer) and his social-media star son 'That' Derek (debutant Sincere Wilbert), Jules (Hugo Diego Garcia, Touchées) from the vessel's security outfit, and hospitality head Teddy Goh (Angela Zhou, Promising Young Woman) and her sister Winnie (Annie Q Riegel, Kung Fu) as well. But fingers initially point in Imogene's direction, after she's caught on camera in the victim's room not long before he met his end. Rufus, who she's furious to see but has been tasked with looking into the matter until Interpol arrives, can assist — and wants her help cracking the mystery in turn. No one needs to be badged "the world's greatest detective" to pick that their current situation and Imogene's mother's murder have connections.

"Pay attention: details matter," advises Rufus early, with Death and Other Details endeavouring to fill its frames with tidbits that prove that notion. And there are tidbits; just like the lengthy list of folks associated with the show's two cases, there's no shortage of backstories, links, twists, detours, motives, secrets, lies, affairs, clues and other finer points. Although not everything convincingly earns its place, the non-stop flow gives Imogene and Rufus plenty to dive into, in the present, common past and much in-between. And while the extravagant ocean liner that the bulk of the current-day timeline is set upon doesn't seem to be in a hurry to get anywhere, the series' plot is pacy and bouncy, never letting a moment drag.

Death and Other Details' jumps backwards are always tied to memories and, in another choice that could've sunk or swum — thankfully, it's the latter — often insert Imogene into the recollections. Accordingly, the act of scouring one's brain and scrutinising someone's story for aspects that've might've been overlooked receives a visual representation. The underlying idea isn't just a passing theme, either. That almost everything is subjective isn't a unique revelation, but examining the distortions of our minds, what we choose to see and to block, and what recurs again and again, is particularly potent in unpacking grief and trauma. Such is Imogene's tale, which Death and Other Details never forgets even as it luxuriates on an opulent ship, splashes around sunnily and glossily shot sights, and also steams into the eat-the-rich realm.

As the investigators sifting through a motley crew of players with their own idiosyncrasies, Patinkin and Beane unsurprisingly leave the biggest imprint among the cast. Ever-reliably great, he's in classic gumshoe and Columbo-type mode, while she's shrewd and determined. The contrast — as familiar as it is — works a charm. Indeed, as the series coasts entertainingly along, wanting more of Rufus and Imogene sleuthing together, and more of them stepping beyond their present boat-bound scenario, is the main takeaway. For now, their maiden Death and Other Details' voyage boasts much to keep audiences wanting to continue breezing along with them.

Check out the trailer for Death and Other Details below:

Death and Other Details streams via Disney+ from Tuesday, January 16.

Images: Hulu.

Published on January 17, 2024 by Sarah Ward
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