“Informer” is a show in which people die, a certainty that’s presented mere minutes into its opening episode. The new Amazon Prime Video series begins with an act of wanton violence not merely to thrust audiences into a world of brutality and warped justification, but to show that there is a cost to the six-part story about to unfold.
It’s not rooted in miraculous feats of bravery or redemptive acts that can wipe away years of misleading and uncertainty. It’s a pursuit of justice and public safety that acknowledges a human price at the beginning of each chapter. In the context of an unfolding story about policing, intelligence gathering and the informants recruited to be literal eyes and ears in those efforts, “Informer” also fashions a story that reevaluates how much that potential price is worth it.
“Informer,” which originally premiered on the BBC last fall and is now available outside the UK, follows a trio of individuals at the heart of an ongoing terrorism investigation. As part of his way of showing new recruit Holly Morten (Bel Powley) the ins and outs of sniffing out evidence via neighborhood policing, veteran investigator Gabe Waters (Paddy Considine) uses a drug possession charge to lock Raza Shar (Nabhaan Rizwan) into an ongoing informant program. Gradually (and in many ways, begrudgingly), the three work together to uncover information about a possible cell connected with a high-profile attack in the Netherlands.
Debuting for American audiences in the wake of the overwhelming response to Netflix’s own import “Bodyguard,” “Informer” presents an intriguing alternative to the more narrowly presented elements of a story concerned with terrorism, public safety, and questions of duty under duress. Through Rizwan, Raza is a protagonist whose misgivings and occasional failures in his new unfamiliar role are part of what make for a compelling anchor to the overall story. It’s apparent that Raza is trying to do “the right thing” with each new turn in the investigation, but the elusiveness of that ideal course of action is when “Informer” is at its most observant.
Considine helps to drive home Gabe’s unenviable task of tending to his various personal and professional families, keeping a slew of priorities balanced against an infinite number of alternate outcomes. Gabe wrestles with the implications of putting his informants inside a strict authority structure where all responsibility works back up to him. In the process, the show manages to go against asking blind allegiance to central figures of authority within the story, allowing for perspectives like Raza’s to get a little more breathing room than in more oversimplified narratives.
The show calls attention to how Raza’s family and friends are used as bargaining chips to keep him compliant, even when those using that leverage don’t always see the full ramifications of what it takes to keep him cooperating. Sometimes, Holly and Gabe’s “at all cost” mentality achieves results, but those incremental breakthroughs in the case often come with a repressed psychological toll.
Powley’s performance ensures that Holly’s directness and misjudgment of certain social cues are more than a simple affectation. Instead, it’s another addition to the show’s ongoing investigation into how different people in the policing business adapt their personalities to the job. The six-episode season allows space for characters to examine this challenge from several compelling directions.
Though it’s not the main effort of the show, “Informer” does also explore how people of faith don’t have to be treated as a homogenous whole. Gabe and Holly are in pursuit of what they believe to be an active terror cell, but their ability to see each player in this web as people with different motivations and not simply as an Other is a professional asset, not a hindrance.
For as delicately as “Informer” presents some of these thematic ideas over the course of Gabe and Holly’s policework and Raza’s navigating of his strange new charge, there are some parts of the series delivered with thudding weight. It’s far more effective when the questions of manipulation and identity get raised through their actions rather than stated explicitly. (There’s no need for Considine to be saddled with the line “When you’re the lie, it’s hard to know which part of you is the truth,” but he pulls it off as best as can be hoped for.)
There’s a visual metaphor that’s only slightly less on the nose than the closing seconds of “The Departed.” And, as required by law in a story about a member of law enforcement with conflicted feelings, someone punches a mirror.
These moments of severe overstatement are disappointing, considering what “Informer” is able to do when it takes a more hands-off approach. What sticks out as more valuable than the troubled cop tropes is an overarching attention to the consequences of these decisions. “Informer” taps into the idea that with ethical lines this blurry, there’s no course of action that can guarantee success or safety.
That framing device of returning to the same crime at the start of every episode has a final payoff engineered to reframe all six parts with a shocking finale. It’s a messy attempt at unveiling one final act of misdirection as means of resolution. For as surprising as the placement of that last puzzle piece is, the show is more powerful when the audience knows who’s being kept in the dark — and why. Fortunately, the final image of the season gets it right: Whereas similar shows have ended with a tidy conclusion, these kind of investigative dramas are richer for going beyond the backstory of a single crime to explore how much it continues to resonate long after the story ends.
“Informer” is now available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.