Review: 1899

(Graphic by Cole Bertelsen | Collegian Media Group)

“1899” begins aboard the Kerberos, a steamship bound for America. After a cryptic nightmare that may have been more of a memory than a dream, the show’s protagonist, Maura, wakes up aboard the ship. She reads a letter sent from her brother, who she believes was aboard the Kerberos’ sister ship, the Prometheus, which was lost at sea six months ago. 

One of Netflix’s most recent series, “1899” handles its large cast quite well. As this ship is carrying around 1500 people from Europe to New York City, there is a wide assortment of nationalities onboard. British, German, Danish, Portuguese, Chinese, Polish and French passengers are all key characters, and some mainly speak their own languages. Each character is more complicated than they seem at first. The show maneuvers the challenge of language barriers impressively, providing compelling backstories and emotional payoffs throughout the season.

“1899” immediately begins sneaking in details that force its audience to question what is reality and what is not –– details which only intensify as the story unfolds. The Kerberos’ captain, Eyk, receives a message that could only have been sent by the lost Prometheus, given the signal’s strength. The captain diverts course to find the Prometheus, much to the frustration of all aboard aside from Maura. Upon locating the lost ship, the crew finds it completely empty, aside from one small boy trapped in a cupboard that refuses to speak a word about what has happened. Stranger still, they find the Prometheus’ communication technology damaged beyond repair, begging the question of who sent the distress message. 

This period piece is very well made on a technical level. The insides of the ships feel very real, which is good, as they are the main setting for most of the story. Every scene on the deck is equally convincing. On clear days the sky is breathtaking, and during unfavorable weather it is clear how dangerous a place the ocean can be. Adding impressive camerawork onto that, this show does not struggle to capture the spectator’s attention.

Where “1899” does falter is its ending. The final episode feels rushed when compared to previous episodes. On a rewatch, some questions also go noticeably unanswered, but the final twist does leave room for a second season, meaning that more may be explored later. 

The show’s biggest strengths are the characters and the slow, ominous unraveling of its mystery. While not really a horror series, the tension of the circumstances the characters find themselves in will hold viewers’ attention for the show’s eight one-hour-long episodes. Although there is a huge twist at the end, the show is at its best when slowly pushing its cast towards an uncertain conclusion. “1899” is more about the journey than the destination, in more ways than one. 

Those willing to read subtitles and sit through the slow burn of the first episode or two as the show establishes its characters and plot will find themselves captivated by this voyage that is not what it seems.