Netflix’s ‘The Stranger’ Review: Jumbled, But Juicy

Netflix’s The Stranger — based on Harlan Coben’s novel of the same name — draws you in with an immediate rush of adrenaline, as the show opens with a wild bonfire and a naked boy running through the woods. 

The Stranger follows family-man Adam Price on a desperate journey to discover the truth after an unknown stranger reveals his wife’s deepest secret. However, this is merely the origin point, as the story quickly spirals into multiple (maybe interweaving) narratives featuring multiple (maybe interconnected) characters. 

Netflix 'The Stranger'
Netflix ‘The Stranger’ | Netflix Media Center

‘The Stranger’ is a bit cliche and too expansive for its own good 

The Stranger, while maintaining an air of intrigue — consistently building suspense via unpredictable connections and insurmountable questions — fails to captivate via character. The Netflix original, relying on the complexity of each story over the depth of each person involved, falls victim to a common mystery conundrum, in which baffling the mind becomes the sole and trite mission. The uniqueness inherent to the varied mysteries does not prove strong enough to trump the uninspired familiarity inherent to the approach.

By episode three, viewers have been introduced to multiple characters, with various problems, and dangerous secrets — all connected via a stranger who wears a baseball cap and drives away before you can ask her that one last question. She remains a mystery, and she is the glue connecting the show’s otherwise disparate parts. 

The problem: with so many characters confronting independent issues, it becomes a show in which some stories are more intriguing than others, leading to boredom when screen-time favors the less preferred narratives. The Stranger suffers from too many stories, too many characters, too many twists, and too many turns. At some point, twists become distractions, turns become delays, and supporting characters become extensions. 

The show is intoxicating in its grasp on classic mystery mechanisms, and it begs to ask “do you really know the people you love?” However, failing to establish the people as more than plot devices, the deeper questions fail to reach the heart. Yet, the show manages to break away from the mystery mold in one surprising and satisfying way. 

‘The Stranger’ features characters who confront each other: a refreshing change of pace in the mystery world

Many mystery-based works tend to feature characters who do not communicate about the secrets lurking beneath the surface. The narrative then runs on an unrealistic foundation built on a lack of communication between individuals who would theoretically be communicative (husbands and wives, best friends, etc.). 

The Stranger breaks this mold. In The Stranger, characters do confront one another; they confront the liars and those holding deep secrets. Rather than propagating the secrecy the show’s mysterious stranger dispels, the characters go right for the jugular. The narrative allows for its characters to dialogue, for its more tightly-knit than a cheap PG-13 murder mystery. It won’t collapse via one conversation between two supporting characters.

The show separates itself from multiple mystery predecessors that do not discuss the one leg holding up the entire production until it’s meant to collapse (fifteen minutes before the end). In The Stranger, there are multiple legs; there are multiple secrets; there are multiple lies. And while, at times, this facet works in the show’s favor, most of the time, it’s simply too much.