/ 2 May 2023

One Show Two Takes: Unseen

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Crime thriller: Gail Mabalana as Zenzi and Vuyo Dabula as her husband Max in the Netflix series ‘Unseen’. Photo: Netflix

Spoiler alert — despite the star-studded cast, the South African Netflix crime series Unseen, released last month, does not deliver the grit and suspense the trailer promises. 

Based on the Turkish series Fatma, it has a similar storyline — a cleaner turns murderer while on a quest to find her husband. 

Unseen is not great but the actors deliver. This series is a classic case of having to separate the artist from the work.

Set in Cape Town, it is about cleaner Zenzile (Gail Mabalane), who is desperate to find her husband, Max (Vuyo Dabula) who is released from jail but never returns home. 

She unintentionally kills someone powerful, shaking the underground world and uncovering a syndicate in the process. Zenzile, timid and invisible, is able to get away with more murders of key underground figures — until Raymond (Brendon Daniels) figures out she is behind them. 

We need to give Mabalane flowers for what she does with Zenzile. She is so in tune with her character that I did not see Gail Mabalane at all while watching Unseen

I do have one quibble — Zenzile’s accent. I am not sure what she was supposed to sound like but I’m not convinced she nailed it. 

I do wish Dabula had played a bigger role. I am not asking for Kumkani from Generations but I will say that it would have made a big difference to the series if we had seen more of him because we know he is capable of playing a really great antagonist. 

While we’re giving flowers, let’s pick some for Daniels (Four Corners), who doesn’t miss a beat as Raymond. Every time Unseen loses steam, his scenes remind viewers why we are streaming the series in the first place. 

I cannot fault the acting but something about the whole series did not land with me. 

I accept they could be cooking some story­lines for season two (we don’t know if there will be one) but the plot doesn’t seem to have room for follow-ups to character development. 

Without spoiling it for you, there is an incident involving a flash drive that could have been further explored but we’re left hanging, while Unseen chases the next action scene.  

I wish Zenzile had remained unseen for longer, leaving the cops and gangsters looking for her, guessing for longer, instead of cutting to the action. 

The actors gave it all they could but Unseen is a little flimsy, with too many plot holes. I recommend you watch it for the performances but I cannot guarantee you’ll like the delivery. — Lesego Chepape

Unseen, a South African crime thriller series that premiered on Netflix last month, has quickly gained popularity. 

A seven-day marathon of events, squeezed into six suspense-filled episodes, Unseen is deserving of a four-star rating. 

Adapted from the Turkish series Fatma, what sets this series apart is its commendable attempt at showcasing an ordinary black African woman’s quiet strength while navigating extraordinary situations.

Set in Cape Town, Unseen follows the story of Zenzi (Gail Mabalane), a domestic worker looking for her husband Max (Vuyo Dabula), who mysteriously disappears after his release from jail. In her quest to find out what happened to him, she unwittingly gets drawn into the underworld of criminals where she is driven to commit a series of murders.

It features a star-studded cast, including Ilse Klink, Lufuno Ngesi, Colin Moss, Abduragman Adams, Brendon Daniels and Rapulana Seiphemo. The close-up shots are a splendid celebration of African brown-skinned beauty and the unpretentious Tswana and Afrikaans slang spoken by some characters adds authenticity. 

Dineo Langa gives a stunning performance as Zenzi’s sibling Naledi. However, the standout performance is Mabalane as  Zenzi, an ordinary black woman trying to make ends meet, yet underneath the timidity lies a complex and intriguing character filled with quiet courage. Mabalane’s performance is so strong  that the series could have been titled Zenzi.

The safety of black women in South Africa — financially and otherwise — is highlighted through Zenzi. The series’s principal theme, however, is female invisibility within a patriarchal society. Where I come from, “Gao mpone”, which translates as “you don’t see me”, is used to describe someone deemed unworthy and insignificant. It is this invisibility Zenzi uses as a tool for survival. 

The perception of black people in lower economic strata is another theme. How much do income levels, gender and race inform how people are seen? Often, car guards, petrol attendants and security guards are invisible to people higher up the social ladder who have scant interest in them. 

Unseen offers a conversation between the worlds of backroom-dwellers and the upper class, to inspire better understanding of each other’s circumstances. Despite my initial scepticism, Unseen holds its own as a series. For its great female-led cast, pertinent themes and stunning cinematography, it is worthy of a standing ovation in our lounges. — Rolland Simphi Motaung