Children’s author Olivia Lake (Sharon Stone) is murdered in Summit, a resort town in Utah. Uncovering what happened the night she was killed and who did it is what HBO’s limited series Mosaic is all about.
Steven Soderbergh’s murder-mystery isn’t quite your typical thriller. From how the story is told to how the series was shot, it unravels slowly and unexpectedly through the eyes and words of the characters involved – and there are plenty.
The show starts in the present day. In a dimly-lit hallway, local police officer Nate (Devin Ratray) reveals the compelling evidence about Olivia’s death to a man named Joel (Garrett Hedlund) who appears to be a key suspect. Then the scene cuts to four years earlier where it all began.
The first two episodes are confusing. Told from Olivia’s point of view, we’re briefly introduced to a host of characters and it’s hard to get a handle of who’s central or not. The first episode is a little hard to get through, really, but Stone’s performance is compelling enough to lure us in.
Olivia is an ageing author who had incredible success with her one bestselling children’s book, Whose Woods These Are. But she’s a damaged woman who seems to have little luck with men. She also has a friend in JC (Paul Ruebens – yes, Pee Wee Herman) who is sort of her wing-man and confidante.
Olivia meets Joel at an event she hosts at Mosaic, an art gallery she co-owns with her business partners, Michael (James Ransone) and Tom (Michael Cervis). Joel, a graphic artist hoping for his big break, is bar-tending at the event and he’s fascinated by Olivia. He’s also hoping she will look at his work.
They hit it off, and Olivia hires him as her handyman at the resort she owns. In return, she promises to review his work and offer him career guidance. She also invites him to be a lodger at the resort where he can stay rent-free while earning his keep by fixing it up.
When she finds out he’s engaged, however, their dynamic shifts. Olivia asks Joel to leave, demanding he pay the rent he owes. He’s confused, angry, drunk, and storms out after some angry words at Olivia.
Meanwhile, Michael and Tom are trying to get Olivia to sell her property after discovering the true worth of her estate. They’ve found traces of a valuable mineral on the lot but have hidden it from her.
Then there’s Eric, an investor who’s also trying to get Olivia to sell her property and expand Mosaic. Instead, they fall for each other. But soon after coming clean to Olivia, she’s dead.
And there’s even more characters and suspects coming of the woodwork – Eric’s sister Petra (Jennifer Ferrin), Joel’s wife Laura (Maya Kazan), Joel’s friend Frank (Jeremy Bob), and former police officer Alan (Beau Bridges) who seems to be connected to Olivia’s business partners.
As the plot unfolds, same scenes are revisited from different perspectives, which forces viewers to re-examine their initial suspicions. Characters who were obvious suspects suddenly seem like unwitting pawns in another POV.
There’s a lot of crisscrossing that makes Mosaic fascinating. You think you know someone, but then suddenly you’re not so sure. So you re-watch the episode to see if your initial perception holds true. Thankfully there are only six episodes, which makes re-watching every 50-minutes a little less ridiculous.
I watched the series in one long, sleep-deprived sitting and I’m not satisfied. Not by the story or the delivery, but by the certainty I’ve missed nuances along the way. I’m re-watching it for sure and if I’m to leave you with any advise, it’s to get through the first episode, stop looking for clues, and let all the fragmented pieces just come together.