The Netflix thriller dares to give viewers a killing machine who isn’t frighteningly competent.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the works being covered here wouldn’t exist.
In Who is Erin Carter? ’s precipitating event, the titular character (Evin Ahmad)—a British ex-pat living in Spain and trying to make a living as a substitute teacher—must fight a masked gunman during a grocery store robbery. At stake is the life of nearly blind daughter Harper (Indica Watson), who cowers unseen under a display of oranges.
It is a familiar enough setup. Viewers have seen variations on it in countless films and television shows. Under threat, the hero with a vague past reveals themselves. Suddenly, they have breathtaking fighting and weapons skills that don’t fit in with their present life. It is not much of a spoiler to say that sometime in Erin’s past, she did some bad things for some (debatably) good reasons.
So, as a viewer, you lean forward, anticipating that any second now, she will reveal herself to be a John Wick-esque adept, a skilled operator who fights with the ease she breathes.
But the moment never comes.
Yes, Erin handles herself well enough to get the upper hand and has a few flashes of unusually deadly improvisation, but the fight is sloppy and rough. In the end, it seems luck has as much to do with her and Harper walking away alive as her skills.
What makes Who is Erin Carter? an unusual bit of disposable fun is that it continues to show her as not naturally adept. She never becomes a flawless killing machine and spy. Instead, she frequently comes across as ill-prepared, overreactive, and over her head. She frequently barrels into situations where being gentler would prove more effective and raise significantly fewer eyebrows. Early on, she goes off on a police captain. Then, as she wraps up her diatribe, she learns that the officer has no awareness of what she’s yelling at him about. At other times, she draws immediate conclusions about who the “bad guys” are in a situation, only to find herself trusting the exact wrong person.
Ahmad depicts this all with a mix of righteous indignation and harried panic. She wisely doesn’t flinch away from her character’s flaws. If anything, she leans into them. Each action makes it clear that one of the biggest reasons Erin’s life in Spain is steadily unraveling isn’t just her past but rather her present choices. It lends the series’ early chapters a darkly comedic tone that sadly gives away the fairly rote action set pieces mount.
Who is Erin Carter? She’s a mess. Ain’t that grand?
Unfortunately, a lot of what makes the series fun and intriguing in the first few episodes of the seven installment series dissipates towards the climax. For instance, Watson’s Harper shows signs of a hair-trigger temper and some self-destructive tendencies from the beginning. As the plot progresses, the audience gains more insight into where those impulses might come from. Unfortunately, as the viewers’ knowledge of her increases, the challenging behaviors disappear. They aren’t so much resolved as cast out for plot convenience. A neighbor’s marital struggles similarly spontaneously resolve in the name of future pathos.
Thankfully, two characters that manage to inject Who is Erin Carter? with a bit of adrenaline get a larger spotlight in the home stretch. One, Daniel Lang (Douglas Henshall), a father of a troubled student at her school, brings an unexpected kindness that interrupts what has started to feel like Erin’s total freefall. The other, Lena (the reliably excellent Denise Gough), comes from Erin’s past life with a dangerous and utterly understandable motivation. The way these two characters change and how their presence affects Erin gives the series a late burst just when the monotony feels like it is threatening to kick in.
In the manner of many series, Who is Erin Carter? frustratingly refuses to be over at the end of its seven episodes. Still, until then, it manages to take a conventional trope and give it a new jolt. Repeatedly, Erin proves a protagonist who isn’t just emotionally or psychologically flawed. Instead, she fre quently fails at the “skills” viewers are used to seeing their action heroines perform nearly flawlessly. Who is Erin Carter? She’s a mess. Ain’t that grand?
Who is Erin Carter? is reloading currently on Netflix.