Claire Danes and Tom Hiddleston lead the gothic series based on the award-winning novel book by Sarah Perry.
Set during the turning of the 20th Century, 'The Essex Serpent' sees London widow Cora Seaborne (Claire Danes) move to the boggy terrain of Essex, an area that is reporting sightings of an alleged mythical serpent. With her son Francis and her assistant in tow (Hayley Squires), she wishes to uncover the mystery of the land. However, upon her arrival, strange happenings take place, plus there's a potentially bigger problem at hand - her feelings for the local pastor Will (Tom Hiddleston).
With two powerhouse actors leading the show, one really wants to give the series as much time as possible, no matter how slow the slow-burn of the series is. However, after watching the first four episodes, one is still waiting for something to actually happen.
The series is moody, mysterious and at times - fleetingly - lighthearted. But for the most part, it's a heavy production, leaning on the gloomy Essex boglands to depict a landscape that is sprawling and seemingly an endlessly murky terrain. In and of itself, it becomes a central character, arguably the most mystifying part of the production. All colours are eternally muted, and the townsfolk appear to lack any optimism - they're a working-class ensemble, having already lived the hardest of lives.
'The Essex Serpent' follows a running theme of faith vs. science - Cora and her entourage veering toward the latter, wishing to discover a glimpse of this "serpent", while Will constantly shoots down any talk about this mystical creature as codswallop. However, his faith comes into question as the mysteries start stacking up, and his God-fearing subordinate Matthew (Michael Jibson) begins to frighten the townsfolk by accusing Cora and other women of being touched by the Devil.
In this little working-class and faith-loving little area of England, Tom Hiddleston's pastor sticks out for all of the wrong reasons. We hate to say it, but it feels like the 'Loki' actor has been miscast here, playing a well-spoken, seemingly middle-class man who is unable to handle the growing fears bubbling in his community that is poor in both wealth and education. His wife Stella (Clémence Poésy) is just as much in the dark as the audience is as to why he and Cora begin to engage in a fling. For the science of it all, the leading stars are a bit stiff in the chemistry department.
Those expecting to be hypnotised by the alleged mystery of it all, the slow-burn of the series will likely turn people away from venturing past episode two. Reminding us of a Shakespearean tragedy without the big payoff, 'The Essex Serpent' doesn't nearly have enough bite to keep the audience fixated, even across just six episodes on Apple TV+.
Claire Danes' headstrong Cora is certainly the biggest highlight of the series - apart from that gloomy marshy Essex countryside - but for all of her determination and charm, there's still a disconnect between what's happening on-screen and viewers wanting to actually find out what's really going on. Blending mysticism, science and faith together should have been a gothic lover's TV dream, but sadly, it's just another tail that falls short on any sort of excitement.