'Signs' Season 1 Review: AXN's Polish thriller 'Znaki' on Netflix is mysterious but saved by an unlikely killer

The first season takes too long to build up but is better than generic crime-solving American procedural dramas any day


                            'Signs' Season 1 Review: AXN's Polish thriller 'Znaki' on Netflix is mysterious but saved by an unlikely killer
Commissioner Trela and Ada in Season 1 (Netflix)

Spoilers for 'Signs' or 'Znaki' Season 1

Everything is connected is an idea pop culture has come to dread if they have been through the perplexing drama that is 'Dark'. The German show uses science fiction, time-traveling, alternate worlds and realities to spin a tale so intricate, connected people beyond families and the mysterious town of Winden as mothers become their own grandmothers and fathers turn out to be their son's girlfriend's brother. Didn't make sense? You're probably not the only one. But the brilliance lies in connecting the dots and tying up every loose end when it comes to ensemble characters and their intertwined mysteries.

The Polish thriller 'Signs' or 'Znaki' tries the same but leaves too many plots open-ended by the finale of its debut season that just premiered on Netflix, two full years after originally airing on AXN. At the end of the eight-episode saga surrounding a small town and its hidden truths interconnected by the murder of three women, one might find themselves asking what was the reason to touch upon so many angles? In those moments, the only respite comes with the absolutely unexpected murderer reveal. 

The story, like most Nordic noirs to have populated Netflix's summer slate this year, begins with the murder of a woman. The crime resembles one from a decade ago way two uncannily to be ignored - thus establishing the titular signs or pattern to look for when it comes to the perpetrator. Almost everybody is a suspect, as usual, and we are introduced to them through the new Commissioner in town, Michal Trela. Andrzej Konopka plays the disgruntled single father with a grappling substance abuse past too well. At times his act is so convincing, viewers might find themselves asking why the f*ck is he being so rude? But that's your grumpy grouch gone sour, even though his teenage daughter Nina (Magdalena Zak) is an absolute ray of sunshine.

Trela comes to the town and makes a mark by arresting a local Godman called Jonasz (Andrzej Mastalerz), who mixes some derivative of meth in regular water and sells it to the townspeople calling it Holy Water. The very next day, one of Trela's detectives, Ada's (Helena Sujecka) best friend Patrycja (Alicja Pietruszka) goes missing and turns up dead the say way a young girl called Laura had died ten years ago: two bullets to the chest, no evidence, shells, or bullets at the crime scene. The scene is a local mine that loops in the town's sketchy, avaricious Mayor who wants to gentrify the area into a shopping complex and other commercial buildings. And the contractor he was using for his project happens to be the murder victim's boss. 

Jonasz and Dorta in Season 1 (Netflix)

The mining site is also a catacomb of sorts with skeletons bursting out when dynamites are exploded for construction purposes. Out comes drawings and plans of what looks like German war machinery from ancient times but these are just one of the subplots left open-ended. The other ones include Jonasz's vested interest in these sketches, and Nina's closeted feelings for the Mayor's frankly asshole daughter Agata (Helena Englert), who's basically a ticking time bomb with no moral code or compassion for a fellow human.

One could argue 'Znaki' tries to estimate the ties within a small town and its lies that run deep with people fighting to keep each other's secrets hidden. But it also opens too many meandering subplots in the process, like Ada's husband cheating on her with her now-dead best friend, and even Trela's predecessor Jan Dzikowski's (Zbigniew Stryj) first murder to avenge his son's death that are dumped with less than impressive closures to allow any taste or satisfaction from the journey. Seriously, with meaty stories like a fraudulent CBI inspector in town, a new priest from the Parish who is far too interested in hidden signs and photography and the Mayor's daughter staging others for petty revenge, 'Znaki' doesn't deliver much.

The only respite, as we mentioned, is the twisted killer reveal, which even though 'Znaki' tries to subtly hint all along, becomes beyond blatant by the fourth episode. But his murder weapon is a mentally challenged young woman being raised by Jonasz which does make one marvel at the twisted extent religious people will go to under the pretext of carrying out the Lord's work. In the end, it is a story about unclean women being wiped off their town by Trela's junior, Krzysztof Sobczyk (Piotr Trojan), and the debut season trails off with him kidnapping Nina and using the unwitting accomplice Dorota (Paulina Galazka) to suffocate her all because Nina is interested in another girl.

A second season is already out somewhere and probably holds the answers to how Trela saves his daughter, or whether he is able to at all. But it's not something that one aches to find out immediately, despite knowing it's readily available. Perhaps this is the curse of coming shortly after some pretty iconic Polish thrillers like 'Deadwind'/'Karppi' or even 'The Mire', but 'Signs' aka 'Znaki' only strikes a chord with its murderer, touching too much along the way and not doing enough justice to those stories. It is still better than any crime-solving American procedural any day. That's for sure.

'Znaki's Season 1 is now available for streaming only on Netflix.