Whatever this is…whatever happened to Mahalia, to Katrynia, I need to look further than Beszel. Across the border, where people pass one another like ghosts…to that other place. I will find the answers, whatever they do to me. It is my duty…and my penance.
What an odd little drama this was.
This miniseries was absolutely amazing to watch. I can’t lie. I was fascinated by the dual realities of the two cities, Beszel and Ul Qoma, that exist simultaneously in the same place and yet they are still separate. It was a bit difficult to understand, I grant you, but the symbolism and social ideology buried in this series is incredible.
The series is based off of the book by China Miéville, The City and the City, which I have not read.
Inspector Borlu, the main character, is a police officer in the city of Beszel. Again, it is a city that exists within and yet completely separate of the city Ul Qoma…and Ul Qoma exists within and yet completely separate of Beszel. It’s a difficult concept, but it becomes easier to watch as time goes on.
I’m an official David Morrissey fan now because of this series. I’ve seem him in The Hollow Crown, and his Northumberland was wonderful, but this miniseries made me really see how great of a performer he really is.
The story begins with the death of a young American student named Mahalia, who was found dead in Beszel, near a street called Gunterstraz. Gunterstraz is coincidentally the same place that Inspector Borlu’s wife, Katrynia, was last seen before she went missing. Mahalia and Katrynia both believed in this wild idea called Orciny, a third city that existed between Beszel and Ul Qoma. It exists outside of time, space, and everything. It is a place of peace and safety and harmony that every citizen who lives in “the cities” desperately desires.
As Borlu begins to investigate Mahalia’s case, it makes him ask questions about what really happened to his wife, whom he loved with a fervent fire. As he tries to find out what happened to Mahalia, it leads him closer to learning the truth about his own dear Katrynia, and he too begins to discover the facts behind that fabled place of bliss: Orciny.
It was a mentally challenging bit of cinematography to watch, and I didn’t just want to be baffled by this dystopian thriller. I knew it was trying to send a message. It was too odd to simply be a good story…and if I’m being honest, all stories are like that. There never is just “a good story.” A story is always trying to send a message, but I wanted to be sure I came away with a strong one for this particular story.
I wanted to be taught, I wanted to come away as a different person after watching it. And since all truth is God’s truth, I wanted the truth of this story to pull me in towards a more godly life in my own upside down culture. If the characters of this broken society could live until the end, then so can I.
So, without further ado, here are the three things I love most about the BBC miniseries, The City and the City. *Potential spoilers ahead* 🙂
My favorite character, apart from Inspector Borlu, is Katrynia.
Before I begin, let me just say that the love story between Katrynia and Borlu was the most adorable thing on planet Earth, and I loved watching them interact. Katrynia’s obscure, ladylike, academic nature and Borlu’s gruff, rugged, “gentle giant” spirit were so cute together. It was a joy to watch.
Okay, now back to why I love Katrynia.
When I found out that Lara Pulver played a part in this drama, I was honestly expecting her character, Katrynia, to be another cliched figure from the infamous “femme fatale” trope, like Pulver’s other characters Irene Adler (BBC Sherlock) or Isabella Thornton (BBC Robin Hood), but I could not have been more mistaken.
In fact, it’s impossible to see Irene or Isabella when you watch Pulver’s Katrynia. I forgot on multiple occasions that she was the same actress who played the dangerous criminal from Sherlock. I guess that’s what makes her such a brilliant performer.
Katrynia is described by Pulver as “this wounded little butterfly who needed looking after and yet the second she felt comfortable she felt the need to break free and push those boundaries, to question everything” (BBC2). How true is this description.
Katrynia is a seeker of truth. She is incredibly bright, independent, and curious. She wants to understand the things that she doesn’t, and she wants to spread wild ideas. She’s fearless, unafraid of new ideas, new concepts, and she is a thinker. I really fell in love with her character when I realized how undaunted she was by the reality of the two cities. When introduced to Ul Qoma for the first time after seeing only Beszel for her entire life, she wasn’t afraid or confused like the others around her were…she was fascinated.
She is not only a seeker of truth, but of peace. She wants to see the barriers between Beszel and Ul Qoma broken, and she wants to see a world where humanity is united in Orciny.
She’s determined, smart, intellectual, and never afraid of what others think of her “madness.” She is different.
I think that’s what I loved so much about her. Her spirit to find Orciny, to finally seize it was actually what drove me to believe in it. Her fire to see things made right was so invigorating. I believed in Orciny for Katrynia. Her pining for it was what made me wish it were true.
So when the audience learns that Orciny is a hoax, and that Katrynia killed herself when she realized it was, all I could do was suck in my breath and silently weep.
This bright mind, this intelligent woman, full of spunk, tenacity, and vigor, was led astray by false hope, and it drove her to her death.
I have never been able to identify with Pulver’s characters, but I can identify with Katrynia. I feel that same academic, intellectual fire just starting to kindle in my mind. I want to learn, I want to understand what I don’t, and I want to soak up all I can while I live on this green earth.
And that was why I wept for Katrynia.
Her tragedy was all the more tragic because of Borlu. She left him behind: the man who adored her. She failed to see what she had and dwelt on the sad reality of Orciny’s nonexistence.
And this leads me to my second reason for loving this miniseries.
2. The immensely symbolic concept of Orciny
I was a believer in Orciny.
I honestly believed in it. I wanted the escape, the freedom, and the resolve for these weary, winded, and wounded characters just as much as they wanted it for themselves. I wanted them all to see Orciny, to be free of the segregation of “the cities,” and for their troubles to come to an end.
Orciny was outside of time, space, and was the answer to every character’s trouble.
And yet, Orciny only exists because it is alive in someone’s mind (“The City”). It was never a real place, and it was a lie. A distraction. A hoax.
Orciny was never real.
It was a fiction created by David Bowden, a scholar who entrapped depressed, peace-craving young women with his wild ideas and seduced them into romantic affairs. One of these women was Borlu’s own wife, Katrynia, who was infatuated with Bowden before she married Borlu.
Mahalia and Katrynia were both so obsessed with Orciny. They spent so much of their lives trying to find it, searching for it, studying it, and when it all turned out to be false, they both faced grave consequences.
They had every reason to believe in Orciny. They were sick of the segregation, the lies, the hate, the fear, the intimidation, and they wanted to find a place free of it. They became obsessed. They thought there was a real Orciny.
But there wasn’t.
There was only the world in which they lived. The world where citizens of one city were forced to “unsee” the other city. They were told “when in Beszel, see Beszel,” and “when in Ul Qoma, see Ul Qoma.” They wanted a unified society, one in which there were no boundaries, no borders, no prejudices, or bullies.
But Orciny claimed the lives of both Mahalia, who was murdered, and Katrynia, who took her own life out of despair. If this evil world was all there was, why should she search for a perfection she could not find?
To me, in a non-political analysis, Orciny represents perfectionism.
Perfectionism is a fantasy upon which we dwell, and a fantasy that we seek out to numb the pain brought upon us by our broken world. We crave it, we believe it, but we can never find it, and eventually, we realize there was nothing in it, and it never even existed at all. We want to be good, to be free, to be perfect, but we can never be so. We want to see the world set free. Sin divides our world just like the borders that divide Beszel and Ul Qoma. We want resolution, and we want it now. We crave perfection. But it’s an unattainable hoax that we seek after so hard. Our search for it has told us that it must be attainable.
But it’s not.
Perfectionism distracts us from doing something about the society in which we live. There is no Orciny (at least, not until we leave this earth), but while we remain in this broken dystopia, there is still much we can do. We cannot go to Orciny just yet, but we can live here to do something about the declining world we are apart of.
We are human, and we desire peace, we desire goodness, and it is only natural for us to desire perfection. The goodness of God is what we crave. We are humans, we are made in his image, so we crave the holiness of God, and we want it now.
But not only does Orciny represent perfectionism, but it also represents the afterlife. For in that heaven with Christ, we are perfect. The goodness we have craved and desired for so many years is finally given to us. We have pointed others toward it, and we are finally allowed to rest in the goodness and perfection of Christ.
Because, as is hinted at in the end, Katrynia found Orciny in the afterlife.
And that brings me to the final reason I loved this miniseries.
3. The Ending
Many viewers have accused the ending of this miniseries as being “disappointing” and “sappy,” but I felt quite satisfied with the ending, if I’m being completely honest. I certainly felt contemplative and sad, but I also felt satisfied.
Borlu is stabbed in the back of the neck. He’s not dead, but he’s dying. He’s crying with tears of pain and sadness. He knows the truth about Katrynia: she killed herself when she learned Orciny was a fraud.
Suddenly, he sees himself on the floor, in the arms of Officer Corwi, who is trying to bring him back to life. He’s no longer in his body, and he stares in astonishment at his dying self on the floor. Then he hears a voice. “Come with me. You’re invited.” It’s Katrynia, and she’s dancing ankle deep in the water, looking at him with happiness and joy in her face. As she dances off into the blinding distance, Borlu wonders if he should follow.
But he stays.
He walks away from the infinite bliss before him and returns to his body, letting himself remain in the cursed world he so loathes. He is a rebel, he is “breach,” he’s not perfect, but he stays in the cities to bring justice, to save the lost, and to make the crumbling utopia around him all the more beautiful.
But every night, he goes to “that other place” and he remembers Katrynia, and that is what reminds him of the duty he must fulfill to keep living in the brokenness of the cities.
And so ends the drama.
The ending communicates purpose. The purpose was not to find Orciny, it was to lead others to it. Borlu knows what awaits him when he dies, but he does not kill himself to get there faster. He sees the world he lives in, and he knows it needs him. He stays, and he works to see changes made.
And again, just as the Orciny concept can correspond to our own lives, so does the ending of this story.
We live in a dystopia. We do. These stories only exist because people feel as Borlu does, as Katrynia does, and as Corwi does. Our society is being ruined by perhaps not political trouble, but moral trouble. Sin secretly takes over and divides our homes, our souls, and our emotions. We live in a world that is dying. We live in a world that needs Orciny. That heaven to where we will go when we die, where we will be forever in goodness and perfection with the Creator.
But to despair is to be defeated.
Borlu saw the antidote, but he chose to stay and continue to fight crime and serve justice in the cities.
So must we. We know what lies ahead, but what good is it to keep it to ourselves? Borlu took the hope that Katrynia and his vision gave him and used it to continue to serve his world.
The hope we have been given in Christ, in the heaven he has created for us, in his salvation, is what should drive us to serve this broken world, and to point our fellow enslaved humans to the truth of salvation, the love of Jesus, and the hope of holiness in heaven. Where there will be no divisions, no evil, no fear, no intimidation, and peace will reign in abundance.
This world is a literal Beszel and Ul Qoma. Split down the middle by sin and rotting morals. Separated by hate and prejudice. How will we fight to learn the answers, to lead others to the truth, and to one day enter in to hear “well done, thy good and faithful servant?”
So, yes, I loved this drama a whole lot.
There it is, my friends! The reasons I loved BBC’s The City and the City. I hope you all enjoyed my rambling.
Wasn’t there some awesome truth to be had? I so thoroughly enjoy analyzing media. It’s so much fun.
Have you seen this miniseries? What did you think of it? Comment below!
P.S. Here’s the trailer 😛
My usual disclaimer: I applaud the symbolism, storyline, and cinematography of this miniseries. However, it isn’t perfect, and I don’t condone/accept everything in it, especially the suggestive/profane bits. There’s quite a bit of unnecessary profanity (numerous characters throw the ear-piercing f-bomb around numerous times among other curse words – one character in particular uses the f-bomb just to annoy her fellow officer, so her mouth is foul in that regard throughout the series), a few degenerate comments, and one sexually suggestive moment between a married couple (easily skippable with the 10s skip feature – which is what I did 😀 ). Please research the series for your own self first before deciding if you want to watch it or not. I always just wanna throw that out there. I definitely do not want to stumble anyone or hinder anyone’s walk with Christ by recommending this. I’m definitely not perfect, and I know not everyone will enjoy it the same way I did.