The tagline for Netflix’s Bodies summarizes the time-hopping crime thriller in three simple sentences: “Four detectives. Four timelines. One body.”
Based on Si Spencer’s graphic novel, the streamer’s new “police procedural with a twist” centers on the discovery of the same body on Longharvest Lane in London’s East End in 1890, 1941, 2023, and 2053. As connections are drawn across the decades, detectives from each period discover their investigations are all connected to enigmatic political leader Elias Mannix (Stephen Graham).
To solve the mystery and save Britain’s future, the detectives — Alfred Hillinghead (Kyle Soller), Charles Whiteman (Jacob-Fortune Lloyd), Shahara Hasan (Amaka Okafor), and Iris Maplewood (Shira Hass) — must figure out a way to collaborate and uncover a conspiracy that spans more than 150 years.
A Mind-Bending Mystery
Like Netflix’s adaptation, Spencer’s works — which Vertigo Comics published in eight issues between 2014 and 2015 — focus on four London detectives, but in slightly different years than the adaptation. The late British author also teamed with artists Meghan Hetrick, Dean Ormston, Tula Lotay, and Phil Winslade, each illustrating one era.
“While there’s a self-contained narrative in each issue for each character and an overriding arc for each over the eight issues, they’re all pieces of a single much bigger story,” Spencer explained to Comic Book Resources (CBR) in 2014.
The timelines engage with familiar historical figures or settings, like Jack the Ripper and World War II, while the future timeline deals with a “terrifying techno-apocalypse,” per the publisher’s official synopsis.
A Common Thread
One major similarity between the main characters is that they are “outsiders” who all have secrets central to their identities. For example, Hillinghead is gay, but not out; Whiteman is a cop who runs an underground criminal empire; Hassan pretends she’s religious, but won’t even enter a mosque.
The body they each discover — a nude, white male who’s missing one eye and has a double-H sigil branded on his wrist — appears to be a victim of a ritualistic killing. (The letters “KYAL” also always appear near the body.) One key phrase, “Know you are loved, ” is repeated across timelines.
The location, Longharvest Lane, proves to be a significant connector, too. It’s a dodgy homosexual hangout near Jack the Ripper’s haunts in the Victorian era; it was a World War II Blitz target; a contested territory in a race war; in 2050, it seems to be the epicenter of whatever caused a future apocalypse.
The Victim’s Identity, Revealed
In each timeline, the body eventually reappears as a living entity, and after some blood rituals, he explains that he is a messianic figure who goes “by many names.” (He doesn’t “like any of them, though,” and simply prefers the name “Frank.”) For thousands of years, he has resurrected periodically to threaten mankind with an apocalypse that is always thwarted by “some single agent of good or lone agent of death” who finds his body.
Once he’s found amid a catastrophic national event, the “Long Harvest” of change begins, as a new world is built. He also points out that the word apocalypse “simply means uncovering…revelation.” In the future timeline, Maplewood eventually regains her memory and kills her mother — a scientist who misused a pulse wave to scramble human brains — in order to save the world.
The graphic novel is a commentary on British culture, focusing on cyclical patterns of prejudice. In the final act, “Frank” explains how things always play out between “the English and strangers,” e.g. the “outsider” detectives.
“We freak out for a bit until some idiots go too far, and then we side with the underdog,” he says. “And once that happens, the strangers start to get the only thing they always wanted — to know they are loved.”
Each timeline more or less wraps with the “You are loved” mantra, and several characters find redemption, even though the ending still leaves much open for interpretation.
The Netflix adaptation also maintains the novel’s central theme. “For me, it’s about love – particularly the absence of love and how lives can get contorted and twisted with that absence,” actor Jacob Fortune-Lloyd, who plays Whiteman, recently told The Upcoming. “I don’t think I’ve seen a mystery or crime so clearly about love.”
Series creator Paul Tomalin added, “Absence of love became the beating heart and hopefully becomes something very moving at the end.”