One of the most watched shows on Netflix right now is Bodies, an eight-part science fiction murder mystery that makes for a delicious TV binge. While the show deftly navigates time travel and blends classic sci-fi tropes with dystopian futurism, its backbone is strongly political. Historically, science fiction is a genre that is packed with social commentary, but what makes Bodies so unique is its unwavering investigation into periods of political turmoil that are resurfacing today—caught in their own inescapable time loop.
Bodies follows four detectives from four timelines who discover the same body in the years 1890, 1941, 2023, and 2053. The cast of characters must grapple with their own “outsiderdom” as they start to unravel the threads of a broken system, which sprung forth a conspiracy that will change the course of history forever.
Warning: plot spoilers and mentions of racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia
Detective Hillinghead (Kyle Soller) is a law-abiding sergeant and family man who carries a deep secret—he is a gay man living in the same era when Oscar Wilde was sent to prison for “crimes of indecency.” When Hillinghead discovers the mysterious corpse on Longharvest Lane, he is confronted with a part of himself that he has kept hidden in order to survive. This is recognized almost instantly by a handsome photographer on the scene, Henry Ashe (George Parker). Together, they work to solve the case and stumble upon an underground conspiracy in London’s elite society, orchestrated by the malevolent Elias Mannix (Stephen Graham). Hillinghead’s duality—an officer of the state and closeted gay man—touches on a central theme in Bodies, which explores how the system often forces marginalized people to assimilate, essentially splitting themselves.
It’s Hillinghead’s job to track down and arrest other queer men, which is why when he meets Henry, a street photographer who documents queer life in London, nearly unravels him. Henry challenges Hillinghead, calling him a “coward” when he is asked to drop the case by his superiors. While Henry embodies the spirit of a freewheeling bohemian artist, Hillinghead has his wife and daughter’s livelihoods to think about. This tension between them nearly drives them apart, but when Hillinghead has a near-death experience, he finds himself at Henry’s door and they share a passionate night together.
Detective Whiteman (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd) is a morally gray cop who does odd jobs for the KYAL society. He is the only Jewish cop on the force and often hears hate speech from his fellow officers. Outside of work, London is getting destroyed by German bombers. Later in the show, it’s revealed that Whiteman changed his name after leaving Berlin, which is where his family died in concentration camps. Whiteman is a complicated character for several reasons. He lies, commits crimes, and doesn’t seem to have a moral backbone—until he disobeys KYAL’s orders to kill a Jewish orphan girl who saw him with the mystery corpse on Longharvest Lane. This touches on another theme in the show. Each character wrestles with their own “otherness” as an agent of the state, but when they choose to go against the system, they find their moral center again.
This puts Whiteman and the orphan girl at great risk, which leads Whiteman on a vengeful rampage against KYAL and everything they stand for. There is something awfully prescient about Whiteman’s character as a Jewish man combating rampant anti-Semitism while also enacting state violence. Although Whiteman is a character from the past, his storyline and internal struggles reflect ongoing tensions today. Bodies reminds us that bigotry and violence are never singular acts, but rather, history repeating itself.
Detective Hasan (Amaka Okafor) is a single mother and South Asian Muslim cop in present-day London. The show actually begins with Hasan, arguably because it’s set in 2023, which is when Mannix detonates a bomb that changes the world forever, but also because Hasan’s timeline embodies the zeitgeist of today. In the first episode, Hasan and her fellow officers are instructed to supervise a white nationalist rally in London and are told “not to intervene unless provoked.” Although brief, it’s a powerful opening scene that highlights the hypocrisy of law enforcement, who often allow alt-right groups to march in the streets while they brutalize Black and Brown activists and other marginalized groups for exercising that same right.
At the rally, Hasan catches sight of a South Asian teenage boy who leads her away from the crowd to the dead body in Longharvest Lane. The boy carries a gun but tells Hasan he didn’t kill the man despite “what she may hear” before he runs away.
Hasan’s character is significant for several reasons. One is that she’s the only detective who figures out the time-traveling KYAL conspiracy, and it’s perhaps her role as an outsider that allows her to piece it all together. Despite having very different backgrounds, Hasan’s character is a lot like Detective Hillinghead. Both Hasan and Hillinghead are tasked with tracking down people who echo their own identities, which is symbolic of how marginalized people are often forced to suppress their own “otherness” to fit into a society that would rather eradicate differences than embrace them. We also learn that Hasan chose a career in law enforcement to help kids like Elias who have been abused by the system. Her maternal instincts and capacity for empathy are what make Hasan a pivotal character in Bodies.
One of the most shocking plot reveals is that the mysterious corpse that appears in multiple timelines is actually from the future. In the year 2053, the KYAL movement came into power, creating a “utopian” Britain after the devastating explosion in 2023. This storyline follows Detective Maplewood (Shira Haas), a loyal agent of the state who doesn’t seem to have a personal life outside of work. She lives alone, drinks “organic” booze with her nosy neighbor, and has a device on her spine that allows her to walk. When the Longharvest Lane case is taken over by The Executive, the highest and most covert police force in Britain, Maplewood gets the sense that something bigger is going on.
In one episode, Maplewood travels to an undeveloped part of London where her half-brother lives with his wife and infant child. The siblings are estranged not only because they live on opposite ends of society, but because they share the same medical condition, which rendered them paralyzed at birth. While Maplewood wears a government-made device on her spine, her brother uses a wheelchair. “They can fix you,” says Maplewood, to which her brother spits back, “I’m not okay with giving up my freedom just so I can f***ing walk!”
In this futuristic world, healthcare is only afforded to those who swear fealty to a government that serves a privileged minority of the population. Sounds familiar, huh? As Maplewood gets closer to the case, her worldview starts to shift. Perhaps a governing body that was built by destroying millions of lives isn’t the ideal.
While society has certainly made progress since the 1890s, many of us are still fighting the same battles. In both the U.S. and England, legislation targeting LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly children, is on the rise. Neo-Nazi militant groups like the Proud Boys are spewing hatred against Jewish people and other minority groups, causing a surge in anti-Semitic violence. Islamaphobic attacks are also on the rise fueled by far-right politicians and their followers across the globe. Disability activists are still fighting to get more funds to make public spaces and healthcare more accessible for a global majority who are often treated as minorities.
Bodies may be a work of science fiction, but its characters and storylines are clearly mirrors of the real world. While we can’t rewrite history, we can learn from the past, and reach through the time/space continuum to build a future where empathy and equity are valued over greed and totalitarian ideals.