Full Circle Season 1 Review – Soderbergh’s mature storytelling focuses on substance and not on thrills

Season 1



Episode Guide

Episode 1 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 2 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 3 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 4 – | Review Score – 2.5/5
Episode 5 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 6 – | Review Score – 4/5


HBO’s Full Circle is a true conundrum to review. Not because of what it is but because of what it means to different people through varying perspectives. The six-part limited series is helmed by Steven Soderbergh, who directs all the episodes, while Ed Solomon writes the teleplay.

The star-studded cast has names like Timothy Olyphant, Zazie Beets, Claire Danes, Dennis Quaid, and CCH Pounder in the central roles. Full Circle revolves around a botched kidnapping effort that unravels long-standing secrets and lies of the people involved in it.

All of this is supplied with beliefs about karma and getting out of curses vis-a-vis settling of scores. The kidnapping serves as fuel to provide Soderbergh with a vehicle where he can steadily create compelling character arcs and integrate them within the narrative. Full Circle is not too much story-led but character driven which makes the job of the ensemble cast even more significant.

At its face value, the series is drained of the edge-of-the-seat excitement that most streamers tend to offer these days. Soderbergh takes away a lot of characteristics from Full Circle that would make you think it doesn’t belong to today’s era. His creative choices do not make Full Circle necessarily dull but there is a hint of languidity to the storytelling. Not in the slow-burn kind of way but in the style that best serves his characters and universe overall. His priority is to remain authentic to the true tenors and contours of the story he tells rather than pitch the show to the viewers at the compromise of his own vision.

Full Circle is characterized by Soderbergh’s usual low-budget aesthetics like lighting and a moving camera that give the show a naturalistic and raw feeling. The colour palettes use halogen yellow at night which is reminiscent of Traffic. And the grainy quality of the resolution lends a hand in creating the right atmosphere.

For many, the series may come across as a very long movie that only gets interesting halfway into the runtime. That is why it is important to approach the show with a certain maturity and respect. There are a lot of layers to Full Circle smartly threaded together by ambiguous strands. The universe’s interconnectedness strikes at the theme of things coming to a “full circle.” Even though the different moving parts might not always make sense together, they are sufficiently independent to exist outside of the main framework. 

For instance, Nicky’s arc or Harry’s trouble with Savitri’s leadership. Although they do not take a life of their own, Ed Solomon’s many creations within the Full Circle universe form part of a larger thematic spectrum that is very modern. Soderbergh and Solomon play around with the resources at their disposal allowing inconsistency in execution to creep in. The storytelling in Full Circle is not cohesive and it takes time for the cocoon to soften and reveal the central conceit. As the sole writer of the teleplay, Solomon does well to create a striking balance between pacing and dissemination of information.

It is not until episode 4 that we can start piecing everything together. But in hindsight, none of the plot cues in the earlier episode are out of place. There is no judgment regarding the characters, in the sense that the script does not provide justifications or answers. Full Circle’s puzzle is not meant to be solved as much as it is to showcase a very different world than what you or I believe in. When you peel away all the distractions, the ironic truth at the centre will leave you flustered. This is certainly not to scare away our readers from watching the show but a potent reminder that things are not straightforward in Full Circle.

The character-centric approach is taken advantage of most capably by Claire Danes in the cast. Samantha Browne is arguably the pivot around whom the entire scheming of Solomon’s plot revolves. She is the proprietor who opens and then subsequently closes the circle of events. Danes does not overplay her cards and so remains close to Soderbergh’s vision of the character. You will not see many moments of outward emotion from Danes  – or most of the other characters really – in playing out scenes with high tension. That is a tactful choice so as not to create distortions in the overall vision.

Full Circle is not constantly challenging as a show, even though it harbours a lot of different subplots. It is not meant for casual enjoyment and is definitely an outlier in today’s digital streaming landscape. Soderbergh’s polarizing cinematic stamp on Full Circle might prevent a few viewers from giving it a chance but for those who do, it is a rewarding yet frustrating experience.

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  • Verdict - 7/10

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