Transfers (or Transferts) is a 6 episode science fiction-thriller series, produced in France, which is now streaming on Netflix. The series aired in France in November, 2017, after having won Best French Series and Best Actor (for star Arieh Worthalter) at the 2017 Séries Mania Festival, an international festival. Transfers was created and written by Patrick Benedek and Claude Scasso.
Transfers takes place in the near future in a generic French city. Florian Bassot, a woodworker and family man, drowns while boating with his wife and children. He wakes up after having been in a coma for 5 years, and finds himself in another man’s body. While he was asleep, body swapping technology was developed, legalized, and then made illegal again two years later.
His wife, Sophie, never gave up on Florian, and arranged to have his mind transferred into the body of Sylvain Bernard, a brutal member of the anti-transfer police force, known as the BATI. Sylvain was shot in the shoulder, but died during surgery from a reaction to the anesthetic. Even though transfers are illegal, Sophie’s uncle, Dr Vautier, is a major researcher in the field, so he was able to secretly help her and Florian.
There is a thriving black market in illegal transfers and the kidnapping of young healthy people for their bodies has become a crime wave. An anti-transfer offshoot of the Catholic church has grown up around a young, charismatic priest named Father Luc, who believes that transfers are doomed by God. Father Luc uses technology to his benefit in slightly unscrupulous ways, and has an order of fanatical bald nuns who follow him. Father Luc also has a wealthy patron, Dangeac, who has supported his work from the beginning.
Since Florian is an illegal transfer, he must pretend that he is still Sylvain, and that the severe reaction to the anesthetic gave him amnesia. Sylvain hated transfers and went overboard with violence toward them in his job, as did his entire BATI team. Sylvain had recently been in a relationship with one of his coworkers, Béatrice. She hopes to use his amnesia to rekindle their affair. Meanwhile, Florian hopes to reunite with his wife and children after a suitable period of time has passed.
Transfers covers some of the same ground as Altered Carbon and Travelers, but in a very different way. It makes a great companion series with the other two shows. Altered Carbon shows a society that’s had access to body swapping and the resulting immortality for hundreds of years and has taken its capitalistic potential to the extreme. Travelers shows the results of a post-disaster society that’s faced extreme poverty and near extinction for hundreds of years and has developed body swapping and time travel as a means of survival.
Transfers shows a culture which is not very different from current western culture. This society has recently invented the body swapping process and is struggling to deal with the ramifications, something we aren’t shown in either Altered Carbon or Travelers. Father Luc’s church could easily develop into the Neo Catholics of Altered Carbon. The body swapping process in Transfers is so simple and DIY that it’s easy to believe the post-apocalyptic, barren society of the future in Travelers would have the resources to develop it.
The beginnings of the philosophies that are more developed in Altered Carbon and Travelers can be seen in Transfers, as the characters wrestle with morality vs death. But here, we get to see why people came to believe the way they did. What might seem like a harsh or selfish belief in the future begins to make more sense when it’s brought down to the individual decisions of the first generation to have access to the technology. Taken on its own, Transfers is a fascinating look at these issues that pertain to mortality and greed.
The people of Transfers face the typical issues of body swapping, and they are making up the rules as they go along, since their culture is facing this scenario for the first time: the possibility of immortality and what that means for inheritance and the acquisition of wealth; body and complete identity theft; the mixing of the mind/spirit’s personality with the body’s memories to form a new identity; the rejection of the spirit/body transplant; and what real death means in a society that has the possibility for immortality.
Through these issues, ideas that are more relevant to today’s world are explored, such as modern religion, police methods and violence, treatment of the mentally ill, the mind-body connection, the healthcare system, and cult behavior. Then there are the more timeless themes, such as the nature of love, whether or not God exists, whether humans have souls, and the corrupting nature of materialism and greed.
The show is made simply for a science fiction show, without many special effects or fantastical sets. It depends on the actors and the writing to convey the sense of a dystopian future, and it succeeds. Arieh Worthalter, in particular, as Florian/Sylvain, gives a very nuanced performance that sells the transfer premise. Brune Renault as Béatrice and Xavier Lafitte as Father Luc also face challenges as characters that make them question everything they thought they knew. They each bring depth and complexity to the Bati and the church. Pili Groyne as Liza is a young star in the making. I absolutely believed that this preteen girl had a middle-aged mobster inside her. She’s sensational.
The cast is filled out by Steve Tientcheu as Gabe, Toinette Laquière as Sophie, Patrick Descamps as Mareuil, Patrick Raynal as Dr. Vautier, Aïssatou Diop as Viviane Metzger, Balthazar Monfé as Thomas, Zelie Rixhon as Julie, Juliette Plumecocq-Mech as Fausto, Sébastien Chassagne as Volber, Alexis Loret as Florian Bassot, Emilien Vekemans as Fabrice, Thierry Frémont as Dangeac and Marie Kremer as Oriane.
Transfers has an exciting plot with romance, action, danger, intrigue and thought-provoking questions. Each episode is 1 hour or less, so with only 6 episodes, the story keeps moving. Season 1 has a satisfying ending, though there are openings left should it get a season 2.
I would love to see it get a few seasons to fully explore the concept and give Florian/Sylvain a chance to find his place in the world. The world of Transfers is fascinating and always on the edge of boiling over with controversy, much like our own. With only 6 episodes, season 1 barely touched the potential for what could be done with the concept. They are an amazing 6 episodes, worth checking out for many of reasons.
Grade for the season: A
Image courtesy of Netflix.