The tales of Robert Langdon and his hyper-specific expertise in deciphering ancient symbols captured movie-going audiences in the early 2000s with the The Da Vinci Code, a book-turned-film from author Dan Brown. In it, Langdon, a fictional Harvard University professor, becomes the prime suspect in a murder that only he can solve due to an unusual symbol on the dead body; escapades ensue. The film grossed over $760 million worldwide and was followed by two sequels, and set off a wider Dan Brown universe, of which Tom Hanks as Langdon is the center.
Fast forward to 2021 and the Langdon character is back for a new adaptation in The Lost Symbol on Peacock, this time investigating the disappearance of his mentor at the hands of a mysterious tattooed villain. The 10-episode season, written and co-showrun by Dan Dworkin Jay Beattie, stars Succession’s Ashley Zukerman as an attractive, somehow younger version of the role that Hanks originated in The Da Vinci Code. (Dan Brown, Brian Grazer, and Ron Howard also feature in the series’ long list of executive producers).
It’s unclear whether the events of The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, or Inferno exist within this version of the Brown-verse, but Zukerman brings a fresh version of Langdon to the scene. As a hero, Langdon now has a chip on his shoulder with a case of claustrophobia that occasionally limits him; in The Lost Symbol, acts of heroism are parsed out to members of the supporting cast (including Valorie Curry, Eddie Izzard, Sumalee Montano, Rick Gonzalez, and Beau Knapp), which ultimately makes it a richer story with a more nuanced ensemble.
The new series is your typical caper: after being summoned to Washington D.C. under false pretenses, Langdon is thrown into a mystery that requires his specific knowledge and skill. Previous Dan Brown stories have relied heavily on interpretations of ancient Christianity and Catholic tales and symbols while injecting the story with a time-sensitive treasure hunt, and The Lost Symbol is no different. Episodes are fast-paced and engaging (as of the first three provided for review), especially if you know what you’re getting yourself into.
But for audiences who often get invested in the mythology of a series and enjoy piecing the puzzle together themselves, The Lost Symbol may come up short. One of the seminal rules of writing is “show don’t tell”—show audiences your story through actions and try not to rely on explanatory dialogue to get a point across. In a story like this, it’s almost impossible to not lean heavily on telling your audience everything because the story demands it. Zukerman has to recite lines that explain what a symbol is, why it’s important, and how he even knows it’s a symbol in the first place. In turn, as an audience, we have to suspend whatever interest we might have in Sherlock Holmes-ing the story because there is no choice but to rely on the show to tell us what to look for.
The consumption of culture is slightly different today than it was in 2006 when The Da Vinci Code became the blockbuster that it is: in 2021, fans are obsessive and in the weeds, getting invested in the minutiae of what they’re watching and building theories in their free time. To that end, the series is a bit underwhelming. This type of storytelling, where much of the emphasis has to be placed on worldbuilding and exposition, might not scratch the itch for fans of the genre.
The first episode of The Lost Symbol premieres Thursday, September 16th on Peacock, with new episodes releasing weekly.
Radhika Menon is a pop culture-obsessed writer and filmmaker living in New York City. Her work has appeared in NY Post’s Decider, Teen Vogue, and will be featured in Brown Girl Magazine‘s first ever print anthology. She is a proud alumna of the University of Michigan and thinks she’s funny on Twitter.
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