Mosaic: A Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Review of Steven Soderbergh's Mystery

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III. Portrait of the Artist

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There’s a moment in “Meet Olivia Lake,” which also appears in the first episode of Mosaic, in which Stone briefly shrugs off the character’s confidence, as one might a sweater in a warm alpine lodge. Wealthy (though “overextended”), attractive, famous, philanthropic, Lake is no wallflower: She pursues Joel (Garrett Hedlund), tending bar at a fundraiser for Mosaic, most unabashedly, literally asking him to slake her thirst with a “tall and muscular” drink. But she is, beneath her brisk surface — one reminiscent of the series’ Soderbergh-ian cool, which you can read about on page four — a woman struggling to define her place, still living off the success of her long-ago debut.

The short scene in question comes during a flirtatious dinner with another suitor, a con man named Eric Neill (Frederick Weller), as she retreats to another part of the lodge to call up her pal JC (Paul Reubens, playing a Sex and the City-era relic of the Gay Best Friend). What’s so engrossing about it is the fact that Stone, alone on screen, conveys more of Lake’s vulnerabilities through enthusiasm than she does through upset—though there’s plenty of that to go around, too, including an Emmy-hungry meltdown and (much better) an icy joke, told through gritted teeth, when she meets Joel’s girlfriend, Laura (Maya Kazan). Defenses down, voice thick with liquor, her cautious but palpable excitement offers a glimpse of a woman eager for connection, so used to being holed up in a mountainside manse, or performing for an audience of well-wishers.

Olivia’s turns out not to be Mosaic’s key point of view — that would be Eric’s sister, Petra (Jennifer Ferrin), for reasons I explain on page five — though she is its dramatic motor, and not only because her death is at the center of its mystery. Though it sounds a few overwrought notes, Stone’s performance is mesmerizing, not least because she consistently allows Olivia’s faint optimism to shine through the cracks in her steely façade; the tragedy is that this hope turns out to be false, the yearning for a “legacy,” in the form of Eric’s proposed expansion of Mosaic, ultimately dashed on the rocks of betrayal. There’s something potent in this, coming from an artist of Soderbergh’s stature: a “road not traveled” quality, in which the chameleonic filmmaker, always testing new styles, distribution strategies, media, forms — for more on this, return to page two — wonders what it might’ve been like to have stalled out after sex, lies, and videotape. (There’s also, of course, a gendered component to this, which Stone manages to channel even when it’s absent from the script.)

Disappointing, then, that Olivia should be snuffed out so quickly, presumed dead, though her body remains undiscovered, after her studio’s found spattered with blood. I suppose a murder mystery needs a murder, and thus a victim—I only wish it weren’t the most fascinating character, the one whose quicksilver moods, uncertain motivations, fragmented sense of self come closest to approximating the mosaic as a whole.

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