“Kindred” is filled with moments where the craft fails to match the story, opting for visually bland design choices at every turn. The plantation, the clothes, the period detail lack a lived-in quality. When Dana and Kevin arrive at the plantation of the drunkard slave owner Thomas Weylin (Ryan Kwanten), for instance, we learn that since the death of his wife and his remarriage to Margaret (Gayle Rankin), that the grounds and home has, in some respects, fallen into disrepair. And yet, nothing in the set dressing tells us that. Even when relatives of the Weylins visit, and they chide Tom and Margaret on selling off the finer items, it doesn’t immediately hit amid the seeming opulence.
That same generic aesthetic carries over to the shooting of the series: Inert compositions that reveal nothing about the characters, odd decisions with regards to coverage, blunt editing that disrupts rather than casts a supernatural spell. You’re never quite sure what visual tone this series wants to set or the rhythm we should feel. Instead, the supposed arresting tension that should command our attention is merely a bundle of teases that carry very little meaningful weight.
Over the course of eight episodes, we learn that Thomas’ young, sickly son, Rufus (David Alexander Kaplan) is somehow connected to Dana’s time traveling abilities. We also meet some of the enslaved folks who populate the plantations: A Black overseer and bitter childhood friend of Thomas named Luke (Austin Smith), an enslaved woman (Amethyst Davis) who Thomas pines for, and a free woman, the local healer who many call a witch (Sheria Irving) and might have a special connection with Dana. These characters dance on the periphery of importance. They are imperative only because the series tells us they are. And yet, even as mismatched puzzle pieces, none of them conjure a genuine curiosity for the viewer.
That shortcoming wouldn’t break the series if the toothless, ungainly dialogue and the unimaginative nature of Kevin and Dana as characters weren’t also uninteresting. Despite Stock’s best efforts, Kevin doesn’t acquire a personality beyond being a discomforted white guy. He never inspires any sort of mystery or any of the tragic hues supposedly lurking beneath his exterior. The same can be said of Dana as Johnson drowns in the feckless writing. Dana isn’t a fascinating enigma. Nor is she a fully sketched person with a discernible personality. She says nothing particularly interesting, and apart from time traveling, does nothing especially remarkable. Yes, Dana longs for her mother. But what else does she pine for? What are her other character traits? Why is she attracted to Kevin? It’s all too ill-defined to be indelible, too superficial to pull you down toward its intended depth.