Music and Nostalgia in The Five

Crime dramas have never been my favorite genre, but I like the subcategory of police procedurals well enough—I’ve probably seen every episode of NCIS and Law & Order: SVU. Even though I’ve never found the wow factor in these shows, I view them as a means of family bonding. I have a big family, and, while I was growing up, the TV in our home’s living room was always playing something. That something usually happened to be NCIS or SVU, and I tended to join whoever was watching. The process of putting together all the pieces of evidence was too tedious; by the time the criminal was discovered, I would be too bored to care. But, as I’d watch the mysteries unwind with my family members, we’d rarely sit in silence. We’d talk about anything, ranging from our studies to usual gossip. The shows became the background noise to my family’s daily life.

Accustomed to noise as a result of growing up with eight siblings, I now tend to study with these shows playing in the background, even if it’s through headphones while I’m in a library. Listening through my laptop is not the same, but it allows me to be able to focus on my studies aided by a comfort of home, of Long Island.

Thus, upon the insistence of one of my sisters, I started watching The Five (2016-). I was intrigued by the first episode of the British drama, which centers around four friends who reunite after the DNA of one of the friends’ brother, who went missing under their watch, reappears at a crime scene 20 years later. My interest in the show fluctuated over the course of the first season’s 10 episodes. When watching a show, I usually focus on the way the relationships between characters grow and develop, but, this time, all I seemed to care about was the mystery of how Jesse’s (the younger brother) DNA was found at a crime scene two decades after his supposed death. Yet, in retrospect, I suppose the reason why I was so invested in this mystery was actually because of the way the characters’ relationships were constructed. Their interactions held so much nuance that, in the end, I was so curious as to why Jesse’s DNA was found because the characters themselves were so curious.

Through flashbacks, we see the friend group as teenagers, and when Jesse’s DNA is found, they come back together to find answers, even though some of them had drifted apart. It is easy to root for the four friends. All of them are shown to care deeply for the wellbeing of others, and their careers reflect this: Mark (who is Jesse’s older brother) is an attorney, Danny is a police detective, Pru is a doctor, and Slade runs a shelter for vulnerable adolescents. We begin to understand the impact that Jesse’s mysterious disappearance had on their lives. Their relationships strengthen as the show’s climax approaches.

I wasn’t disappointed by the show’s reveal. It wasn’t that I was shocked; I hadn’t seen it coming, but I was by no means floored when the big mystery was uncovered. What mattered weren’t the clues that hinted at the answer or the overall construction of the narrative that set up the reveal. What mattered were the last ten minutes of the tenth episode. After all the information gathered over the course of the series had come together and everything made sense, what put it all together was the soundtrack.

At first, I couldn’t understand why these scenes made me feel such a strong connection to the show. Yet, I watched them over and over and realized that the music had added something that dialogue or visuals alone couldn’t accomplish. Subtly, the music revealed everything the characters were feeling. In the second to last scene, which features just one character and is accompanied by flashbacks, the lack of dialogue made me instead focus on the sole character’s facial expressions; I could see his confusion and fear. The addition of Jai Paul’s song “BTSTU” helped me empathize with him. The song’s angry rhythm created a feeling of impending explosion, which was exactly how the character felt. While I may not have undergone the traumatic experience that the character had, I have experienced the feelings that are evoked by the words and beat of “BTSTU.” I could feel myself in the character’s shoes. It became personal and intimate in a way I’ve never felt before from a crime drama. Instead of merely watching another crime drama in the background, I became an active participant in it, engaging with the characters.

The music didn’t just deepen my connections to the characters, though—it reinforced the feeling of nostalgia that surrounded the series. Through the show’s flashbacks, we see the characters’ present-day reactions to the past, wistful for answers and regretful of their decisions. In the final scene, the show juxtaposes images of the characters as young children and then as adults in the present day. The characters walk together, reminiscing of their younger selves, while the music of Andra Day’s “Rise Up” plays in the background. “You’re broken down and tired/ Of living life on a merry-go-round,” she sings, almost as if it were written for the show itself. The characters have faced challenges and have finally found answers, but they still yearn for what was and what could be.

The Five is somewhat of a dark show, but with “Rise Up,” it ends on a hopefully nostalgic note, one that looks toward the future. It evokes instances in my own life when I had to continue forward even in the midst of change. Now that I’m away at college and out of the house, I may not be able to watch TV shows or movies with my family in our home as much as I want to, but there are still ways for us to connect with one another despite the distance. And as I discuss The Five with my sister who recommended it to me, I am reminded of my own nostalgia for home. - Miriam Zenilman


Miriam Zenilman ’20 is a College of Letters major at Wesleyan University. She grew up in Lawrence, NY and loves creative writing, photography, and sailing. She has contributed to The Wesleyan Argus as a Staff Writer and hosts a weekly radio talk show about narrative techniques utilized in film, TV, music, and literature at WESU Middletown, 88.1fm.

The Five (2016-)
Created by: Harlan Coben
Season one (10 episodes) now streaming on Netflix