On a wedding day in Lagos, the bridegroom Kola Ademola (Deyemi Okanlawon) fends off a hitman hired to kill him by his younger brother Femi (Gabriel Afolayan). Only for him, an abusive man, to be killed in self-defence by his bride Sarah (Ini Dima-Okojie) and her best friend Kemi (Nancy Isime). This is not a whodunit. What matters the most isn’t the murder of Kola but the days before and after it. And Blood Sisters—a collaboration between Netflix and producer Mo Abudu’s EbonyLife Studios, touted as the first Nigerian Netflix original series—delivers thrills.
In the opening scenes of “It’s a Bloody Affair,” the first episode of the four-part limited series, there is an elaborate setup of the lavish wedding that never happens. It introduces a host of characters and their dispositions. As the camera moves stealthily across the hallways, we meet Uduak (Kate Henshaw-Nuttal), Kola’s mother and the cold-hearted matriarch of the Ademola family; Femi and his scheming wife Yinka (Kehinde Bankole); Kola’s sister Timeyin (Genoveva Umeh); Kola’s best friend Akin (Daniel Etim Effiong); and the Ademolas’ trusted bodyguard and henchman Uncle B (Ramsey Noah).
These scenes establish latent tensions and strife in the Ademola family: power tussles, envy, hate, indifference. They highlight the difference in social class between the Ademolas and their in-laws-to-be, Sarah’s parents, brought to life by Uche Jombo and Keppy Ekpenyong Bassey. They also lay foundation for Sarah and Kemi’s strong, protective friendship.
After Sarah and Kemi’s crime becomes public knowledge, the hunt for the two fugitives commences. Enter the police inspector Joe (Wale Ojo), a fedora hat-wearing US returnee. Inspector Joe is a by-the-book officer determined to sniff out hidden truths. Aided by Sarah’s ex-lover Kenny (Ibrahim Suleiman), Sarah and Kemi zip through high- and lowbrow Lagos to evade arrest.
Ini Dima-Okojie delivers layered work, as her Sarah and Kemi swing from confident outliers to vulnerable women caught in a web of machinations far beyond their imaginations. Dima-Okojie’s soft demeanour complements Isime’s fiery ways. Another engaged performance is from newcomer Genoveva Umeh; her portrayal of the struggling drug addict Timeyin, who carries childhood trauma and yearns for motherly affection, is utterly moving. Her erratic disposition, when it eventually erupts, is heartbreaking.
From the set design to the costume, Blood Sisters is visually rich. The colours and effects, aided by good cinematography, draw the viewer in. The camera movement is used to reveal and conceal information. In the last episode, “The Catch,” while Akin questions a past lover of Kola’s, the camera pans to her portrait, which shows her two eyes intact, and returns to her when she lifts her pirate eyepatch to reveal a deformed eye. Then at the filling station, where the mostly silent Uncle B asks the police superintendent Tijano (Segun Arinze) why their police vehicles do not have fuel, Tijano says, “Welcome to Nigeria.” Tijano makes to button his suit but stops when he discovers that some buttons are missing. “Indeed,” Uncle B mocks him. “Birds of a feather.”
Directors Kenneth Gyang and Biyi Bandele (who died after the series’ release) oversee two episodes each, but their visions do not clash. The parts bleed into each other while retaining suspense, buoyed by a mix of Kulanen Ikyo’s score and energetic Afrobeats.
Blood Sisters examines layers of friendship, trauma, secrets, mental health, and social issues, to the extent that its very title—Blood Sisters—becomes a limiting disservice to its range of subjects. Yet the first obvious problem is with the script: see how easy it is for Kola to spot his would-be assassin, no thanks to said assassin donning a leather jacket in a traditional outfit-only event and eyeballing his target. Some characters also seem underdeveloped. Wale Ojo’s Inspector Joe goes to great lengths to uncover hidden details, and one feels that there would be more to him if he weren’t so subdued by a set storyline.
But one is compelled to continue watching. The travails of Sarah and Kemi keep the story moving, and the unravelling of other characters and their situations heightens the stakes. Behind a truth, the series echoes, are many truths. ♦