Earlier today, I posted my plea for the survival of “Terriers.” Now I have a review of tonight’s episode, coming up just as soon as I’m the worst sponsor ever…
“You should’ve just listened to me and walked away!” -Hank
If you’ve watched many of the other shows Tim Minear has worked on, you wouldn’t be surprised that his first (and hopefully not only) “Terriers” script was an extended flashback episode. That format – with this specific visual style, of characters walking from one room in the present into the next in the past (or vice versa) – is one he’s previously used on “Angel” (season two’s “Are You Now Or Have You Ever”) and “Firefly” (“Out of Gas,” which many fans consider that series’ high point), and for all I know would have gotten around to on “Wonderfalls” or “The Inside” or “Drive” had those shows lasted long enough.(*)
(*) Or did he? “Drive” is the only one of those three I watched to the bitter end.
Though “Terriers” isn’t exactly a show with a complicated mythology like “Angel” or “Firefly,” there is a lot of messy history to these characters that predates the events of the pilot. We’ve had hints or vague descriptions about how Hank lost his job and his wife, how he and Britt met, etc., and it feels right that we should dig up the past before Hank can make his move against Zeitlin in the final episodes.
While I love “Out of Gas,” it’s more for the present-day scenes and the atmosphere generated by the trips back and forward in time. Though the flashbacks are fun, only one of them (Kaylee’s) is in any way surprising given what we know about the characters in present-day. “Sins of the Past,” on the other hand, does a good job of both clarifying what we know about Hank and company but also upending some of our assumptions.
We may have thought it was the drinking that got him booted from the OBPD, and while that was a factor – and, as Hank admits now, reason enough for him to have lost everything even without the Reynolds frame – his behavior was far more extreme than that. All of a sudden, Gretchen’s anger about Hank investigating Jason makes much more sense, because we know they’ve been down this road before, and it was Hank’s refusal to leave things alone – to follow the same advice that Britt ignored from him when he attacked Gavin – that cost him his wife right along with his badge. (As that first Gretchen/Hank scene played out, I began repeatedly invoking the name of a deity with whom I’m not usually associated.)
So Hank wrecked his marriage because he couldn’t let something go, and it turns out he wrecked a pretty great partnership, too. We’ve seen in previous episodes, particularly the Tijuana trip, that Gustafson still reluctantly has Hank’s back in spite of the bad thing that went down between them, but the Mark of three years ago was even more unapologetically in Hank’s corner – looking out for him every bit as much as Hank is trying to do for Britt in present day. But Hank then, like Britt now, is in his doom spiral and can’t be stopped, and he takes things so far – or appears to, courtesy of Detective Reynolds(**) – that there’s no saving him, and Mark writes Hank off for a long time as a lost cause.(***)
(**) So do you think Reynolds was actually trying to frame Billy Whitman and got unlucky because of the flat tire? Or was he trying to screw with Hank and derail the investigation altogether? Or is it one of those instances where he thought either outcome was possible, and entirely desirable?
(***) If there’s one part of the episode that was slightly disappointing, it’s that what goes down between Hank and Mark doesn’t feel quite as horrible as the hints Mark had been dropping to Britt. Hank is entirely self-destructive, but other than the blowback that comes from having your partner bounced from the force as an irrational drunk with a vendetta, Mark doesn’t really get hurt. Hank failed himself, and Mark’s expectations for him, but I had a different picture in my head from previous comments.
The intermingling of past and present also continued the Hank/Britt role reversal that we first saw at the end of last week’s episode. Now Hank is the guy with his head screwed on straight (for now, at least), while Britt is drinking too much and stalking men he thinks have done him and his special lady friend wrong, and he takes a Drunk Hank-style step off a cliff when he delivers a savage beat-down on the innocent Gavin. And Hank’s well-intentioned decision to keep all of this secret from Britt blows up in everyone’s face, and seems to have their relationship torn just as asunder as Hank and Mark’s was three years prior.
Like Hank’s behavior in the episode where he needed the mortgage, this is a pretty extreme place to take one of our heroes, and it’s Minear cashing in nearly every bit of goodwill that Michael Raymond-James and the other writers have built up over the previous 10 episodes. If I didn’t like Britt so much already, this might be a hard act to get past, instead of a very bad thing done by a very good man in a lot of pain. But that’s one of the things I love about this show, which I hope I captured in this morning’s column: it doesn’t take the easy way out. It would be so easy (if a bit off-brand for FX) to just coast along on the enormous combined charm of Raymond-James and Donal Logue and do a show about goofy guys working goofy cases and getting into trouble with Britt’s girlfriend and Hank’s ex. But the show manages to have fun with Hank and Britt even as it takes their emotions and problems painfully seriously. I don’t condone what Britt does to Gavin, but I understand how he got to that place, and I felt for him and the blowback that was going to come from it even as I was wincing on behalf of Gavin.
A few people in this morning’s comments suggested that was one of the show’s stumbling blocks – that some people gave up on the show after what Hank did with the mortgage, or that the rawness of the emotion wasn’t what they were looking for in a buddy detective show. But to me, the show’s unflinching honesty about the flawed nature of these men – in the past and present – is what makes it great, and made me want to write 2000 or so words on why I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to it just yet.
Some other thoughts:
• At first, I was concerned that Hank and Britt’s first meeting seemed so at odds with the story Britt told Ray about that meeting back in the third episode, which involved Hank catching Britt trying to bust into a taco stand. But by their final flashback scene together, it was clear that this was the same story, just with some embellishment. No need for Britt to let Katie know he was briefly a suspect in a serial rape case, for instance, even if he ultimately played a heroic role in stopping one of the rapes, and Hank’s advice about getting a new partner and a new line of work tracks exactly with the earlier story.
• As I mentioned on this week’s podcast, I just love the little beats the show finds to end the pre-credits teaser on. Whether it’s Lindus asking the guys to rob him of $250 grand or Laura appearing out of the blue to say she’s solved the case that wrecked Hank’s life, they so frequently find these exit notes that put a smile on my face even before Rob Duncan’s addictive theme music starts playing.
• I like Laura Ross, and in the world in which we live today, it would make sense that someone like her would work on-line, but the former newspaperman side of me did cringe at her “I don’t work for dead tree media” line to Mark. But I loved Rockmond Dunbar’s delivery of “So she blogs. Do you tweet?”
• In the interview I did with Shawn Ryan and Ted Griffin back in the summer, Shawn said that “Midnight Run” was a definite spiritual influence on the series, and I absolutely thought of the sting Jack Walsh sets up for Jimmy Serrano when Reynolds complains that what he was trying to destroy wasn’t real evidence, only for Mark to retort, “It is now.”
• I really liked the lighting and costume choices for the scene where Hank is overseeing the lineup (which turns out to be foreshadowing Reynolds’ role as the real perp). Between the light and Hank’s black suit and shirt, it’s like Donal Logue is just a disembodied head looking down on this situation he’s lost all control of.
What did everybody else think?