Hints of an all-powerful, offscreen character of menace and influence, the introduction of brand new performance techniques, heavy directorial hands and even some comedy, ‘Game 2’ of Adam Silver’s miniseries The NBA Finals picked up quickly and with much more assurance than the pilot left us with.
In ‘Game 1’ we got an introduction to a wide cast of characters, some that hung reluctantly in the wings of each scene, others ostensibly tapped by joint directors Steve Kerr and Ime Udoka as mid-scene “substitutions”, and those that maintained a constant presence in the spotlight, but it wasn’t clear after 48 minutes who would be driving the storylines, or what their motives were. To borrow from a review of NBA Playoffs, an NBA Finals predecessor, it just wasn’t clear yet who was a guy, Guy or even The Guy. While there’s still a lot of room for surprises, in this episode we spent more time with the characters and storylines that seem likely to drive the plot from here on in.
Steph Curry (Steph Curry) continues on the hero’s journey that was aptly laid out for him in the previous ‘Game 1’ episode. He’s also something of a scene stealer, with the camera zeroing in on him no matter the scene’s other action. It’s a subtle technique by director Steve Kerr that reminds me of any scene in 1996 action classic, Twister, that involved the tornado. Steph Curry draws everything into his orbit and it’s up to us not to miss the conflicts playing out around him. What hasn’t been subtle is the introduction of a signature for this character in the form of a mouthguard slick with saliva permanently hooked at the side of his mouth, much like Tony Soprano’s cigars.
Opposite Steph Curry, Derrick White (Derrick White) has emerged as a character whose intentions are not at all clear. Early in ‘Game 2’ we saw Jordan Poole (Jordan Poole) take a tumble with Derrick White bearing down on him, in chase. Jordan Poole hits the ground and Derrick White takes a leap over the other man’s prone body, causing some confusion as to whether Jordan Poole was grabbing for Derrick White, or protecting himself. These two hardly interacted at all in the pilot episode so the question is are we seeing a protagonist veering into problematic? Or is this an antagonist with incredibly expressive eyes?
Another clear plot driver is Draymond Green (Draymond Green), who made his presence felt early on with a mixture of physical theatre and incredibly expressive emoting. There are also more classic disruption tactics of cinema at work here. For example, when Draymond Green, mid-scene, runs at and physically tries to upend Grant Williams (Grant Williams) in the middle of a scene that otherwise did not involve him. It’s almost avant-garde.
As a villain, Draymond Green initially might seem as straightforward as they come — he’s bigger and stronger than any other character and appears to revel in any instance where he might disrupt the action of unfolding storylines running smoothly. But for all his apparent malevolence there’s also a brooding sensitivity that underscores much of his motivation thus far. He seems ardently protective over Curry, and content to watch the action unfold as he stands, vibrating with emphatic loneliness, by himself in the corners.
His penchant for aggression and protectiveness culminated in a scene alongside the character of Jaylen Brown (Jaylen Brown) at the midpoint of ‘Game 2’. The two go tumbling to the ground, falling like a pair of dominoes, Jaylen Brown backwards on top of Draymond Green. They sit, dazed, in a configuration that recalls childhood, of playing “bus” or “train”, Jaylen Brown in front of Draymond Green until, appearing unsatisfied, Draymond Green gives Jaylen Brown a shove to the back of the shoulder. As Jaylen Brown is heaved up by starring cast-mate Jayson Tatum (Jayson Tatum), Draymond Green shoots to his feet to confront Jaylen Brown. A tight huddle of bodies ensues with many more characters coming to the aid of Jaylen Brown while Draymond Green retreats from the fray to stare, bending over with his hands on his knees, through the melee of bodies at Jaylen Brown. It’s one of the most dramatic moments of the episode, with perfect cutaway camerawork that emphasizes the potential for this isolated incident to spread into the psyche of all the characters involved.
It’s important to point out that the way in which the characters are organized, and how they relate to each other, is not wholly clear. That’s a technique Silver has used in the past and so far seems to be one he’s engaging again in NBA Finals.
While there definitely are familiar undertones to both groups, it’s become clear that these two factions we’ve been introduced to, ‘Celtics’ and ‘Warriors’, are not fraternal brothers at all, but a loose collection of very fit men prone, if not outright addicted to, jumping. Still, this could become a warring families style story given that there are clear heads of each “household” that each side looks to, notably Steph Curry with the Warriors and though less defined for the Celtics, Jayson Tatum’s name is mentioned frequently by the show’s narrators.
On the note of episode narration — it’s strange. The disjointed voices of three different men run on over every scene, sometimes related to the action of the episode as it unfolds, sometimes wholly removed from the same world we’re observing. Certain phrases are hit upon again and again, either as open-ended questions, like, “How do they get him going?” when every character is already running, full-tilt, down the floor; misplaced setting cues such as “Getting out of the mud”; or nostalgic, borderline melancholy recollections of past partings in, “Mama, there goes that man”. The cadence of the show’s narrators also rarely match the scenes unfolding on screen, with dreary rambling in some of this episode’s most exciting reveals and almost aggressive contradictions to what is actually unfolding as it happens.
Like it or not, this episode featured more non-linear plot techniques than just the rambling narration. Jump cuts, or ‘turnovers’ as they were referred to, were a big cinematic tool where a scene’s immediate action would end and reverse in a breathless if slightly disorienting shift. There were several ‘Wired’ interludes where the show’s main and secondary characters delivered one-way, contextless lines at a shout, to no one. And finally, a man appeared midway through the episode, seemingly trapped in a control room far-away that the narrators appeared familiar with. Steve Javie (Steve Javie), as he was named, didn’t seem distressed at all to be captured and held in circumstances where he could only be called upon and where his advice did not seem especially relevant to the running commentary of the show. Are we to believe he’s some kind of genie?
Despite its more experimental methods and choppy dialogue, ‘Game 2’ left us with some intriguing Easter Eggs. We kept hearing about a character, ostensibly offscreen, named LeBron James, whose influence seems far-reaching and vaguely malevolent. There’s also the question of Klay Thompson (Klay Thompson) repeatedly missing his marks, and the duress it seems to be causing the narrators. Is he being set up to be thrust into a sort of psychic or physical blindness, is he narcoleptic? With the triumph of the Warriors in ‘Game 2’ it doesn’t feel as pressing as it did in ‘Game 1’, but NBA Finals is about to have it’s first big scene change of the series and if anything’s clear, it’s that nothing is.