‘Terriers’ – ‘Change Partners’: Consenting adultery

Senior Television Writer
09.22.10 41 Comments

A review of tonight’s “Terriers” coming up just as soon as I go home and cancel my library cards…

“I needed the loan, Miriam.” -Hank

One of the central pieces of the FX formula that Shawn Ryan helped create with “The Shield” was the idea of shows with anti-heroes at the center – good guys who are capable of being very, very bad guys. On “Terriers,” Hank and Britt are more overtly good than, say, Vic Mackey or Clay Morrow, but they’re no angels. There’s a reason why Hank left the force before he had earned his pension, why Gustafson warned Britt about Hank last week, and why Britt is so talented at breaking and entering, and the terrific “Change Partners” was a reminder of both men’s dark sides.

Just look at what Hank does in the episode’s climax. He takes the case for Harmon Foster because he’s desperate to get that mortgage and hold onto the house he lived in with Gretchen, but he grows to really like Foster’s wife Miriam. By the time he’s arranging to fake an assignation with Britt to fulfill Harmon’s desire to see his wife sleeping with another man, it’s clear he’s doing it as much for Miriam as for the loan. Both know the pain of being in love with someone who’s no longer capable of returning that affection, and they ultimately wind up sleeping together on the floor of that house.

But then the plan blows up, Harmon fires Hank and refuses to give him the loan and a defiant Hank offers up proof of the very real infidelity he helped Miriam commit. Hank obviously has no way of knowing that Foster’s pathology will send him leaping out a window, but he no longer cares about the consequence of anything but getting the damn loan, to the point where he forges Foster’s missing signature from one page of the policy while a crowd is gathering around the dead body below.

It’s such an awful moment of weakness for Hank, but what can he do? Like the title of the show suggests, once he sets his mind to something, he can’t really be stopped, and certainly can’t stop himself, and as a horrified Miriam Foster turns away from this man she thought was a friend but who instead ruined her life, you understand just why Gustafson was so stern in his warning to Britt. Even when sober, Hank Dolworth is a man with the power to drag others down with him – Britt is still stewing over the house/check thing, and Hank is also messing with Gretchen’s innocent fiance – and I admire the creative team and Donal Logue’s willingness to acknowledge that side of the character and not just lean on his charm and chemistry with Michael Raymond-James.

Britt’s story provided some lightness to counter what Hank was up to, but also didn’t shy away from exactly who Britt is – or, at least, was. We learn that he met Hank while trying to break into a taco stand, and that he first “met” Katie when he broke into her house(*). And though he ultimately resists his ex-partner Ray’s attempt to get him back into the life, you can tell that he misses it – and that, after some of the stunts Hank has pulled of late, Britt might not mind linking up with a man who’s at least open about being a crook.

(*) Though do those two stories conflict in any way? He tells Katie that hers was the last place he robbed, so did he still continue to be a thief for a little while after first meeting Hank? Or did his thievery continue for just a little while after seeing Katie’s picture? Is it the woman he loves who made him go straight, or the man he loves hanging with?

I liked how the guys dealt with the Ray problem, once again cheating the way they did with Lindus (I noticed right away that Britt deliberately arranged for Ray’s prints to wind up on the gun butt), and I was especially pleased with the resolution to Katie’s end of things. As I talked about with Ryan and Ted Griffin back in August, 9 times out of 10, the Katie character in this kind of story is shrill and/or completely out of the loop of what her man really does. Katie, though, knows what Britt used to do, and after being understandably a bit freaked to learn he once robbed her, she admits that she’s turned on and invites Britt to do a little robbery role-playing. I didn’t expect that, and was pleased that Britt really has found the perfect woman for him, where so often the love interest is one the show wants us to like when we clearly can’t. And, again, both of those payoffs provided some good humor in the midst of a very bleak Hank story.

Just a fantastic episode, and I’m hopeful the show’s creative bonafides will convince FX to consider a second season in spite of some very bad ratings thus far. The show premiered softly and then went down for episode two, and unless things turn around markedly, I don’t know what FX is going to do. Ratings do matter in basic cable. “Damages” eventually reached a point where it was so expensive and low-rated that even the Emmys and critical raves weren’t enough for FX to keep paying for it. They still gave it three seasons (and DirecTV’s business model will give it a few more), but I don’t know that the numbers were ever as low as they’ve been for “Terriers” so far.

FX has in the past had a quick trigger (after a season has finished airing, of course) with shows that were low-rated and creatively problematic. “The Riches” only got two years, and “Luck” only got one, for instance. But I’m not sure they’ve had a show with this much critical praise that’s struggled this much commercially this early. And while I’d like to blame the title and the marketing, the fact is that the numbers went down from week 1 to week 2, so a good chunk of the people who tuned in didn’t want to stick around.

TV’s a business, not a charity, and if John Landgraf decides after 13 episodes that the ratings don’t merit renewal, I can’t blame him, particularly when FX has plenty of other critical darlings like “Sons of Anarchy” and “Justified.” But “Terriers” is, in my opinion, the strongest out of the gate series FX has had since “The Shield” itself, and it would be a shame to see it end after only a season, and without at least an attempt to try a different marketing campaign for a season two.

Some other thoughts:

• Ryan and Griffin have assembled an eclectic writing staff. This episode was written by Phoef Sutton, who did a few years on “Boston Legal” but has spent most of his career writing sitcoms. (He helped run “Cheers” for a while, and was one of the creators of “Thanks,” a memorable but short-lived sitcom about the Pilgrims.)

• Our guest stars this week included Olivia Williams (who previously worked with “Terriers” producer Tim Minear on “Dollhouse,” and whose dining alone scene very much evoked her role in “The Sixth Sense”) as Miriam, Shawn Doyle from “Big Love” as Harmon, and Loren Dean as Gretchen’s fiance Jason.

• I’ve seen two episodes past this one, so I now know what’s up with the mysterious figure clambering into Hank’s attic while he plays the guitar in the final scene. But at the time I watched that scene, I was completely dumb-squizzled.

What did everybody else think?

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