I had not seen the first season of this HBO series, but certainly saw the hubbub it created online on various forums where fans waxed enthusiastic over it. When I saw this season's casting -- Vince Vaughn, Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams . . . I was determined to catch it from the start.
The show was pretty much what I expected in terms of darkness and brutal storytelling. As I told my co-worker after Taylor Kitsch's character was killed off (more on that later) -- this isn't going to have a happy ending.
And for the most part, I was right. There used to be a theme in movies and television, way back in the day, a sort of socially redeeming thing, where a bad guy couldn't get away in the end, at least paying for their misdeeds before the close of the movie/tv show in some way. That, of course, isn't the way television and cinema operate now. So as we drew to the close of the series, tainted characters like Frank Seymon (Vince Vaughn), Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) and Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) had become somewhat sympathetic and I, and perhaps others, hoped for some sort of happy resolution for them.
In two instances, flat out no, and one qualified maybe.
First let's talk about Officer Paul Woodrugh's (Kitsch) death. After an ambush in an underground service tunnel maze, a maze that we're told runs under the entire city of Vinci, Woodrugh kills all but one of the five men (members of his former Blackwater-ish unit), Woodrugh climbs out a random access and is shot in the back by a waiting member of the crooked police department who just happens to have picked the right exit out of the supposed thousands of underground exits throughout the city.
That was just lazy writing, imho. From a creative standpoint, I suppose Woodrugh had to die. He was living the big lie -- he had a brokeback mountain moment back when his unit was in Iraq, and was struggling with the knowledge that he enjoyed homosexual relations more intensely than heterosexual ones. He was marrying his pregnant girlfriend in the hopes that he could "be a better man" which I figured meant he hoped he could overcome his latent gayness, a definite no-no in this current SJW world. So despite the improbable nature of his death, I accepted that one.
But the deaths of Frank (Vaughn) and Ray (Farrell) just sucked. I found it a bit ridiculous that Frank, after making all these elaborate plans for both his and Jordan's (Kelly Reilly) escape, could be so easily caught in a simple traffic hi-jacking. His death at the hands of the Mexican drug-dealers seemed cruel-minded to me. As was his hallucinating walk through the salt flats as we got to witness all the insulting moments that formed his life. We, the viewers, got to see the arc of his character as the series went on -- a harder than expected criminal, with a surprising sense of moral honor underneath, who had hopes of going straight. His death at the hands of a more base group of criminals just seemed wrong.
Ray's death was even more sad. After watching him be beaten down by life throughout the series, he had some hope, finally, for happiness in the arms of Ani as the two tortured souls found each other in the last couple episodes. Each one sharing the pivotal moment in their lives while they lay in bed together, you could see the closeness each had always hoped for but never achieved in their lives finally in front of them. Ray's death, at the hands of the same dirty cop who had killed Woodrugh, had me yelling F*ck at the television. Adding insult to injury was that Ray's last message to his son, via IP upload, doesn't go through because he's running up in the mountains. So he loses the son he wanted to love so much, never gets to tell him his last words, and Ray's father sees Ray on the news scapegoated as this mass-murdering dirty cop. It was an ugly way to spit on a character that was flawed but not actually bad.
The maybe part lies in the fact we see Ani in Venezuela with Jordan. Ani has had Ray's baby and she's giving all the info on the crooked land deal that underpinned the series to a journalist. They're traveling with Frank's number one guy and trying to stay hidden, though Ani is still carrying a gun and at least one of her ever present knives. So they're free, but on the run in a foreign country and may never be able to come back to the U.S. Is that a happy ending? A coda that mutes the other disappointing parts of the ending? I'm thinking not so much. My friend at work said that in his perfect ending, the girls come back and kill everyone.
That, I kind of like.
I did like the show overall. I loved seeing McAdams and Vaughn as dark characters. And Kelly Reilly was just an amazement to me. Knowing her only through the Sherlock Holmes movies, I though she had a breakout performance here. Playing a mobster's wife who was just as tough and in it for the long haul as her husband, she was good every minute she was on screen. And her look -- wonderful! So lush and womanly. They did an amazing job with her make-up and hair. I just want to lie on the sofa and cuddle up with her -- she looks so comfortable.
So -- good series, kind of crappy ending . . . won't make me shy away from next season, depending on casting. What did you think?
A small sample of images of Rachel McAdams, Kelly Reilly, and Leven Rambin for your enjoyment: