Babylon, Ep. 1.02: “Maze Hill” focuses on characters’ self-consciousness

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Babylon, Season 1: Episode 2 – “Maze Hill”
Written by Jon Brown
Directed by Jon S. Baird
Airs Thursday nights at 10 on SundanceTV

It’s much more clear from “Maze Hill” where Babylon‘s interests lie in terms of form and tone. This is, refreshingly, a 45-minute comedy that doesn’t feel stretched or unnatural. Few series in recent television history have earned that distinction, and while the series isn’t groundbreaking in its content or particularly impressive otherwise in a mid-season teeming with worthwhile television, Babylon carves a niche for itself that it occupies perfectly well.

As was the case with last week’s premiere (SundanceTV has added their own titles to the episodes, it seems, so the premiere was actually called “Cravenwood”), stars Brit Marling and James Nesbitt do much of the heavy lifting. Now, though, the rest of the cast comes together better through more pronounced familiarity. Tom (Jonny Sweet), for instance, settles into the office clown that is a pleasant mixture of the more entertaining parts of Gary on Veep and Doug on House of Lies. His ridiculous grin combined with something like his hesitancy to basically ask for a diaper before he volunteers to get tasered for the press make him absolutely lovable in a way that you still want to see Miller chewing him out with ferocity.

The most impressive aspect of “Maze Hill,” however, is how it neatly ties most of its plots together in a meaningful way. Throughout the episode, characters act out of concern for how others perceive them, which makes sense in a series whose concerns have to do with PR and the press. Miller’s reputation is the thing that makes him function, and if an article is written that claims he actually saved only two people instead of the originally-published three the other day, then that becomes his priority–not playing babysitter to his cutthroat underlings trying to one-up each other. Similarly, Robbie and Warwick spend the episode in their own heads. Robbie’s worried that he might not be willing or able to attack a female assailant. Plenty of jokes get mined here, like one of Robbie’s co-workers balking at how Robbie might not shoot his own mother, and the whole thing works wonderfully right up to how Matt cuts the footage of Robbie striking a female coworker in self-defense as a means of criticizing the police. We’ll have to wait to see how Robbie reacts to that portrayal, but given his worries in this episode, it seems like he’s more keen to be taken as a badass than worried about people seeing him pat himself on that back for being able to hit a woman. Warwick’s troubles are a little bit more dramatic, as he seems genuinely bothered by the chatter about his mental health. When he goes toe-to-toe with an armed suspect and manages to knock him unconscious without either trigger being pulled, it’s initially shot as a triumphant moment, but it’s clear there’s something he needs to address more head-on. The way in which his friends walk him away is simultaneously the most serious moment of the episode and somehow one of pure sweetness. It’s hard for a satirical series like this to pull off sentimentality unironically, but Warwick’s story in this episode has a lot of heart to it as he, too, struggles with others’ perceptions of his ability to do his job.

Liz, meanwhile, just wants things to go right. Tough luck. Marling nails every side of this character in an episode that shows Liz as someone more interesting than the premiere gave her credit for. Her battles with Finn are easily the highlights, but she also shows the initiative that obviously landed her the job when she tries to spin the mess surrounding the Deputy Mayor’s son being arrested and at the end of the episode when she confronts Miller about her Metwork idea. If the episode sold anything short, it was that conversation about bias in representing news. When she originally makes the pitch to Miller, Liz says the golden rule need be that whatever the police have done, good or bad, it gets published on the proposed independently-run news outlet. It’s a legitimately fascinating idea for this show to pursue, and judging by how the episode ends, it looks to be addressed in the future. But that’s such an interesting topic–how would a police-run news network portray the police differently than a network like the BBC or CNN?–that it really demands to be at the center of this narrative.

– Sean Colletti

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