Boss Eps. 2.01 and 2.02 bring Kane into focus

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Boss, Season 2, Episode 1: “Louder than Words”
Written by Dee Johnson
Directed by Jim McKay

Boss, Season 2, Episode 2: “Through and Through”
Written by Bradford Winters
Directed by Jean de Segonzac
Airs Fridays at 9pm (ET) on Starz

Boss is back on our screens with a confident, clear renewal of its grand themes and dense plotting, and, as with Season One, we watch to see how the kingdom will come down. The opening scene of the second season voices the story’s central conflict and complication explicitly and in certain terms: Kane’s health will continue to rapidly decline, his judgement will begin to falter, and his behaviour will become steadily more irrational. As Dr. Ella Harris (brought back into the fold by Kane) insists, Kane’s best days are behind him, and no amount of hard-earned self-belief, sense of purpose, or self-awareness will provide immunity. Another core complication: Kane still opts to medically treat only the visible physical effects of Lewy Body, a choice which will allow him to continue to present himself publicly as unshakeable, but which he knows is likely to result in increased hallucinations, confusion, and irrational behaviour.

This opening scene presents the return of a central, intriguing aspect of Boss which, for almost the entirety of the first season’s second half, was left at the wayside, making for a narrative that felt shifty in its focus. That the problems in Kane’s behaviour – his hallucinations, confusion, emotional and violent outbursts – seemed to all but disappear might have been an intentional way of maximising the drama and tragedy of its sudden return in the finale’s closing scene, which had Kane lying on the floor of his locked bedroom, helpless, alone, in the grip of a seizure. If that was indeed intentional, this central narrative thread was nearly lost in the shuffle of events stemming from the final-act crucial betrayals of Kitty, Zajac, and, tragically, Stoney, and from Kane’s ultimate betrayal of his daughter’s fragile but increasing trust.

Fortunately, however, the final Season One interaction between Kane and Stoney revealed that the latter’s betrayal grew out of an increasing distrust in Kane’s reasoning, morals, and behaviour. Through Stoney’s eyes we could experience retroactively how Kane’s condition had indeed remained an active, corrupting presence throughout. While it may not have completely saved Boss’s first season from charges of shiftiness, this twist in perspective certainly helped to diminish them, offering at the eleventh hour both a locus of stoic morality and a reason to trust the show’s writers.

Two episodes into the second season, Boss appears to promise a more confident, focused, and balanced kind of storytelling this time around. The first episode, “Louder than Words”, presents with clarity a new ground situation for the narrative. With Stoney dead and Kitty absent, the atmosphere in Kane’s office feels precarious but fresh, especially given the introduction of Ian Todd, an apparently moist-eyed yet driven temp who’s filling in for Kitty.

There are new faces and changes elsewhere, too. Walsh, running against Ben Zajac for Governor of Illinois, appears in the flesh this season and is convincing as a lucid, potent opponent. Kane’s ex-cop ally, Ryan Kavanaugh, introduces him at the O’Hare airport ground-breaking ceremony, suggesting that he may begin to play a more active role in Kane’s public affairs. We also have Darius’s cousin, Trey Rogers, a young, black, ex-gangbanger who has City Hall in his sights. Then there’s Mona Fredricks, an impressive aide to Alderman Ross, driven and manipulative, and whom Kane decides is a worthwhile replacement for Stoney. Finally, there is a new political through-line in Kane’s proposed contract-oriented ‘Urban Renewal’ ordinance. On paper, all of this seems like way too much information for one episode, but it’s handled well, the direction more assured and clear than it was at the outset of Season One.

Moreover, Boss seems to have tempered its stylistic approach to good effect, particularly in the more domestic or intimate scenes where the approach now feels more respectful of the story’s tone and needs. This will come as a relief to those viewers who spent much of Season One simultaneously compelled to follow these characters through their story and frustrated by the challenge of ignoring the almost infantile distracted and distracting visual approach. Not only that, but now the writing seems to be stronger; the literary quotes and allusions are almost gone and the rhetorical monologues dispersed strategically.

As mentioned above, Kane’s health is still the main narrative complication, both in the certainty of his gradual but visible demise, and in the threat that the leadership of an ambitious yet dying man poses to the city and its future – and, more dramatically important, to those at his side. The first episode makes the threat of death immediate with the shooting of Meredith during the attempted assassination of Kane at the close of the O’Hare ceremony. Though it’s the story’s climax, it’s not the episode’s final scene. In the strongest suggestion yet that Meredith’s father, Ex-Mayor Rutledge, might be somehow pulling strings, we are compelled to study him closely as he watches the TV news, witnessing the aftermath of his daughter’s shooting.

Episode Two (“Through and Through”) centres on two things: Kane’s emotional response to the prospect of losing Meredith and the delicate political exploitation of the situation by Maggie/Ben Zajac, Alderman Ross, and Kane himself, who makes an unexpected appearance at a council meeting, using the sympathy of the council to persuade them to vote in favour of his plan for ‘Urban Renewal’. In a directorial misstep, the moment is ultimately clichéd and overblown by the council’s sudden standing ovation.

The entire episode is a change in tone for Boss. There are moments of obvious care and love for Meredith and there’s an earnest, uncynical, near-sentimental quality to the direction. Grammer’s performance is solid, giving us an image of Kane we hadn’t yet seen: a man closer to and more respectful of his emotions. Because of this, when we later see him capitalising on his wife’s condition to manipulate the council into voting in his favour, Kane’s actions seem humanised. After all, he’s in the mood for a display of power only because he learns that Meredith is likely to survive. It’s a good mood, for Kane, and though we’ve seen him smile before, there is now a genuine brightness behind it.

Even if we won’t see Kane’s emotional depths for a while, this humanising image, if you can accept its authenticity, will play in the background of his more despicable actions, bringing new meaning to them and offering the audience a hand in their search for emotional involvement.

Odysseas Constantinou

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