Watching Jack Nicholson in The Departed it would be easy to think “Wow, this guy can’t be real” but that would be incorrect.
“Blackbird” is a frustrating episode, containing some series-high moments of emotional potency along with some decisions that made me gnaw my lip with bafflement. The biggest disappointment is that after just two episodes at Buell Green, Bill and Gini are already leaving it behind. That and Libby firing Coral makes it seem as though the show may be done with exploring racial issues, at least for the moment. This is apparently true to the real-life experience of the Masters/Johnson study, which had difficulty finding a hospital to accept it for some time. Still, I’ll miss Dr. Hendricks. We’ll see where things go from here.
The Red Road has had an uneven season. It’s struggled to make the most of its unique setting and promising characters, but it’s given leads Julianne Nicholson and Jason Momoa some of the most interesting material of their careers. It’s taken surprising turns in its small character moments while sticking to the familiar with its plot points. After this week’s season finale, it seems unclear what kind of show The Red Road wants to be, and this lack of focus robs the season of narrative urgency and emotional depth.
After last week’s character-centric outing, this episode ramps up the plot, preparing for next week’s season finale. Unfortunately, little we get here is as compelling as the thoughtful interpersonal drama of the previous installment. The elements of this series that should set it apart, its unique setting and characters, are mostly set aside this week in favor of tired crime procedural dramatics (accusations of police corruption, moves and countermoves between Philip and Harold, a police shootout), and it’s disappointing.
Two thirds of the way through its inaugural season, The Red Road is somewhat of a puzzle. It has interesting, well-explored characters and an appropriately teased slow-burn Deep Dark Past mystery. Where it falls down is its pacing and urgency- very little of interest is happening in the present. There’s plenty the characters don’t know but due to the split narrative approach, following each of our leads through the past several weeks rather than adhering to one or another’s POV, the audience has these answers and that, combined with the strong sense that the central trio is here to stay, leaves the show sputtering on a plot level while it excels with its character beats.
In its pilot, The Red Road introduced viewers to a community rarely represented on television, a (state, but not federally, recognized) Native American tribe, along with a local white police officer and his family. The pilot, a solid though somewhat generic episode, struggled with some of its central figures, but separated itself thanks to its unique setting. This week, that element unfortunately remains almost completely relegated to the background, but the writers make up for this lack of specificity by developing their central trio in surprising and entertaining ways.
With Rectify, Top of the Lake, and The Returned, SundanceTV made a name for itself in 2013, creating and/or distributing thoughtful, stylish short-run television. The Red Road, their first series of 2014 and only second original series (the first being Rectify), doesn’t live up to these antecedents, at least in its pilot, but is nonetheless interesting. While it lacks the emotional depth and gorgeous visuals of these other series, the pilot makes the case for following for this first, six-episode season thanks to two of its central performances and its unique setting.