The Red Road, Ep. 1.02, “The Wolf and the Dog” adds interest, specificity to characters

The Red Road S01E02 promo image

The Red Road S01E02 promo image

The Red Road, Season 1, Episode 2, “The Wolf and the Dog”
Written by Aaron Guzikowski
Directed by J. Michael Muro
Airs Thursdays at 9pm EST on SundanceTV

This week, on The Red Road: Jean misses her brother, Harold shops for spare parts, and Phillip amiably threatens children

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.

Last week, Jean was erratic. This week, instead of backing away from this as most shows would in their second episode, The Red Road doubles down, making her verifiably mentally ill. She hears voices and loses her sense of time and self. It’s a bold move, one few shows would be willing to make. Whether the series will stick with this remains to be seen, but the decision is certainly interesting and it goes a long way towards distinguishing Jean, and Julianne Nicholson’s committed performance, from the typical troubled, struggling alcoholic character not uncommon in crime series.

Also improved this week is Harold, who becomes proactive in his protection of his wife. While he spent the pilot attempting to hold the center and reacting to the more interesting characters around him, here Harold maps out a plan and moves forward with it, demonstrating his resourcefulness and the beginnings of what he’s willing to do for his family. This will likely deepen and become murkier over the coming weeks, but it’s nice to see our protagonist already asking questions and investigating on his own. Another somewhat surprising, and winning, move by the writers is having Harold so quickly see through Jean’s posturing, getting her help (which she clearly needs) rather than putting on blinders and worsening the situation. This adds responsibility and intelligence to the character’s strengths. After the pilot, all we knew was that he seemed earnest and was probably nice; this is a definite step in the right direction.

The Red Road S01E02 promo image

Phillip, the most compelling of the central trio, remains mysterious and charismatic, but becomes a bit more threatening this week as we see him simultaneously win over a group of children and intimidate them into silence. Jason Momoa manages this balance masterfully, with just enough charm and conviction in his lies to make his manipulations believable. We want to trust him; it’s understandable that his family and former acquaintances do too. His beating of his tail is vicious and efficient and his energetic smile afterward is appropriately disquieting. It seems likely Phillip will only grow more despicable as the series continues. Should the show maintain this balance as well as they have to this point, Phillip has the potential to be one of the most engaging new characters of the year.

While the series remains somewhat familiar, its choices this week are encouraging. The larger world of the series remains disappointingly unexplored, but with the central figures more fully developed, hopefully the show will move on to the periphery characters and setting next, giving the leads a world to inhabit as interesting as they are.

What did you think of this episode? Were you surprised by Jean’s breakdown? How far do you think Harold will go? What are the chances Junior and Rachel’s relationship doesn’t end in (further) tragedy? Post your thoughts below.

Kate Kulzick

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