The Red Road, Ep. 1.05, “The Great Snake Battle” a disappointingly standard season finale setup

The Red Road S01E05 promo image

The Red Road, Season 1, Episode 5, “The Great Snake Battle”
Written by Aaron Guzikowski
Directed by Lodge Kerrigan
Airs Thursdays at 9pm EST on SundanceTV

This week, on The Red Road: Harold finds the cave, Jean questions her eyes, and Jack starts shooting

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.

The Lenape boy hit by Jean in the pilot returns at long last, but only as a plot point; we see his family, not him, and only hear of his potential recovery. We should know this family by now, we should care about them, but instead we have a much stronger connection with Lisa Bonet’s returning lawyer Sky Van Der Veen than anyone else involved in these scenes. Harold manages to find the cave Philip and Mike have been using to stash their pills and starts to turn the tables on Philip, but that victory lacks weight, as his only bargaining chip is one we very specifically do not see locked down. Yes, they say they’ll take the deal, but until the boy’s parents sign on the dotted line, and Jean does too, it can easily fall apart.

Philip, in the meanwhile, is preoccupied by the revelation that his father set him up and, since that relationship hasn’t felt particularly compelling all season, that storyline also fails to intrigue. Junior’s relationship with Philip, on the other hand, is far more successful, as are both of their rapports with Marie. However, none of these characters’ dynamics seem to be shifting in meaningful ways- their scenes this week are enjoyable, but we don’t get a better sense of any of them.

The highlight this week is once again Julianne Nicholson, who makes Jean’s fragility and vulnerability palpable beneath her calm, and later angry, exterior. The pilot may have introduced Harold as the protagonist and audience surrogate, torn between morality and familial responsibility, but Jean has increasingly taken his place, a good woman forced into a bad situation by her body chemistry and the manipulating men in her life, her husband and father. There is plenty of blame and justification to throw around, but watching characters lash out at each other quickly gets old. Following Harold and Jean as they try to solve the predicament they find themselves in, through a series of events all predicated by good intentions, without one or both of them going to jail, sounds far more interesting. Hopefully this couple, who managed despite Jean’s alcoholism and undiagnosed schizophrenia to raise two pretty functional and together daughters, will get their act together in the finale.

So far, The Red Road has been an interesting, but underwhelming series, failing to live up to the potential of its pilot. Fingers crossed that the writers have something up their sleeves for the finale that will tie the plot of this week’s penultimate episode in with the larger character progressions, giving the season greater narrative cohesion, originality, and depth.

Kate Kulzick

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