Tuesday, August 25, 2015

REVIEW: 'Public Morals' - Terry Deals with a Changing Landscape at Work as Well as His Son Getting Into Trouble in 'A Fine Line'

TNT's Public Morals - Episode 1.01 "A Fine Line"

In early 1960s, Officer Terry Muldoon runs the Public Morals Division, a plainclothes unit of the NYPD whose job it is to police vice crimes. Muldoon warns his gangster uncle not to challenge the head of the Irish Mob and schools the new recruit on how the division actually works. Muldoon also struggles to raise his family in the increasingly violent neighborhood.

"A Fine Line" has a lot of story to set up for the series. There is a lot of ground to cover in this opening episode. The audience has to see how Terry Muldoon balances his professional life and his family, how the Plain Clothes Division works in the city and what the various mob elements have going on. It's a lot for 42 minutes to try to do. A lot of it does feel like setup. An introduction that is nothing more than exposition. The characters themselves don't really stand out that much. When stuff happens in the story, it feels like plot beats that the show has to go through. It's not something that is meaningful to each character yet. This is a huge ensemble. This hour tries to serve everyone because it has to introduce everyone. No one especially stands out though - which is very problematic.

Ed Burns plays Terry well. The writing and direction seem on point too. But he really isn't given a meaningful action for the narrative arc of the season until the very end of the premiere. His story is largely about dealing with his son who has gotten into trouble at school. At work, he is aware of the deal that Sean has set up with Duffy and how his uncle Mr. O isn't very happy about that. But that's all very reactionary. Sean comes to him and Charlie about the deal after it has already happened. Terry just needs to set the terms for it to happen. And then, things fall apart and he gets to tease that Sean needs to start using his head in order to continue in the division. Similarly, Terry's conversation with Mr. O only enlightens the audience about the current mob landscape of the neighborhood. Mr. O is pointing out what could happen to Duffy given his current arrangement. And then, that happens exactly as he said it would. Terry says he would be a fool to go against Patton, the head of the mob. And yet, he doesn't - or can't - do anything to stop it.

That then leads to the obvious question of why did Mr. O talk about all of this in the first place to Terry? On the surface, it establishes that the two of them are related and gives Terry a reason to care about him after the final twist of the premiere. It could also be seen as Mr. O warning Terry that the neighborhood is about to change. Patton is no longer the leader he once was and new blood think they can come in and take over. That is true but it is Mr. O who makes the play for power. That ends up costing him his life in the end. But that is also clearly set up as a mystery. His attackers are covered in shadows doing the murder. They attack him in the street and then push his body into a cab in order to dump him in the river. His death gives Terry an action for the series. Hopefully, it will also bring together the various pieces of the story together much more strongly in the future as well.

The other stories that happen in the premiere include Charlie developing a unique relationship with a prostitute and a new officer joining the division. The stuff happening with Charlie is very awkward. It's uncertain how the audience is suppose to read his handling of the situation. At first, it seems like he is only arresting her in order to get an arrest for the division. But then he chooses to let her go at the station. And later, he comes running to her when she calls after getting beat up by one of her suitors. It's a strange relationship. One that develops quickly and then gets out of hand. He just met her and doesn't really know anything about her. And yet, he is willing to beat up a man and steal his money just because she said he hit her. He almost seems too trusting of this woman - which could end up very badly for him in the future. Though why is the audience suppose to care?

There's also suppose to be a mysterious aura to new officer Jimmy Shea at the division. He is shown the ropes by Lieutenant King and Vince Latucci. But it's not until Terry has a talk with him that any of it starts to make sense. The purpose of his story is to put everyone else in the division on edge. They are unsure if they can trust him for this very sensitive job. Only people who request to be on Plain Clothes get to join the squad. It's delicate work. The unit has a way of operating that they don't want to upset just because a smart, college-educated kid comes in asking too many questions. Again, it's more story intrigue than anything based on any character. But it is a plot thread that one should keep a close eye on.

Some more thoughts:
  • "A Fine Line" was written by Edward Burns and directed by Edward Burns.
  • Elizabeth Masucci plays Terry's wife Christine and has an accent that is slightly annoying. Hopefully that gets some fine tuning for the rest of the series.
  • Sean may also get involved with Duffy's sister, Deirdre, who has matured a lot since he last saw her. They both are doing their best to protect Duffy. But it still leads to an awkward argument about his life of crime and being in jail.
  • Sean also spent a lot of time talking about killing his father if he ever hurt his mother again. He said it so often that it wasn't all that surprising when Mr. O ended up dead. Though it would be way too obvious if Sean is the murderer. And even if that's true, there would still be the mystery of who helped him with the crime.
  • Matt McGorry pops up as the person who enjoys the talents of Charlie's prostitute. It was a fine character but one that only establishes that Terry and his fellow officers enjoy money just as much as they do the law.
  • Terry's kind of fatherly advice involves calling his 13-year-old son an asshole. The story as a whole laid the episode's themes on very thick - the line between the good guys and bad guys is very thin. At least, Terry is capable of having good fatherly moments though.