Thursday, January 21, 2016

REVIEW: 'Shades of Blue' - Harlee Continues to Lie While Wozniak Gets Even More Paranoid in 'False Face, False Heart'

NBC's Shades of Blue - Episode 1.03 "False Face, False Heart"

Harlee refuses to give Stahl incriminating evidence against Wozniak but hands over a fully resolved unofficial investigation that Tess and Espada initiated when they moved a body by Tess' house found to be murdered with a 3D printed gun. Wozniak confronts Harlee, who executes a dangerous bluff.

Shades of Blue wants to be an ensemble police procedural. Yes, so much of the storytelling revolves around Jennifer Lopez as Harlee's life continues to spiral out of control and her lies continue to stack up. But the show also wants to fill out the lives of the people who Harlee works with at this elite task force. That's for the best too. If the story is about the FBI wanting to take down this corrupt group of officers, it needs to showcase just how problematic all of them are - and not just Wozniak. The show's first two episodes focused almost completely on the dynamic between Harlee and Wozniak. This is the first time Harlee even really interacts with some of her fellow detectives - like Tess and Espada. That's a good thing too. Those dynamics need to be fleshed out as well in order to create a more meaningful picture for this entire universe and not just the Harlee and Wozniak corner of it.

However, the show gets really bogged down in this episode because of its focus on the supporting characters getting their own storylines to carry. The increased focus on Harlee and Wozniak in the beginning worked because Lopez and Ray Liotta were giving compelling performances. Everyone else is simply a plot device or contrivance. No one really has much of a personality. Plus, they are all basically reduced to one note characteristics and stories. But even then, only Loman and Tess have been given details. This episode includes the very first scenes were Saperstein and Tufo are by themselves and actually doing things. That's problematic because it just feels like a story hitting its requisite plot beats. It doesn't feel like it's doing anything interesting for the show. Who cares that Saperstein has been talking to a Brazilian woman online? How does that have an impact on the main narrative of the season? With such a condensed time frame for the season, those little details feel increasingly pointless. They are meant to distract so that the main story doesn't move as quickly as it should. They are also trying to build these characters up. But it's doing so in a way that really isn't engaging to watch.

Tess and Espada do move closer to being important in this hour though. But their struggles are only interesting because of what Harlee can use from them. For some reason, Tess has made a really bad decision and moved a dead body that she found in her yard. It's because she wants to sell her house quickly and be done with her husband. But that story detail has gotten so annoying this season that its hard to take any scene with Tess in it seriously because she'll eventually start talking about her cheating husband. Harlee is able to give this story some energy and momentum though. It's actually a case that the unit really solves over this hour. It's a simple investigation that tries to shoehorn a modern edge to it. The college kid died by accident when a bullet from his gun ricocheted back at him. The only twist is that it was 3D printed gun. That is a relevant issue that this show just doesn't know how to have a serious conversation about. It largely just becomes the latest plot complication that Harlee has to deal with. It's an opportunity for her to show her FBI handlers that she is in fact doing something for them. The complications of which will play out in the next episode. But right now, it's just not that exciting to see what might happen to Tess for this very, very foolish decision. The cover-up story isn't even that exciting either.

But it's at least interesting to watch because Harlee is making decisions that will complicate the people around her. That's better than the rest of this hour which focuses on revealing the tragic personal lives of so many of the other main players. Stahl is tough and very aggressive with Harlee. He has to literally force a wire onto her when she's about to meet Wozniak at a secluded spot. He is dominating her in a very blunt and not very subtle or nuanced way. It won't be surprising at all if that leads to sexual domination and assault sometime in the future. But all of it is suppose to be okay because he has a kid who is getting caught in a nasty custody dispute. Similarly, Wozniak's increased paranoia and craziness is suppose to be redeemable because his contact for this big job of his also happens to be his secret lover. That's not that sympathetic though because it means he's been cheating on his wife. That family unit has had their own loss as well with a teenage daughter with clinical depression. They talk around what happened to her but it's pretty clear that this marriage is broken as well.

And yet, all of this is suppose to be worth it because Wozniak finally gets to confront Harlee about being an FBI informant while he has a gun pointed in her face. That's a very awkward scene because it feels like the exact same dynamic that has played out over the first two episodes. Wozniak is sure that he knows the truth now. He has the evidence that she has been lying to him and now he confronts her about it. But in this moment, she actually becomes a much better liar and he then begins to trust her again. It's a plot that's going around and around in circles. It shows just how crazy Wozniak is getting. But there also needs to be a point to that as well. Why is he getting so worked up about this? What is he at risk of losing if the FBI raids his unit and hauls him away in handcuffs? The personal side of the character needs to be explored more. He has his wife and his partner in crime/lover. But what does that specifically mean for Wozniak? He's distraught enough that he's not thinking clearly. But that's about it. It's actually pretty laughable that he's not together enough to actually look Harlee over for the wire that is very clearly on her. That actually proves that Harlee might not be as good of a liar as is necessary for this job. But again, that needs to have a purpose. It's becoming too increasingly common for these characters. The show needs to find a new way to tell stories and fast.

Some more thoughts:
  • "False Face, False Heart" was written by and directed by Dan Lerner.
  • Harlee is likely getting close to the new ADA in order to endear herself to him when it comes time to reopen the case against Cristina's father. But it's also great that she uses it as an opportunity to show Stahl just how much control she still has with her life.
  • Loman is still moping around in his grief about killing that unarmed man. Now, he is actually forcing himself into the lives of the dead man's family. He donates to their funeral fund and takes his cousin out for pizza. Plus, he gets the mom's phone number. This isn't that interesting and is only going to get more complicated later on - though in very predictable ways.
  • Harlee also has easy access to Wozniak's little black book with all the details about his sketchy side business but chooses not to take it to the FBI. It's largely a plot stalling technique than a true character defining moment. It just creates another awkward situation for Harlee to lie her way out of.
  • Stahl and his FBI partner wonder if Wozniak makes them when both parties are keeping an eye on Harlee. They don't think so but Wozniak totally did - which leads to him getting even more crazy and paranoid.