Tuesday, April 12, 2016

REVIEW: 'Game of Silence' - Gil and Shawn Bring Chaos and Revenge into Jackson's New Life in 'Pilot'

NBC's Game of Silence - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

Jackson Brooks has it all - a gorgeous fiancée, a beautiful house and a red-hot legal career. However, when his childhood friends reappear one day seeking his help to avenge a 25-year-old wrong, his perfect life is turned upside down. With the news that their friend Boots has been murdered, they are forced to confront a terrible secret from their past.

Game of Silence tackles a number of very serious topics over the course of its premiere episode but always manages to keep it focused with a revenge-driven main story. There is so much darkness on display in this opening hour regarding the horrible ways Jackson, Gil, Shawn and Boots were treated when they landed in a juvenile detention facility as young teenagers. The show doesn't shy away from that darkness either - depicting abusive guards, cage matches between the delinquents and even a riot that lead to assaults on all four of the main characters. All of this was happening in this prison and the Warden did nothing to stop it. He even encouraged it in order to maintain his power. And now, 25 years have gone by. New events force this group of friends back together in order to find justice for all the wrongs done to them all those years ago.

It's a twisty narrative but also one that feels familiar and easy to watch. Game of Silence probably isn't aspiring to be a prestige show. But it has all the makings of a very solid guilty pleasure. With the main story focusing on a quest for revenge against those who wronged the protagonists, that designation really isn't surprising. And yet, it's still pretty compelling and intriguing to watch as well. This hour really isn't subtle about a lot of things that happen in these characters' lives. Despite trying to leave the past behind, Jackson can't run away from it forever with a luxurious new life. Gil was an innocent young kid who became a violent individual because of his time in this place. Shawn is still relying on these familial bonds in order to get through life. And Boots isn't able to stop himself from trying to murder a fellow inmate who wronged him when he sees him on the outside.

Jackson is also the character who personifies the moral conundrum of this series. After all of these horrifying events, he left town and his friends in order to become a hotshot lawyer in the big city. He escaped to build a better life for himself. He sees justice as something that comes from a court of law. It's not something that anyone can take in their own hands and do whatever they want with it. Boots did that with Daryl. Ultimately, he was killed because of that. It didn't bring him any closure or justice. Instead, he spends the entirety of this premiere in police custody before being stabbed to death for meddling in something he didn't know anything about it. These guys are on quest to find justice for all the pain their fellow inmates caused them. And yet, Daryl and Terry sunk much further into a criminal life after leaving the prison. They are now running a drug operation - which also has the former Warden as a benefactor - and worried that some new player is pushing into their territory. It's a personal vendetta for Jackson, Gil and Shawn. It's an immoral one as well. Jackson is committed to exposing these people for what they really are. But that itself causes tension within the group.

This has been a very personal and harrowing experience for these guys. Their entire lives have been shaped because of that mistake to steal a car when they were younger. It was for virtuous reasons. They wanted to keep the drunk mother of Jackson's girlfriend, Jesse, from getting behind the wheel. But that only caused more pain for this group of friends. Now, they are all adults living vastly different lives. They are together once more. Boots' actions have brought them all together again. But that doesn't make their plans for the future noble or just at all. Gil doesn't want the world to know the truth about what happened to him in prison. He still wants to maintain his dignity in this world - even though he is continually lashing out because he can't properly deal with these emotions. He's so upset that Boots has been killed. Daryl had it coming to him. To Gil, everyone who wronged them in prison deserves to be punished.

That opens some very moral grey lines at the end of this premiere. Jackson can't even act like he has moral superiority over Gil and Shawn either. He too has given into the rage and retribution against these heinous individuals. He left town because he killed a man. It was a dark chapter in his life. It's a secret that only he and Jesse know about. But now, that secret is at risk of coming out. This search for justice could ultimately destroy the rest of these characters' lives. They are willing to take it in order to avenge Boots' death and all of the pain of the past. They can't just move on from this. It's going to be very problematic that Jackson is keeping this from his current fiancé. He's doing all of this in secret with Gil, Shawn and Jesse. It doesn't impact his ability to preside over a case that makes him a partner in his firm. But he has so much to lose because of this personal quest for revenge. The police are already looking at this group of friends with suspicion. Daryl does die by episode's end. But it wasn't because of complications from Boots' assault on him. Instead, he was transported out of the hospital to his home and then shot in the chest multiple times. Gil is unhinged enough to do such a thing. But the three guys are walking into very dangerous territory that could alter their lives much more so than prison ever did. That's an exciting place to find story. Bad things are coming for bad people. But it may corrupt whatever is left of Jackson, Gil, Shawn and Jesse's souls.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Pilot" was written by David Hudgins and directed by Niels Arden Oplev.
  • The casting for the younger versions of all the main characters is excellent. The casting department really nailed every role. That's crucial in this series as well because of the intensity of those flashback sequences.
  • Jackson's narration of these events probably isn't that necessary. It only plays a very minor role in this opening episode. But he is speaking to the audience with hindsight regarding this events. It's unclear if that's after this entire story has finished or if it's just what he was feeling as he is pulled back into Gil, Shawn and Boots' world.
  • A love rectangle is also starting to form. Jackson is happily engaged to Marina. But she is left in the dark about what he's up to - and thus really sidelined as a character. Moreover, Gil and Jesse have started dating. Something that Gil doesn't bring up when he brings Jackson back into their lives. And yet, Jackson seems to know about it when he confronts Jesse on whether she told anyone about what he did all those years ago.
  • Terry wants to know if another criminal operation is targeting his business. He has an investigator look into Boots. And yet, it's puzzling why he doesn't turn up that Boots and Terry where in prison at the same time. That information should be easy to find.
  • Jackson is introduced as always having memories of the past and what happened to him. And yet, he always carries himself throughout the premiere as having forgotten about them. That's what the rest of the characters tell him as well. It really doesn't do a great job at building a consistent character.
  • David Lyons and Michael Raymond-James are the early standouts of the cast. Though that's largely because Jackson and Gil are the only characters given something to do. Most of this premiere is focused on moving the plot forward. And yet, that scene in the parking garage after Boots' death is great.