Sunday, April 30, 2017

REVIEW: 'Mary Kills People' - Mary Learns More About Joel and the Police Investigation in 'The River Styx'

Lifetime's Mary Kills People - Episode 1.02 "The River Styx"

When Mary discovers the truth about Joel's identity, she must quickly devise a plan to avoid police capture.

It's both surprising and not that Mary has already discovered that Joel is an undercover police officer trying to arrest her for murder. It's surprising because it goes against traditional storytelling structure. Most of the time the big reveals about a person's true identity happen near the end of the season. It's a game changing twist that reinvents everything that happened previously. In this case, it's not that surprising because it would have been very difficult for the show to somehow delay killing Joel for an entire season. He's introduced with a terminal disease and wants to die as quickly as possible. Unless the season was told in a real-time format, there's a ticking clock attached to that which determines how believable it is for Mary to avoid giving him the lethal drugs and champagne. And thus, it's only the second episode when she learns the truth about his identity. That means the secret keeping of it all isn't going to be a major component of this series. That's great because secret identities are frequently overused and are rarely all that interesting. It's much more dramatic and compelling when the truth is out in the open for everyone to deal with. That's where things really get intense and complicated.

Mary being able to figure out the truth about Joel shows just how smart, crafty and resourceful she is as well. Of course, it's all preceded by her trying to save him by presenting him with clinic trials that could save his life. She claims that that's part of the service she offers. She deals with a number of clients in a number of different situations. Death is unique to each individual. It's not a one size fits all program. In fact, there are a number of holes in the way Mary and Des do things which could easily risk exposure for them. And yet, there's also the overwhelming feeling that Mary wants Joel to live because she briefly had sex with him. That was one of the more awkward and forced moments from the premiere. It established a dynamic that was a bit more conventional and lame. And now, her judgment is seemingly compromised because of that moment. That reasoning doesn't completely work. But it's only a minor detail in this hour. Joel is still able to manipulate Mary into thinking that he's going to kill himself. Her rushing over to him seems understandable and genuine. But it's also important that she doesn't lose herself while listening to his sad story.

In fact, Joel and Frank's criminal operation comes across as very patronizing. Joel is very forceful and demanding of Mary. He pushes extremely hard for her to say something incriminating. He sees like a capable undercover detective as well. He knows when to push and when to threaten to leave altogether. But he's not really subtle about it either. It's a big performance of sorts. Part of that feels like the dramatization for a television show to make sure that the audience gets it. The action is being very pointed and deliberately heading in a specific direction. He's trying to get Mary to accept his money as quickly as possible. He wants her to explain every single thing she's going to do to kill him. He's being a little too blatant. If Mary didn't pick up on these signals, then she would be doomed as a main character not worth watching. Because she does and quickly destroys the evidence she's carrying, she comes across as smart. She got lost in the details of the case but she was able to pull out before anything major happened. Plus, she's able to escape under the ruse that she's in fear for her life because Joel is becoming too erratic and crazy for her to handle. She doesn't want people to buy guns to kill themselves. She does so because she wants to connect with people and help them on this journey. Joel was just too different. He stood out in a way that really exposed the operation.

It's also fascinating and important to learn more about Joel and Frank's actual investigation. They are targeting Mary because they see her as a murderer who is going around killing people. To them, it doesn't matter that her victims are terminally ill patients. It's still murder. They are motivated to catch her because they have the support of a local judge whose son was one of Mary's victims. It would appear that man hasn't really coped with his son's death. He doesn't see how he could have been fine with it while also keeping detailed notes about what was happening. Those do seem a little contradictory. But it proves that the pressure is on for Joel and Frank. So much so that Joel actually shows up at Mary's house. That's him basically revealing his nefarious intentions to her. It's essentially a showdown with her telling him to find anything incriminating about her. So, the battle is set and both sides are fully aware of who the other person really is. Mary learns that Joel is a cop who wants to arrest her while Joel realizes just how difficult that is going to be.

Elsewhere, Mary and Des help two people die in this week's episode. The first is rather simple. They are helping an older woman in renal failure who is ready to be reunited with her husband in whatever comes next in life. It's a death that goes according to plan. Mary even makes sure afterwards. Of course, it still comes with risks too. They meet the woman on a beach. It's where she wants to die because it's such a beautiful sight. They succeed because no one else is there. But it's still startling to watch both of them just casually walk away from the body. It makes sense. It's just slightly weird and tragic. Meanwhile, the second death is much more intense. That's largely because it too features a gun. This show abides by the rule that once a gun is introduced it has to go off eventually. In this case, it's not the same gun though. Des is threatened into staying with a dying woman because her son is pointing a gun at him. Of course, the bullet only grazes him and everyone comes together in the end. But it's still an intense and uncertain moment. Mary is able to help this family in their time of need. She sees it as a beautiful gift she gave them because she was ending the woman's suffering. In the process though, she had to meet with Des' drug hookup and she had to inject the drugs herself. So, her rules can be changed which may be a slippery slope for her to fall on as the season progresses.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The River Styx" was written by Mike Goldbach and directed by Holly Dale.
  • Mary and Des have already gone through a lot of drugs. It seems like every week they are stopping to see Grady and pick up more. He gives them a couple of bottles each time. But circumstances ultimately end up destroying most of them before they can be put to use. That seems like a narrative excuse to keep Mary and Des seeing Grady.
  • Speaking of Grady, he's coming across as a creepy and broad one-note character. It's understandable why he wants Mary to prove she isn't wearing a wire. Just the way he goes about it and his ogling of her body is very weird and uncomfortable.
  • It's really difficult to care about anything that is going on with Mary's daughter and her friend. They are both being set up as important characters. However, their concerns are just so trivial and cliche compared to the rest of the show. It largely just proves that Mary's lies don't stand up to a whole lot of scrutiny.
  • Mary gets a call from the wife of the man she killed in the opening moments of the series. She quickly hangs up after learning who is calling her. But this is going to be an interesting complication moving forward. Mary had to smother him to death with a pillow. The drugs didn't work. Plus, it seems like an oversight to leave that pamphlet with her number laying around.
  • Joel and Frank know about Annie as well. They know that she is the liaison between Mary and the terminally ill patients. It was included in the notes from the judge's kid. But knowing that Joel is a cop will probably force Mary to confront Annie about how she connected with him to start with.
  • Casper the cat may actually be dead now. That's sad and disappointing. It's just further proof that Des can't be responsible with anything.