Tuesday, May 30, 2017

REVIEW: 'Animal Kingdom' - A Heist Gone Wrong Divides the Cody Family in 'Eat What You Kill'

TNT's Animal Kingdom - Episode 2.01 "Eat What You Kill"

After a risky heist misfires, the boys blame Smurf, sending shock waves through the family. Baz copes with being a single parent. Deran makes plans for the future.

The first season of Animal Kingdom was loosely centered around J deciding whether or not he was a part of the Cody family. He was slowly being introduced to the family business. He was going on various jobs with his uncles. That had a major impact on his life. The season ended with him siding with his family instead of the cops. And thus, he lost his secret lover - and his teacher - in the process. Of course, J is an interesting main character. He's quiet and contemplative. His uncles are the more vocal and over-the-top characters. J is just a teenager trying to make sense of his world. He made his choice. And now, he's still largely in the background. He's a smart guy who can think quick on his feet. But he's just observing everything that is happening around him. He's just waiting for the appropriate moment to reveal just how far his allegiance goes to his family. "Eat What You Kill" sets up an interesting dynamic for the second season of the show. One that has the potential to be much more successful because it pits the core family against each other. That was always a quality of the show. But now, the division runs much deeper than it did before as Smurf seems to be losing all of her power and control over her boys.

So, the season starts off with a heist that goes awry. It's a huge and defining action for the family. Last season built to them being successful in robbing a nearby military base. It was a very risky job that worked out in the end. It doesn't seem to have changed things all that much though. Smurf is still in charge of the money and decides which jobs to pull. The boys are still living the same lifestyles and struggling to get by while doing other things on the side. The status quo is still largely in place at the start of the season. The family is just doing their latest job to pull in the next big score. But things don't work out in the end. No one is caught and no one becomes collateral damage. But all of the risk was for nothing. The safe that they stole from a brewery was largely empty. They were expecting $90,000 and only $500 was there. That's a major disappointment. It's enough to fuel the resentment and anger that comes to define all of the characters for the rest of the premiere. They want to know what went wrong and how things can change and be more lucrative for all of them in the future. It's a key action where the audience knows exactly what went wrong. Smurf got the day wrong. But she isn't going to reveal her mistake to the family because she still craves that control.

And yet, Smurf does lose her power here. The family actually follows through on their threat to leave her behind and pull jobs without her in charge. Baz has forever been the peacemaker trying to keep things in a good place. But once he finally blows up at Smurf, the split actually happens. Pope, Craig and Deran have been talking about it for a long time. But Baz has kept them all together because he feels like the planner of the group who always has a strategy for how to best handle things. Things have been good with Smurf for a long time. But now, things immediately turn sour and it's compelling and interesting to watch. Who are these characters when they are away from Smurf? Are they destined to fail without her in charge? Will they stick together as a family of robbers? Or will they try to do their own separate things? All of the brothers believe themselves to be in charge. That's going to be very problematic in the future. Even when they are discussing what the next job should be, it's full of tension. Divisions are already forming in this new operation. Baz and Pope are unified and so are Craig and Deran with J caught in the middle. Of course, no one knows if they can trust J because he's still living with Smurf. He could be a spy working for her. It seems unlikely that Smurf will stay out of this business for long. Right now, she's leaving her door open for her family while also cutting them off from everything they've built together as a cohesive family unit.

Smurf losing her grip on the family is a strong story for the new season. Last season was all about her always being proven right in the end. It's nice to see her make a mistake. She was the one with the wrong information. And now, she's just trying to manage the rest of the family. She's making her value known in taking care of Lena for Baz. But she's also drinking a lot and making a ton of food for her family. She's making mistakes which could be the signal of something more going on. She still has the confidence to try to pull a gun on an old associate who shows up at her house. She can't be written off quite yet. She's still the person the rest of the family turns to when they get into precarious situations. It may be cruel for her to constantly be holding those past issues over their heads for the rest of their lives. And yet, they did get into those situations and she helped them. They are bound to be self-destructive away from her with no easy way to stay out of jail. Her influence is still great. Without her, the odds of them getting caught are much higher. But they are still full of confidence and planning their next elaborate heist. Robbing a yacht or a mega-church seem like really big jobs. It will take the full family. But are they the right jobs for this new venture outside of Smurf? That remains to be seen. It could go wrong any number of ways.

And then, there's the complicated aftermath of Pope killing Catherine last season. Again, it's very problematic that a female character is killed off just so a man can have an emotional reaction for the rest of the season. It's interesting that the man in turmoil is Pope and not Baz. Pope is the one who actually killed Catherine. He did so because Smurf got into his head and his medication was all out of whack. But there's no excuse for what he did. He's a killer. But he's also one of the few people who actually cares about Lena. It's just setting up the inevitable reveal that Lena remembers that Pope was there the night her mother was killed, which will fuel Baz to hurt his brother. But right now, Baz doesn't seem to care at all. He's picking up women at bars and wants his Mexican girlfriend to move in with him permanently. He's not a nice, good guy either. He just has a minor reaction to the emotional turmoil of his situation. He wants to connect with someone else but no one is there. So instead, he's lashing out at people. It's okay when he does it to Smurf because she can take it. But with Lena, it's much more cruel and devastating. It has the potential to destroy everything good that is going on in his life. It will be his own fault too because he doesn't understand or appreciate the good he actually has right now.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Eat What You Kill" was written by Jonathan Lisco and directed by Christopher Chulack.
  • A man from Smurf's past is dying. He sent someone to go get her and she didn't come. She wasn't ready to see him again. This story will need some more explaining moving forward. It gives Smurf a story that is separate from her family. That was a successful part of her arc in the first season. Perhaps it will be here too.
  • It seems like the show is just done with having J ever going to school. He is seen doing homework and wanting to attend classes. But most of the time, he's skipping to be a part of the operation with his uncles. They even encourage him to do so because he's already too smart for school. They see it as a waste of time. 
  • Nicky is still around. She was a way in to the army base job from last season. It was her father that Baz was conning. But J then broke up with her and she's now dating Craig. Except now he wants to end it with her but she has moved into his apartment because her father is being transferred to Guam. And yet, there really isn't a good reason to care.
  • Deran is seen paying a woman at a bar. At first, it seems like some new, nefarious side job that he is in that will get complicated very quickly. But later on, it's revealed that he is trying to buy the bar and make it as the owner of a legitimate business. Of course, that may not stick because he's the one really in favor of the yacht job.
  • Carolina Guerra has been promoted to series regular this season. She wasn't a really memorable part of the first season. She plays Lucy, Baz's girlfriend in Mexico. But she does show up stateside in this premiere for business that she isn't comfortable talking about with him. So, it seems pretty clear that she's going to be much more important this season.