Tuesday, August 29, 2017

REVIEW: 'Animal Kingdom' - Baz Learns a Destructive Secret and Has an Interesting Reaction in 'Betrayal'

TNT's Animal Kingdom - Episode 2.13 "Betrayal"

When Smurf realizes she may be in jail a lot longer than expected, she pits her sons against one another, the consequences be damned.

It's clear that this season of Animal Kingdom peaked with Smurf getting arrested after Baz set her up for murder. That happened in the eleventh episode of the season. And then, the two final episodes of the season were just an extended epilogue. They didn't have much focus to them or suggest that things were about to get even worse for the family. So, it's clear that the creative team were excited by the idea of Smurf in jail and pulled the trigger on it a little early. It's nice that they don't have her getting out at the end of the season. She's still there and preparing for a lengthy sentence. But the rest of the narrative is still largely about the fighting within the family. This season started with the family breaking away from Smurf. Then, they got caught in her web once more and were compromised because of it. Working with her always has its consequences. But now, it's clear that this family is destructive even without Smurf in charge. They are all very capable in this criminal business. They each have unique skill sets they can use to survive in this dangerous world. As the show has gone along though, some are more committed than others. Some need to exert their control in order to run this family. Others are completely unsure about what they want out of their lives. But it's also abundantly clear that their actions and inactions have profound consequences for the people around them. This is a toxic environment that has only gotten worse since Smurf's arrest.

"Betrayal" ultimately centers around Baz learning that Pope was the one who actually killed Catherine. Smurf reveals that information in order to turn brother against brother. She shares it first with Baz by forcing him to see her in prison. Then, she warns Pope that Baz will be coming after him soon. Smurf does all of this in order to create chaos. It's her getting her vengeance on Baz for what he has done to her. She'll deal with the aftermath with whomever is left standing. She's turning them against each other so that's all they'll have to think about. It's an effective strategy too. At the start of the finale, Baz is still determined to get the power of attorney away from J. He is anxious. He is ready to sell all of the properties and move down to Mexico. Smurf and J are messing up his plans and he can't properly handle it. He's exploding at the entire family. He's a destructive force. That continues to have a profound psychological effect on Lena. She just keeps experiencing loss after loss. And now, Baz wants to take her away without any consideration for what such a move will do to her. Pope is the only person who has cared about Lena at all this season. He calls Baz out for being a shitty parent. But Baz still believes he's a good father because Lena is his biological daughter. No one else gets to tell him what to do regarding her.

That's what has allowed this main story to be so complicated over the course of the season. Pope has felt so guilty about what he did to Catherine. He loved her but killed her. He's cared for Lena even though he's the man who took her mother away from her. He's the only one who cares about her well-being. That has just been so twisted. But more importantly, he hasn't been sleeping. How many hours of sleep do you think he has gotten this season? He's passed out in the shower when Smurf calls to warn him about Baz. He's not doing well at all. Part of that is because of what he did to Catherine. Part of it is coming clean to Amy and getting rejected by her. He is ready and willing to die. He just cares about protecting Lena. He didn't care if he went to jail robbing six banks in one day. He just wanted to give her some financial security. He's ready and willing to die. He's been a horrible person. He's done things that can never be taken back. The only planning he has to do for this confrontation is getting Deran to commit to caring for Lena should anything happen to him. After that, he just needs to sit on his step looking out at the beach. He unloads his weapon because he doesn't even feel like putting up a fight.

That's what makes it so surprising that Baz doesn't ultimately kill Pope. Instead, he forgives him for killing his wife. It's a shocking moment. It's once again so riddled with personal feelings towards Smurf. Baz understands that Pope did this because Smurf manipulated him into it. He is able to forgive him so easily because he's passing all of those feelings of hatred towards Smurf. She's the person who needs to pay. Sending her to jail isn't punishment enough. He needs to break down everything she has spent her life building. He could already escape to a happy life in Mexico with Lucy and Lena. And yet, he's choosing to stay because of this twisted family. It's not healthy at all. He's spiraling out of control. It's brutal to watch throughout this finale. He's incredibly selfish. He only cares about himself and his plan. When others are getting in the way of its success, it's a personal attack to him because he simply can't see how anyone would disagree with what he's doing. He's laid out all the evidence for everyone to see that Smurf is a vindictive and abusive person. And yet, Baz is the same way. He doesn't give Pope what he wants. He forgives him and wants to protect him. But those are hollow words if he's going to Mexico to escape all of this. He's also trying to get J into working with him by revealing the tragic story of how his mother was raped and got pregnant with him all while Smurf was focused on other things. So, Baz isn't completely healthy in all of this either.

And yet, the season is building to a very climatic moment of Baz getting shot while in the car ready to make his escape to Mexico. It's played as a mystery. Who shot Baz? He's shot three times in the chest. However, he's able to return some fire and get to the street. The police are already responding as well. So, the odds seem good of him surviving this encounter. But the mystery still persists of who did this to him. It's easy to assume that Smurf did because all of her previous plans failed to hurt or kill him the way she intended. Of course, how does she know that Baz and Pope failed to kill one another? Another option is J. This could be him exerting his own control over the family. He's the one with all the power. He just doesn't know what to do with it. That ambiguity leads to an overall lame story for him in this finale. But it would still be a decisive move if J chose to do this to his uncle. And yet, it seems much more likely that it was Lucy and Marco. Lucy's motivations throughout this entire story have never made sense. Baz is ready to retire to a life of bliss in Mexico. But why would Lucy want that? The season has never given her a proper motivation. She is still running her own business. She's still the woman in charge of it. Her illegal doings have largely been kept separate though. Marco messes up from time to time and Lucy can still fix things for him. But she hasn't shown any desire to get out of this game. The show can tell that story. It is doing so with Deran who just wants to run his bar far away from his family. But it has never tried to explain what's going on with Lucy. And then, there's the final tease that she and Marco are stealing the money that Baz has stashed away. So, that only increases her guilt. She knew where the money was. This all could have been an elaborate plan to steal it. It should have emotional symmetry to it because she's betraying the man she loves to get it. But again, the show never really told stories about the two of them as a couple worth caring about. So, it ultimately makes all of this play as a plot twist to build excitement and mystery over the hiatus between seasons.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Betrayal" was written by John Wells and directed by John Wells.
  • J is capable of having his own, original thoughts. And yet, he has constantly been torn between Smurf and Baz for this entire season. Now, it's gotten to the point where his indecisiveness as an individual seems to be defining his entire story. That's weird and doesn't make much sense. He's been praised as a natural in this business. Perhaps he should start acting like it and doing things his way for once.
  • Of course, J is also crippled by his feelings for Nicky. J doesn't have things figured out but he's so much better than Nicky. She's coming across as very immature and dependent on drugs. She's becoming a tragic character with no ambitions in life. She's happy with J. She wants to be in this life with him. But she's bound to only pull him into danger because she doesn't really know what she's doing.
  • Craig makes the decision that he needs to get far away from this family for awhile. That's probably a good idea. The only one he actually likes is Deran. But that's not enough to offset all the craziness around him. Of course, he's never been too good on his own. Even now, he turns to Ren for a companion on this journey. That's bound to not end well no matter how far they ultimately get.
  • There's a really awkward scene between Craig and Deran about them simply not getting how the other couldn't be sexually attracted to the people they are attracted to. It just seems so random and unnecessary to include here. It just doesn't feel like something they would need to talk about at this point in their lives. But here it is for some reason.
  • Smurf is still getting a number of visits as a prisoner. Most notably, she sits down with her lawyers - which now also includes Daniel Sunjata - to talk about her future and how long she'll be in prison. And then, she meets with a detective who is willing to make her a deal if she turns in Pope for all the bank heists he has pulled off lately. She largely uses that conversation to get Baz to see her.
  • That's it for the second season of Animal Kingdom. It was a year of significant growth for the show. Of course, there were still some highs and lows to it as well. "Betrayal" leaves things in a precarious place for the third seasons with the family being scattered. And yet, that's an interesting setup for the next season. I'm intrigued to see how they'll change without each other in their daily lives.