Sunday, August 13, 2017

REVIEW: 'Claws' - Desna and Her Crew Fight for Their Lives Only to Get More Complications in 'Avalanche'

TNT's Claws - Episode 1.10 "Avalanche"

Following a harrowing escape from Roller's grasp, Desna is on the run. Roller is close behind, running from the Russians. Dean, Polly and Virginia frantically search for Desna before time runs out. Jennifer gets more deeply involved with Hank, oblivious to how close her life is to imploding. In the end, only Desna can save Jennifer, Roller and her crew with a sacrifice greater than any she's ever had to make.

TNT's Claws has certainly been one of the more unique and interesting shows to debut in 2017. Its tone is so ridiculously over-the-top and specific. As such, it needed to be very carefully crafted in each episode. This season was erratic at times. There were moments that were played completely seriously and others that were the broadest of comedy. It was an issue that first started in the premiere with Niecy Nash and Dean Norris seeming like they were on completely different shows. The show did get more confident with itself. But last week was a troubling episode that relied too much on the seriousness of Roller kidnapping and trying to kill Desna. The show is still in that moment at the start of "Avalanche." It's best to get out of that awkward and unnecessarily dark space immediately. Fortunately, the show does just that. That's a very good thing. Meanwhile, the rest of the finale is filled with these purely outrageous moments that show that the creative team have the awareness of finales always trying to cram in as much plot as possible while still fulfilling that expectation for the audience. It's a key subversion that works in some moments and not in others.

So, the Dixie Mafia and the Russians are officially at war with one another. That has been a long time coming. I believe it was the first episode where Dr. Ken was worried about the Russians trying to copy the drug business he was running. Riva has been a client for Desna for a long time. It's a war with personal stakes to it even though it took the show a long time to get to this moment. There were so many plot twists along the way. The show really did go through a lot of plot this season. So much so that it became difficult to care about any particular twist because the audience knew that things wouldn't be the same even an episode later. So, the storytelling was erratic and created some distance from the plots and the audience's reaction to them. And yet, the chemistry from the five female leads was always incredibly strong. Whenever the show focused on that, everything seemingly made sense. Yes, there was tension there too. They clashed for a number of different reasons that eventually become too many to count. But that dynamic is still the heart of the show. How this war affects the salon is the most important thing about this final story for the season.

For the longest time, it seems like the war affects Desna because she's the only person whom both sides of the conflict have a relationship with. Both Riva and Uncle Daddy trust her in some capacity. Of course, this finale is also about big reveals. So, it's not surprising in the slightest that Desna is revealed to be responsible for Roller's murder to everyone. Reversing that moment is still a creative decision I struggle with because Roller is such an annoying, one-note character whose trauma isn't all that interesting to watch. He's flailing around just like the rest of his family. That's quite entertaining when it comes to Uncle Daddy, Roller and Bryce getting into a big, physical fight with one another only to then start bailing in each other's arms. It's wickedly over-the-top but also in keeping with the tone of the show. This family has extreme reactions to everything that is happening in the world around them. In that moment, it seems like the show has awareness for how silly and broad it is being. But when it comes to Wanda's death, it wants to play things as genuine and serious. Wanda hasn't been an important character. In fact, I never knew her name was Wanda until this episode. But her death is this elongated sequence. She's excited that the family is going to war. She fears someone is in her house only for it to be Jennifer's daughters. Then, she goes back in and gets killed by the Russians. When Uncle Daddy and Bryce show up, it's this long goodbye where Wanda goes into detail about the beginning of her marriage. It's personal to the characters but really impersonal to the audience. Uncle Daddy clearly cares but her death won't mean too much for the state of the show in the future.

But then, the show produces what is easily one of its best sequences to date. In fact, it's one of the funniest moments I've seen this year. Desna has negotiated the deal that Riva will hand over Bryce and Jennifer's daughter if she gets either Roller's head or 50% of Uncle Daddy's businesses. Uncle Daddy agrees to the deal because he wants his family back together again. But what happens next is ridiculously subversive of the genre in a way that is absolutely delightful. It all starts with the characters walking into a retirement community where the residents are dancing to "The Humpty Dance." That sets the stage immediately that something is off in this world. The scene then becomes a big case of role reversals and double crosses. Uncle Daddy and Riva keep going back-and-forth on who has a gun pulled on whom. Riva wants all of Uncle Daddy's business. He has a guy pull a gun on her who then points it back at Uncle Daddy because Riva made the better deal. Then Bryce and Dr. Ken take out the guys holding Roller prisoner which allows them to have the advantage yet again. And finally, the senior citizens roll into the negotiation fully armed and ready to kill all of them multiple times. It's just such a fantastic visual. It's the show building things up and up. It gets more ridiculous but strangely earned with each passing reveal. It's glorious to behold. It's strange and weird but also wonderfully amusing. I got a tremendous laugh out of it while also never really fearing for anyone's safety.

As delightful as that sequence was, the show needed to wrap its first season by focusing on the sisterhood of the central crew. Desna negotiated this deal. But it was also her getting pulled back into a life she thought she had left behind. She was moving up to bigger and better things with the new nail salon. And now, she finds herself once again working for organized crime. It was an inevitable character moment. The show is still too young to give Desna her freedom. And yet, it's still a very devastating moment when she reveals to her crew that she isn't making the move over to the new salon with the rest of them. She would rather just hand the keys over to Jennifer and know that it's in good hands. Of course, the rest of the girls aren't just willing to abandon Desna in her time of need. They were there for her when she was being chased by a madman with a gun. They were there for her when she was negotiating with the Russian mob. And now, they'll be there for her as she faces an uncertain future. Riva will more than likely be a much more stable boss than anyone from the Dixie Mafia. And yet, those guys are still around and likely to cause trouble. That's just who they are. Desna knows that they will always be stupid and create a huge mess with complications they couldn't control. Desna did that as well. Everything is now out in the open about what she tried to do to Roller. She's still alive and able to function. She has the support of her crew. But she's still trapped in a life she wishes to escape. Her family will help her get through this trying experience. And yet, their lives are changing as well. This crew deserves each other. Meanwhile, the show just continues to up the craziness of each of their individual lives to create an even more chaotic second season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Avalanche" was written by Eliot Laurence and directed by Howard Deutch.
  • Not only did Jennifer kiss Hank but she had sex with him too. She's with him when everyone is trying to get ahold of her regarding her kidnapped child. Desna has no time or moral superiority to be judgmental. Neither does Bryce. And yet, it seems unlikely that Jennifer and Bryce's marriage will be in a good place moving forward. Their issues are out in the open. But will they be able to address them and become stronger as a result?
  • Polly buys her next-door neighbor from her mother. That's such a strange and completely unexpected moment that is played in a very matter-of-fact way. Of course, it's not all that surprising that something big was going to happen there. The girl wouldn't just randomly show up at the nail salon if she wouldn't be involved in some kind of big twist by the end of the finale. Polly may not be a great role model but she will at least be a comforting presence.
  • Quiet Ann's story was mostly wrapped up in last week's episode. She's still in mourning about the loss of her relationship after she and Polly drugged her girlfriend. That's played as the complete resolution to that outside threat to Desna. It's barely even mentioned in the finale at all which is strange. But again, Quiet Ann's relationship happened mostly offscreen.
  • Dean is in the van as well when the crew is saving Desna from Roller. He's confused and really calls out Desna for her poor decisions as of late. He sees her as a horrible person now. But the siblings do seem on the right path by the end of the hour. Of course, Virginia also happens to be pregnant so that will throw a wrench into this family dynamic as well.
  • The show would have been perfectly fine ending the season on the shot of the girl crew following Desna back to the salon. But instead, it cuts away to the boys meeting with a potential new ally. This guy also happens to be a crime lord in the area. And then, it's revealed to be Dr. Ruval. That's another ridiculous twist thrown on top of a very plot-driven finale. It also makes it seem like Desna has a very distinct type for criminals.
  • Claws has already been renewed for a second season. It has been a respectable success for TNT. That's great. It's such a creative swing for a network still defining its new brand. It paid off. And now, the show has to build upon that in the second season. All of these new stories could bog the season down. But hopefully, the creative team knows how to address all of them without being too overwhelming to the audience.