Sunday, June 10, 2018

REVIEW: 'Claws' - A New Russian Shakes Up Everything for Desna and Her Girls in 'Shook'

TNT's Claws - Episode 2.01 "Shook"

Desna and the girls struggle to keep their hope alive while still working under the thumb of the new Russian regime. Desna remains in the dark about her boyfriend, Ruval. Virginia tells Dean that she's pregnant with his baby. Polly is jubilant when tasked with being a madam for an all-male dance troupe. A depressed Uncle Daddy has been stripped of his Dixie Mafia kingdom and is forced to do menial jobs for the Russians. The power dynamic shifts once again when Riva's sister, Zlata, arrives to change the game.

Claws has always found itself with the desire to change but never really shifting from its natural dynamics. For the entire first season, Desna wanted to get out of this life of crime and start her own successful nail salon. And yet, she has always found herself as the smartest person in any room who has to be the one to fix all of the problems happening with her friends and associates. Similarly, the first season teased that characters were about to die and that would change up the dynamics of the show. And yet, the show never really followed through on that promise. That was most miraculous when it came to Roller who somehow survived being shot. And now, he's just back in town working for Uncle Daddy. Even in the finale when war was breaking out between the Dixie Mafia and the Russians, the biggest casualty was Uncle Daddy's wife Juanda who was never a significant or interesting character. There was still the hope of Desna escaping from this life because she had secured a new nail salon in a better neighborhood. She could earn a profit for herself with her own business. But instead, she was once again pulled back into this criminal life. She was simply working for the Russians instead of Uncle Daddy and his crew. Now, that reads as a more interesting take on that relationship because Uncle Daddy, Roller and Bryce are idiots. Desna is now working for a woman running a successful criminal empire who was able to outsmart the Dixie Mafia and take control of all of their businesses. But it's mostly just a comfort to know that everything is exactly the same as it always was as Claws begins its second season. Desna, Polly, Jenn, Virginia and Quiet Ann are working out of the same nail salon and doing money laundering to ensure that the criminal enterprises of this area continue running smoothly for the gangsters they are now indebted to.

But of course, not everything is running smoothly at the moment. The men of this world just flat out refuse to do any of the work. Yes, Dr. Ken is still at the clinic and prescribing opioids to whomever comes through the doors. But Uncle Daddy, Roller and Bryce aren't doing any of the pickups. Money is quickly pilling up at the clinic. Riva is furious that payments are late. She took over complete control of this business in exchange for sparing the lives of the criminals who work there. They now work for her. Except the closing moments of the season finale proved that Uncle Daddy was already working on a new plan to get back what was his. He reached out to the Haitian mob to eliminate this threat from the Russians that will probably be invading their business sooner than later as well. It was a big reveal because it showed that Desna's boyfriend Ruval was also in this business. He seems to be the one running the show for the Haitians. That puts him in an even more impressive position of power. If she has to be with a gangster romantically, then Ruval can give more to her than Roller can - even though Roller desperately wants to reunite with the woman he still loves. And so, the Dixie Mafia boys don't believe they have to hand any money over to Riva or actually do their jobs because they believe that Ruval will soon kill her. That would allow everything to return to normal. They barely have to do anything to make that a possibility too. And yet, Ruval isn't quick to act because he sees no threat from the Russians at the moment. He is doing things according to his own time table. He may ultimately see no reason to start a meaningless war for these new associates that he has no other business dealings with. It's an arrangement that has much more risks for him and his business. As such, he may just be better off to avoid it all together.

Plus, it seems like the show does make one significant change at the start of the season while still trying to leave things basically the same too. Riva was an intriguing presence last season. She was a threat that everyone could see. But when she made her influence known, it was clear that she conducts business much more efficiently than anyone else on the show. In "Shook" though, her sister, Zlata, comes to town and immediately kills her. That's a significant change that the show probably makes to cast an even more notable actress in that role for the season. And yes, Franka Potente is an upgrade who brings such a mystifying but menacing energy to the show here. But there was also nothing wrong with Andrea Sooch and the performance she was giving. It was just a change the creative team wanted to make. As such, they are highlighting the differences between Riva and Zlata to show just how their visions for these newly acquired businesses actually opposed one another. Riva wanted Desna to assimilate to her current business practices. That meant labeling the businesses as under Russian control and making the shift from the clinic to smuggling cocaine. That has always been the most profitable business for the Russians. But it would also mark a significant change to what the show was doing last year. Again, that could have been exciting. Desna can still rationalize what she's doing at the clinic because she sees it as handing out a drug that is still legal. Moving to illegal drugs would be crossing a significant line for her. But she's still willing to do it to remain in Riva's good graces. Meanwhile, Zlata wants to expand on the business that has already been working for the Dixie Mafia. She wants to know every detail about the clinic so that the Russians can replicate it elsewhere. She wants to give Desna even more control over her people because she sees a kindred spirit who needs to stand up and take the respect that she deserves in this world. That's a fascinating dynamic. And one that will probably explain why Ruval won't ultimately target the Russians. If they are solely expanding the Dixie Mafia businesses, then it probably won't be cutting into the Haitian business because it wasn't doing so before this change in management.

It's important to remember though that Zlata is a terrifying presence who is forcing Desna and the girls to do whatever she wants out of fear for their lives. That was always the position they were in. Riva was going to kill them if they didn't continue bringing in money for her. In fact, she was worried that these recent business acquisition weren't even bringing in enough money for the Russians. That's why she wanted Desna to expand into cocaine. But it seems like Zlata has a work around that problem by simply expanding the clinic. Desna is more than forthcoming in that regard as well. She sees Zlata as someone they have to work with right now in order to survive in this world and work towards their dreams. Desna still wants to do so much more with her life. Right now, she is simply appeasing Zlata by telling her everything she wants to know while also exploiting all of these businesses. Sure, it's amusing that Zlata wants to rebrand the strip club as a male go-go dancer club. Quiet Ann and Virginia are tasked with finding the dancers while Polly is in charge of teaching them their routines. Those are amusing stories throughout this premiere. It shows just how quickly the show can change if it wants to. Right now, Uncle Daddy and his boys are resisting that change. They don't see the Russians as an ongoing problem. Desna knows differently because she was there to see Zlata kill her own sister. She had to stop Polly from having a full-on panic attack out of fear that continuing this relationship could send her right back to prison. But the guys just aren't on the same page yet. And so, Zlata has to intimidate them into action. She does that by forcing Bryce to watch Jenn's sex tape with the other guy, starting a significant fire at Uncle Daddy's house and making Roller marry her daughter whom he got pregnant and casually threw away afterwards.

It's in that last example that really shows the kind of position of strength and power Zlata is operating from in this world. She is able to intimidate everyone into going along with this marriage. She sees Uncle Daddy and company respecting and honoring the ceremony. She sees it as the only way to make them cooperative moving forward because they have always placed so much respect and honor in protecting family. Yes, family was taken from them in this war. But this wedding also forces Roller into doing the right thing by actually addressing that he got a woman pregnant and he now has a son out there who needs a father. Sure, it seems like that child is bound to suffer from absentee parenting. Neither of his parents really seem all that interested in caring for him. Roller only agrees to the wedding because a gun is literally pointed at his head by the priest. That shows that he really doesn't have a choice in the matter. He is in this mess because he couldn't control himself. That lack of control is bound to create even more problems moving forward as well. There is the hope that all of this intimidation will be enough for Uncle Daddy, Bryce and Roller to fall into line. But it's more likely that it will only further cement their animosity towards the Russians and their desire to take them out as the competition. Meanwhile, things are better for Desna because Zlata wants to empower her. She wants to give her more opportunities to succeed in this world by embracing her inner gangster. And yet, that's not a life she wants. She wants to continue to support and trust her girls in the hopes that they can get through anything together. But Zlata wants to break up that bond by forcing Desna to sit at the top of the power structure while making sure everyone knows it and respects it too. Even that is a power move on Zlata's part though. She makes her debut in this premiere and immediately becomes a threat that everyone should take very seriously. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Shook" was written by Eliot Laurence and directed by Marta Cunningham & Dale Stern.
  • Virginia really isn't telling anyone that she is pregnant or changing her behavior at all. She is still dressing the same as always - which contains mostly crop tops. She is still drinking alcohol at the wedding and at work. And yet, Dean is able to tell that she is pregnant because of the changes to her body and overall mood. He is very perceptive that way while also having to be understanding that Virginia was going to tell him after she figured some more things out first.
  • Polly is still adjusting into a more domestic dynamic with her steady and sexy relationship with Dr. Ken and her new surrogate daughter. She cares very deeply about both of them and doesn't want anything bad to happen to any of them. That makes her feel much more invested in the world around her this year because she now has something to loss if she should ever get caught doing something criminal and sent back to prison.
  • Jenn has no interest in continuing to see her dancing partner romantically. And yet, Bryce continues to label her as the cheating spouse who is still engaging in this affair. She isn't. She desperately wants to reunite with Bryce because she sees it as a mistake and knows that he isn't looking for other women. But he's also furious and storms into the dance studio to confront the other guy on an almost daily basis.
  • Quiet Ann still feels guilty about what she had to do to her girlfriend at the end of last season. She was a cop who was getting close to exposing some hard truths about her friends. As such, Quiet Ann got her fired from her job which also ended their relationship. But now, she is stalking her on Instagram which is bound to stir up some more feelings moving forward.
  • Just how long will Desna remain in the dark about what Ruval actually does for a living? There can only be so many close calls where she's on the verge of learning the truth but doesn't. The show spent too much time last season on the secret kept between Desna and Virginia about Roller's shooting. As such, it seems much more interesting to have the truth out in the open for Desna to react to and for Ruval to try to explain himself.