Tuesday, July 10, 2018

REVIEW: 'Animal Kingdom' - The Threats Against Smurf Increase As J Turns His Back on Her in 'Low Man'

TNT's Animal Kingdom - Episode 3.07 "Low Man"

Deran leads the charge in planning the weed heist. Lucy calls Pope down to Mexico for some intel on Baz's murder. J reaches a breaking point with Smurf. Craig learns more about Billy's girlfriend Frankie.

At the start of the third season, Smurf was presented with a deal from Detective Pearce. She could get a reduced sentence for her crimes if she also turned her boys in. She would no longer be facing life in prison without the possibility of parole. She could return to her house and her granddaughter's life. But she still chose to be loyal to her family. She believed there was a future where she didn't have to spend any more time in jail because Pearce couldn't make any of the charges stick. Yes, she was responsible for Javi's death. But the police cannot prove it. Baz did a terrible job in trying to frame her. Sure, it seemed like things were pretty damning last week with the addition of a surprise witness who could possibly ruin Smurf's life because of some inside information about the deal. As such, that puts new pressure on the family. Right now, everyone is basically turning on Smurf. No one believes that they actually need her in the family business in order to succeed. The boys pulled off a job without Smurf or Baz. Sure, they did that in order to keep money flowing through the businesses. They needed to maintain appearances. That just so happened to also help Smurf's case. The boys are used to a certain lifestyle. And now, they have the confidence to continue pulling jobs like they always have even though Smurf and Baz are no longer around ordering them all over the place. There is still the perception that J is in charge because he has Smurf's power of attorney. Many believe that he is still taking orders from Smurf. And yet, that's not true in the slightest. He doesn't see the urgency in kicking Billy and Frankie out of the house. Nor does he want to drive to Arizona in order to kill the men from Javi's crew who are possibly turning on their deal with Smurf. He just doesn't want to do those things for her. He is still paying for her protection in jail. He understands the importance of that. He is still seeing her as well. But he's also reaching his breaking point with her. "Low Man" is a pivotal episode for the family because it seems like they are all about to face some pretty damning fates with Smurf turning them in because they turned their backs on her during her time of need. But the way that the show fools the audience into believing that only to then build to a huge surprise with Smurf is very effective.

J is so distraught at the moment because of the tragedy that has occurred with Nicky. Now, Nicky doesn't appear in this episode at all. In fact, it's only a few characters offering just some basic updates as to how she is doing. And yet, J is at the house cleaning up all of the blood instead of helping his uncles plan the weed heist. That just serves to further fuel Billy's argument that Deran should be the one running the family now and not J. The family certainly doesn't see things in any kind of hierarchy. But the outside perspective is still important because Billy has the clarity that J controls all of the money and Smurf. Deran could easily be tossed aside because Smurf no longer cares for him or seems him as necessary to their operations. That's the feeling that Deran and Billy express. All of this just leads to J being a bit more aggressive with Smurf. He is actually speaking up against her to let her know that he has the power in this dynamic. He's the one making the decision over whether she lives or dies. In fact, he is basically telling Mia that he will no longer be making the payments on her protection in jail. That's so incredibly daunting because the rival she created earlier this season has now been brought back to the general population. Smurf never thought that she would still be in jail when she was released. She believed she would be back in her house having escaped all of the charges against her. And so, the threat is very real for Smurf. She is afraid for her life. The girls protecting her are demanding even more money because there is a legitimate person with a vendetta against her. The only way out may be for Smurf to turn on her boys. But even that proves to be a long con against Pearce to judge whether or not he actually has a surprise witness who will testify against her about Javi's murder. Him actually playing ball with her in regards to a deal is all the proof that she needs that the prosecution is just trying to provoke her into making a big mistake while she's currently being locked up.

Of course, things are still incredibly tense in those final scenes of the hour where it seems like something other than Smurf's court appearance is about to happen. The direction is just absolutely stunning in that moment too. The action points out that Smurf leaves the shiv behind as she is escorted out of her cell. But it also feels like the moment where she will need it the most. The sequence is tense with the guard seeming very cryptic with her responses to Smurf's questions. Smurf understands the importance of this day. The outcome of her court appearance will determine her future. She is confident about returning home. But she doesn't know what will happen because she expected to be home by now. She is then left all alone in a hallway with the guard saying that she won't be taken to court. That's ominous because it makes it seem like Smurf has just been walked into a trap. She is about to die with her entire family turning their backs on her. She ended up maintaining the ruse of her boys being pillars of the community. She didn't give Pearce anything incriminating against the family. It was a calculated risk she was willing to take. And now, she may still end up dead because she couldn't get out of jail fast enough. But instead, this is the moment she has long been waiting for. The guard leaves her. But then another one hands over her possessions she had when she was arrested. She is being released from jail. The charges against her have been dropped. It's such a stunning moment. This season committed to her being in jail for a long time. And now, that story is seemingly over. It's very likely that Pearce will continue watching over the family because he knows that they are a bunch of criminals. He will still be collecting evidence against them. But it also means that the family will have freedom from outside threats now. It's just the internal ones they will have to worry about. Smurf is released from jail at the exact same moment that the family is embarking on this very lucrative heist.

Moreover, "Low Man" seems to confirm that it was Smurf who put out the hit on Baz. Lucy finally returns to the narrative with some information that she feels needs to be shared with Pope. The two of them don't get along at all. They don't trust that the other wasn't responsible for Baz's death. It makes sense for them to exploit their personal connections with him in order to prove their loyalty or walk away with a huge payday. Nothing has been made about all of the money that Lucy stole from Baz and Smurf the moment after he got shot. That's still a development that is just waiting to explode. The show revealed that it was Mia who pulled the trigger and killed Baz. That has shaded all of her interactions with J since. But now, there is confirmation that Smurf was the one who actually wanted her son dead. The family explains that Baz is the only person she would ever turn on within the family. Deran has the confidence that she isn't in jail thinking about cutting a deal to save herself at the expense of her family. He's not even entertaining that notion. But Pope at least suspects that it's possible after being confronted with the evidence that says Smurf used someone besides him to clean up a mess for her. He trusted that he was always the one she could manipulate into solving any problem for her. That was always his place within the family even though it caused further conflict and tension with Baz. Pope holds steadfast with his beliefs as well. He doesn't want Billy and Frankie to be left unattended at all especially if they are going to be a part of this latest job. He wants to know everything that they are doing. Craig mostly takes that as an opportunity to get to know Frankie better and actually kiss her. That's a surprise that could further complicate the dynamics of the family. But it's also just more important to know what Smurf is capable of and just how much she distrusts her own family. If they turn against her, then they will be making a very powerful enemy.

As such, it should be fascinating to see if Smurf can work her way back into the good graces of her family. J was basically the only one who ever visited her in prison. Craig did once as well. But both of those interactions didn't end well. Smurf believes she is returning to the house with a newfound sense of confidence and freedom. She's getting a full police escort after being abused by the system for the past few months. She is milking it for all that it is worth. She doesn't know that her boys are currently pulling a job. Everything is in place for this to be one of the largest payouts they have ever gotten. It's incredibly dangerous too. As they are monitoring the transport vehicles, they note that the only moment of opportunity is at the airfield where all of the money is being collected. It's so lucrative. But they will also be facing armed security guards. That makes this more dangerous than the pill farm, megachurch or yacht jobs. They may not all make it back from this job completely okay. This has already proven to be a deadly season full of complications for the Cody family. Baz was killed. Smurf was in prison. Nicky shot herself in the leg. There is so much mistrust and competing agendas within this family. Smurf wants to come back in and take complete charge over the business again. It will probably be within her rights to do so as well because J will no longer have to act as her power of attorney because of her incarceration. The family won't be quick to hand over all of this money to Smurf though. And yet, they may have to in order to continue the facade for the businesses. They aren't out of the woods just yet. That makes all of this so scary. Smurf is out and bound to create a bunch of trouble. The family believes they are working as a team. It's easier now than ever before. But it's still bound to go wrong in some way.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Low Man" was written by Eliza Clark and directed by Cherie Nowlan.
  • This episode presents the repercussions of Nicky shooting herself in the leg as all about J's reaction to it. He is spinning out and distracted. He is much more blunt with Mia in their interactions. And yet, it still ends with him starting his sexual dynamic with Mia once more even though Nicky is still in the hospital. So, he's not really grieving this tragedy for very long. He gets to be a sullen teenager for a moment before back to just being reckless.
  • Adrian is visiting town for a couple of days. As such, that makes things a little awkward with Deran's burgeoning romance with Clark. And yet, it's also treated as no big deal that Deran is having sex with two guys at the same time. In fact, it highlights how there is so much history between him and Adrian while it still being awkward with Clark when talking about his family - especially with Smurf in jail.
  • The family has always been pulling their own little side jobs. Right now, Pope is telling Deran that he needs to be completely and solely focused on the weed heist if it is going to work. That's what makes it so apparent that something tragic and big is going to happen regarding his associate who wants to keep making money doing these jobs with him. That has simply been given too much screen time for it to ultimately be nothing.
  • Nicky's father shows up at the Cody house in order to collect all of her things and yell at J for letting this happen to her. He sees just how tragic her life has gotten since he left with the family for Guam. It seems like Nicky now has a way out of this life. Her family now sees her for who she truly is. And yet, is this the end of Nicky's story? Or did the show bring back her father in order to create more chaos for the Cody family considering Baz is now dead?
  • Frankie tells Craig her backstory. She grew up largely living out of a car with her dad and mom. She has a couple of half-sisters whom she has never met because they represent a past her father was running away from. Moreover, she is somewhat psychic in being able to understand Craig in an instant simply by reading his aura. Of course, that means that something dramatic is going to happen now that he is pursuing her romantically as well.