Sunday, July 8, 2018

REVIEW: 'Claws' - Uncle Daddy and Bryce Orchestrate an Attack Against Zlata in 'Vaginalologist'

TNT's Claws - Episode 2.05 "Vaginalologist"

Desna continues to grow closer to Zlata, despite the crew's increasing concern - as her relationship with Dr. Ruval intensifies. Dean gets an opportunity to showcase his talents. Uncle Daddy gets his mojo back.

For half a season now, Desna has been kept in the dark about who Ruval truly was. The show was purposefully leaving her out of the loop regarding his ties to the Haitian mob. The show told the Dixie Mafia guys and the audience that Ruval isn't as good as Desna would want him to be. He's not so different from Roller after all. But it's still featured half a season of plot where it kept playing things in the romantic context even though there were also a bunch of scenes with Uncle Daddy or Roller getting upset that Ruval hasn't acted quickly to take Zlata out so that they can regain their businesses. It was always going to be devastating when the show finally revealed the truth to Desna. But the longer the show held that punch, the less effective it was going to be because the audience has known for this entire season. As such, the show is very smart with what it does regarding this grand reveal. The audience has known that he's shifty and can't be trusted. There is no reason why Desna should feel excited about getting engaged to Ruval. But when Desna becomes aware of this deception, it's not told through the context of figuring out that he's the head of the Haitian mob. Instead, the big reveal comes with her spying on him and Zlata celebrating their recent attack on the Dixie Mafia and tricking Desna into loving both of them. That's such a surprising moment that is effective because it takes the audience by surprise as well. Before now, an argument could still be made that Ruval genuinely cared about Desna and wanted to marry her. Sure, he was keeping a massive secret about his life from her. That lie would still have been a massive betrayal to her that would threaten to keep her in this criminal world. But there was the potential for them to still end up as a happy couple. And now, that theory is completely destroyed. The reveal of his actual relationship with Zlata means that he has been fooling Desna this entire time. He's loyal to Zlata and is making deals solely with her. As such, it signals that these are the two villains for the season who can't be trusted no matter what even though Desna has formed such close and personal bonds with them over the last few episodes.

This big reveal comes after things had been going pretty well for Desna as of late. She appreciates Zlata because she treats her as a loyal lieutenant who is allowed to speak honestly about the situation. Zlata has given Desna her support and proven herself to be very appreciative. Sure, she came with a lot of complications as well. But she managed to worm her way into earning Desna's loyalty despite killing her sister right in front of her. That has always been the sign to the rest of the girls at the salon that Zlata couldn't be trusted. If she was willing to do that to her own sister, then she would have no problem doing the same thing to one of them. They have always cautioned Desna to be careful. They don't want her to get hurt or killed because she got too close to Zlata. And yet, Desna is still enjoying the spoils of the new upper management life. She believes she is finally moving up in the world. She is able to give Dean some of what she has always promised him. She is able to support her girls. She is able to flaunt her success to the rest of the world. Plus, she has a man who loves her and she believes is completely good for her. Everyone at the club celebrates her engagement. She is so taken by surprise when Ruval simply pulls over on the beach to propose to her. It's so unexpected and Desna easily gets swept up in the moment as well. Of course, it's all a part of the long con that Ruval and Zlata are pulling on Desna. It's unclear what they are hoping to accomplish through all of this deceit or how long they have been planning it. Ruval did enter Desna's life long before Zlata did. Uncle Daddy approached the Haitian mob to help solve their Russian problem before Zlata took over the business. So, the show will need to provide answers and clarity as to how long this plan has been going between the two of them as well as the likelihood that they will be able to pull things off exactly as they hope.

All of this is brought on because Uncle Daddy is tired of waiting for Ruval to kill Zlata. Of course, it seems like Ruval has a smart business strategy for delaying the hit as well. It's clear that he's not an ally for Uncle Daddy and the Dixie Mafia. He wants to take out Zlata only after she has opened all of the clinics. That means waiting a few months for this expansion to be complete. It's smart of him to wait because he could then take over those properties. He isn't angling to kill Zlata so that the Dixie Mafia can take back what they believe is rightfully theirs. Instead, he wants to take over these businesses in the hopes of increasing his own revenue. He is just dealing with an incredibly impatient and volatile man. Uncle Daddy has always been a redneck hothead. He has never thought things through. He always wants to be the man in power. He believes he's the smartest person in the world who deserves to win the crown of this gangster life. He's so completely clueless though. He believes he's been in a funk ever since the Russians killed his wife. And yet, Juanita was never all that important to either him or the show. That's what's made it so odd that he's been obsessing over her death for so long. Sure, it's comical that her return as a ghost is enough to motivate him into action. But that should rightfully inform the viewer that he's even more dangerous and unpredictable because something is off in his head. I could see how it would be a rousing, fist-pumping moment to see Uncle Daddy get his mojo back by punching a bunch of guys in a bar. However, it's so absolutely despicable. He just seems to attack everyone there. It's not just the people who were saying offensive things to him and Toby. He is breaking bottles and shoving the glass into the bartender's face. That's absolutely horrifying and proves that he's a dangerous loose cannon who should be put down immediately.

It's also amusing that Uncle Daddy has the manpower to launch an assault on Zlata and the Russians without relying on assistance from the Haitians whatsoever. For the entire season, he has been waiting for Ruval to be ready to make this move on their common enemy. Uncle Daddy has grown impatient. All it takes is him making a few calls for him to get the backup he needs to feel confident in this assault. Sure, it's just him and Bryce leading the charge. Roller is at home caring for a sick child. That moment proves that he has evolved quite a bit this season even though he still puts a grill in his baby's mouth. That's awful. But it also shows that he has more consideration for the Russians because they are a part of his family now as well. He takes that seriously even though he was forced to marry into the family at gunpoint. Zlata has no such sympathy. She says that she values loyalty. That makes someone like Desna family to her. But the final twist proves that Zlata is only looking out for herself. She's very crafty and capable in getting others to feel special. She wants to empower other women. That's an inspiring and important message. But she's still a manipulative boss who will kill anyone who gets in her way. In fact, it's so impressive that she doesn't even duck for cover after Uncle Daddy and Bryce start shooting at her and her security detail at the club. They have come to take back what's theirs. Desna and Jenn get caught in the crossfire. But it's mostly a harrowing sequence because it shows just how much more effective Zlata is with a weapon. Uncle Daddy and Bryce are firing every which direction. They have a completely open target. And yet, Zlata still successfully takes out this threat against her. She takes them down one by one. But it hits the most personally when it comes to Bryce getting shot. That's the moment that proves that the personal stakes are very real in all of this. Desna is there to help get him to the hospital even though she doesn't condone the actions that Uncle Daddy just ordered.

It should be very fascinating to see what the fallout of all of this is going to be. It would have been easier for Zlata to just kill Uncle Daddy because he's the one orchestrating all of this dissent against her. He's the one who refuses to fall in line and do whatever she says. He has acted against her on multiple occasions now. He can't be allowed to live in this organization for much longer. And yet, it may be an ever greater punishment for his crimes to watch her kill everyone close to him. First, it was Juanita who was killed by the Russians. And now, it's Bryce. Of course, the episode leaves his fate up in the air at the moment. Uncle Daddy, Desna and Jenn are able to get him to a hospital. The trauma team is currently working on him. Next week's episode will need to provide clarity on his status immediately. The fallout of this action could go in several different directions. Bryce could die. That could elevate the tension and the stakes of this story moving into the second half of the season. It would unite everyone against Zlata and Ruval in the hopes of taking them down and regaining complete control over these businesses. Uncle Daddy and his crew have felt that passion while Desna and the girls were willing to work for Zlata. But now, that can no longer be the case. Or perhaps Bryce will live and seeing Jenn so worried by his side every day will be the thing that ultimately brings them back together. Their separation has been a huge story this year. He had just handed her divorce papers. He was ready to put an end to their marriage. They could no longer be the couple they once were. Nor could Jenn realistically say that she loves this version of Bryce. But his death would put an immediate end to this story with Jenn needing to find a way to move on while caring for their daughters by herself. Both options seem viable for the show. I think Bryce will survive only because the show has a tendency to pull away from big deaths even though it wants to tell stories with life-or-death stakes.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Vaginalologist" was written by Emily Silver and directed by Dale Stern.
  • This may be the first episode of the season that doesn't take some commonplace scene and turn it into a more playful and fantastical moment to make it special. That's odd after it has become such a touchstone for the episodes this season. And yet, the show probably thought that may take the viewer out of the grim seriousness that occurs in the final act here. Of course, it still wants things to be playful at the club as well.
  • As expected, Dr. Ken is fully cooperating with the police now. He breaks so easily. The police knew that he was the weakest link in this operations. As such, it was easy to get him to talk in order to avoid going to jail for life. But now, he's a ball of nerves because the police are expecting him to wear a wire in order to get even more incriminating evidence against his fellow criminals. That's daunting while also being strange that he's then returned to a fairly domestic story with Polly afterwards.
  • Ken is released from the interrogation room and returns home to have dinner where his mom and Polly are meeting for the first time. That's mostly a scene told from Polly's perspective though as it becomes more obvious that she wants Marnie in her life to recreate a love that she once had. She was broken by Lillian's decision to leave her. And now, Polly is chasing that love even though it's proving to be so destructive for this family unit.
  • Dean makes his grand debut on the stripper stage. At first, Desna and Virginia worry that the loud music and the crowd of people will scare him. Yes, he does run off stage in the hopes to escape this moment. But Polly is able to motivate him into taking this chance simply by being herself instead of the intimidating choreographer. Then, he goes out onstage and absolutely kills it - even though Desna is mortified to see her brother in that context.
  • However, does the show genuinely expect the audience to see a stripper performance set to "It's Raining Men" as this original idea? It is so absolutely cliche and told in such a conventional way as well. The show wants the audience to get caught up in the moment. And yet, I saw it as the proof that Polly may not be as creative an artistic director for this club as she believes she is when Zlata gave her this job. Certainly not enough to get a new car like Desna does.