Tuesday, August 21, 2018

REVIEW: 'Animal Kingdom' - J and Smurf Continue to Plot Against Each Other in 'The Hyenas'

TNT's Animal Kingdom - Episode 3.13 "The Hyenas"

J realizes the danger of balancing his role in the family with his personal ambitions. Deran wants to take his relationship with Adrian to the next level, but it's not as easy as he hoped. Frankie opens new doors for Craig. Smurf offers to give the boys the independence they've been asking for, but it doesn't come for free.

"The Hyenas" is a lackluster and anti-climatic conclusion to the season. As seemed likely from the previous episode, it's mostly just setup for conflict in the fourth season. Sure, there are big things that happen here. It's confirmed that Morgan was killed out at sea with her body floating back to shore and the show purposefully including a shot of her disfigured and disgusting body. And more importantly, Smurf hires Pete and his gang once more in order to kill Lucy. That puts a firm end to their conflict even though it seemed like both sides were going to be heading in their separate ways because they both lost people they loved in this conflict. And now, it just leaves Carlos as an orphan with no parent to look out for him because the assassins simply can't kill a child. These are the big moments of this finale. But the majority of the running time is spent on the characters slowly learning what each other have been up to. Yes, that can still be intense. It sets up such a juicy and intriguing conflict for the fourth season with J taking on Smurf. He is just like his father in believing he is smart and strong enough to take her out. She trusted his street smarts enough to leave him in charge of the business while she was in prison. And now, he has turned against her because of every impersonal decision she asked of him while she was awaiting trial. He couldn't help her any more then. In order to take her down though, he is having to become just like her. He is becoming cruel and ruthless. That makes him a much more active and interesting character. But again, it's purely set up with nothing but a lot of back and forth between the characters as they let each other know that they are coming for them. They are circling each other and formulating their next plans of attack.

Moreover, how smart is the audience suppose to think J is? For this entire season, we have been asked to see him as someone capable enough of handling all of the family businesses so that nothing seemed too suspicious as the police were looking closely at them. He succeeded in doing so. Everything kept functioning normally. Smurf's fate rested in his hands and his willingness to kill on her behalf. He wasn't willing to do that. But now, he is willing to kill Morgan in order to make her seem like the person who has stolen from Smurf. And yet, killing her at sea creates problems for J that easily lead to him being discovered by his grandmother. It may have presented an easy environment to kidnap Morgan. But there's no controlling the sea. He probably had hoped that the body would just drift away and not come ashore so quickly. But that's exactly what happened. The body is discovered which allows Smurf to know that she didn't run away with her money. She was simply taken out of her life. Her house showed a woman who was pulled from her reality instead of someone who packed as if she was never coming back. That's a huge distinction. Moreover, the holding companies J uses in order to carry out all of these transfers are named with his uncles' initials. Sure, that's enough to get Smurf to think that her sons are involved in J's actions as well. But they are completely clueless. Pope doesn't even see the pattern as Smurf lays it out for him. But most damning is him using the notary stamp that he stole from someone in his old neighborhood. That location is all it takes for Smurf to confirm that J is making moves against her.

Of course, J is able to keep a few things hidden for now. No one knows about the bowling alley or the house that he bought for Mia. Sure, that doesn't justify the moment where he's seen running the day-to-day operations for the bowling alley. He's making contact with the previous manager who speaks for the employees in being worried about them losing their jobs because the new owners want to build condos on this lot. J sets himself as the only individual they will ever be dealing with and that he doesn't plan on making any changes any time soon. This is informational but not all that exciting. Meanwhile, it's intense when Smurf shows up at the garage and meets Mia while waiting for Pete. That's enough to tip Pete off that Mia didn't break off contact with the Cody family when she was told to. She kept seeing J. And now, they are a couple. Mia finds herself having to explain her actions while being taken to a mysterious location. It seems likely that she is about to be killed. That's how Smurf plans on getting back on her grandson after his moves against her. But that's just a completely empty tease meant to lure the audience into a false assumption. Instead, she is once again called upon to carry out the hits. She continues to do Smurf's bidding. She is working with J. But the show also wants the audience to believe that that is simply a long con. An ex-lover of hers gets out of prison and immediately tracks her down. First of all, it's crazy that he can find her but no one else knows where to look. And second, it's just so completely random and wastes time from plot developments that could actually mean something to the larger conflict.

All of this is in service to that moment where Smurf is suddenly open to sharing everything with her boys only as a threat to J for coming after her. During a family dinner, she passes out the deeds to the various properties that the family owns. That means Deran, Craig and Pope get a bunch of them. Sure, it doesn't make any sense why Smurf would give Baz's house to Craig. He is just going to immediately sell it. He has no attachment to it whatsoever. That may be the reason why she does it though. Pope has an emotional attachment to it. He is breaking down incredibly right now. It's spurred on mostly because he had to let Lena go and agree to move back in with Smurf. He's back to his self-destructive pattern from before having to take on this new responsibility. He had focus this year because he needed to step up as a parent. And now, he is breaking down and becoming even more dangerous and unpredictable than ever before. Smurf is right back to teasing and encouraging these habits as well. She is telling him how she didn't want to have children until she was holding Pope in her arms. That's the moment where everything changed for her and she felt that profound love. Of course, that's mostly just an act in order to control the family. She does so by ordering an escort for Pope as well. That's so despicable. She is trying to get him in line not knowing that this essentially sends him off the deep end. The rampage he goes on as he races to Amy's house could be so destructive for him. Those actions highlight how dangerous a person he can be. Charges could easily be pressed against him with him being quickly sent back to prison. This is such an intense moment. But it's all building to the surprise of him needing to be comforted by Amy. She had broken away from this relationship and the craziness of the Cody family. And now, she's probably going to get pulled back in because Pope needs that support.

Pope returning home without a shirt or shoes and with blood on his hand also fuels the final moment of the season. No one in the family totally knows what's going on with him. Smurf makes a point in actually reaching out and trying to help him through this difficult time. She is mothering him while his brothers have their own lives that they need to get back to. As such, it's unclear what to make of that stare down between J and Pope at the end of the season. J understands that Smurf knows exactly what he has been doing. He is starting to cover up his tracks so that she can't use any of it against him. He wants to believe that he is smart even though he's acting impulsively. He needs support from Mia not knowing that she's running a job for Smurf at the moment and having sex with another guy. He still feels confident enough to sneak into Smurf's room at night and essentially threaten her by claiming he'll take away everything she has ever loved in this world. That is such an idle threat because there's no confirmation that Smurf is actually awake to hear it. It's more so a moment about J and him feeling the confidence to do this. He is then immediately confronted by Pope in the hallway. It's a silent moment. One where it's unclear which side he stands on or if he has heard anything that J just said to Smurf. Pope was willing to kill his mother just a week ago. She continues to destroy so much of his life. He may be sympathetic to what J is trying to do. He may just be pretending to be clueless in order to better form a connection with Smurf again. But that just feels too complicated to leave as a mystery heading into the hiatus. It's just easier to take things at face value. And right now, the resolution just doesn't feel all that great or rewarding after everything that happened this season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Hyenas" was written by John Wells and directed by Christopher Chulack.
  • J, Pope and Craig are all living with Smurf right now while Deran comes to her asking for money to buy a house. As such, they are all casually dependent on her again. They pushed her away and wanted nothing more to do with her. She roped them back in with the Lucy job. And now, they are once again hooked on the cash she will provide. That's how she continues to get them. That means J has his work cut out for him in turning them all against her once more.
  • It seems likely that the show has Frankie leaving town all of a sudden after Craig passes out following this latest job because the show doesn't know if Dichen Lachman will be available next season. She is a very in-demand actress who deserves to be leading her own show. And yet, the business still doesn't quite know how to best use her. This show didn't give her enough great material. But she could still return and have more importance as well.
  • Adrian being arrested as he tries smuggling something out of the country is a plot point that has been introduced too suddenly. It's a completely random story in order to introduce some conflict into his relationship with Deran. It's a big deal that Adrian attends a Cody family dinner. He is accepted there even if Smurf is just trying to seem motherly to Deran. As such, the show believes it has to throw in this little wrinkle to create drama and uncertainty.
  • It definitely feels like there is going to be a pregnancy twist with Mia at some point. Of course, there was misdirection in J not learning that she was the one who shot and killed Baz. And so, this too may ultimately mean nothing. But she is seen having sex twice here and comments on how both men finish. It's clear that she doesn't want to be pregnant but that's what makes it seem inevitable too.
  • TNT has already renewed Animal Kingdom for a fourth season. And yet, I'm already starting to wonder just how long the show intends on running. This season started with a whole lot of change with Baz dying and Smurf in jail. Things were growing more intense as the police and other outside threats were closing in on the family. But then, the season mostly ended with the status quo being restored and showing that the family is capable of surviving anything. But that runs the risk of the show becoming repetitive and formulaic. So, the future should be wise not to repeat too much of what has previously happened.