“Episode Five” S1 / E5
- A- Community Grade
This week’s Hit & Miss is all about fallout; from the arrival of “nutter uncle” Liam, to Ben’s douchey questioning of Mia’s womanhood, to Riley’s desperate shooting of her landlord and baby daddy, if episode four was all about the what, then episode five is all about the what now. Picking up right where a tense, emotional moment left off can be tricky business, but this opener is successfully ballsy, with some of the best writing and cutting the show has offered to date. It begins with the image of Leonie, Ryan, and Liam frolicking in the sunlight under sweet coffee-shop folk tunes so saccharine and lovely the whole scene resembles a high end Tide commercial about grass stains and wholesome fun. Just as your eyeballs begin the ascent into a slow roll, BAM, a mirror spattered with blood, and we are abruptly transported not to one of Mia’s kills, as the show has done in intro sequences past, but to the consequences of Riley’s actions of self defense, and her inexperience in dealing out death means a much messier crime scene.
While the intercutting that follows, moving back and forth between Riley and Mia’s grisly nightmare and the other children’s near-Utopian return to simpler thoughts with the help of their naïf uncle, is pretty on the nose (what else is new when it comes to this show), it is extremely effective thanks to impeccable timing. From the visceral shock of being taken back to the scene of the shooting, to Mia’s comedic, Breaking Bad-worthy delivery of the line “fuck the police,” before cutting just as suddenly back to the cheery summer-haze playtime music, the editing is sharp and enhances the diverse range of feelings being pinged about. This time, the two younger children and even Levi and his girlfriend lie on the floor of Liam’s hovel (apparently they’re not letting him move into the giant farmhouse with all the regular folks?) while he does magic tricks for their pleasure, making beautiful butterflies appear and fly over the children like confetti. Meanwhile, Mia is performing a magic trick of her own for Riley’s benefit, making John’s body disappear, to fly out of their lives before the innocence of the others is lost. The sequence puts the two extremes the show handles so well aesthetically on prominent display, side by side: the grotesque dance of death and survival in the city, and the lyrical beauty stemming from a subjective, child-like vision of the farm.
Usually, those two poles are separated by time and place. Hot assassin in the city takes care of her dirty work, then shrugs off the ramifications as she scuttles home to play country mouse, but in this episode, her worlds collide spectacularly. Already, Mia’s kills have been getting progressively less sterile in every episode as she struggles to balance work and motherhood, but that is still not enough to prepare us for this bloodbath. The kill coming to her home turf, to her rural haven, and her involvement with the particulars of this murder (it took place in her bedroom, for fuck’s sake) mean Mia’s experience of it is far messier than hits undertaken for work, and the physical state of the room reflects that experience. This creates the suspicion that the clean kills of previous episodes may have actually simply appeared to be so because the show is far more subjective than it initially seemed, the state of each crime scene a mirror to her inner state. When she can emotionally wipe her hands of the crime easily, the clean-up is depicted as equally brief and simple, but when she cannot, we see harrowing scenes of chopped up body parts and Riley trying to scrub brain bits out of the carpet.
Mia is in many ways a great mom, comforting, warm, and attentive, and those qualities shine when she comes to the aid of a distressed Riley, but on the other hand, her broken moral compass is part of the reason Riley is in her situation in the first place. Mia is the person who insisted that murder with no legal involvement or recourse was acceptable in her house. To me, this tension justifies the slightly bizarre and much-maligned circus nightmare she has that night, in which all of her old victims, plus the members of her little family, pass around a wrapped package containing John’s head while she serves cupcakes with a smile. Yes, it’s trying a little hard, but this peek into Mia’s jumbled psyche makes the crucial suggestion that she is finally realizing how her work might affect the kids, and that straddling the line between mother and killer is not as easy as she imagined. The gradual crumbling of her tough, stoic veneer is similarly explored through the blurred-edged tunnel vision she experiences when John’s wife gives birth. Seeing the child of the man she murdered, the bed he sleeps in, affects her in a way she has never had to deal with before.
The hit-woman/mother collapse is not the only significant shift in this episode; Mia’s relationships with the two men in her life, boyfriend Ben and twisted father figure Eddie, are significantly affected as well. Eddie leaves the site where John’s body has been tossed telling Mia, “You fucking owe me. Big time.” Their connection is one of the most complicated on the show; he seems to genuinely care for her and easily accepts her trans identity, and went so far as to warn Ben not to hurt her. But every time Eddie actually becomes involved in Mia’s life, they both eventually bristle at the implications, and he pulls away in order to gain some perspective and try to go back to being business only. When you see that Eddie has brought Levi to that sketchy red-lit Chinese restaurant, the teen looking all fresh-faced farm boy in a hand knit sweater, the nature of what Eddie means to demand in exchange for his services in the John situation becomes imminently clear. Ben, meanwhile, apologizes for his harsh and insensitive words the night before, then freaks out and sleeps with some generic blonde from the bar, then apologizes again before going to the next level with Mia sexually. This guy is such a quavering dolt, it’s hard to imagine that he has the mental capacity to recognize that she is special enough to overcome the physical challenges posed by their relationship.
As per usual, there was some unfortunate detritus floating about the stronger currents of the plot; Levi tooling around with Eddie was repetitive and vague with minimal returns, for example, and if the show continues to take Riley down this hackneyed teenage-girl-with-self-mutilation-issues plotline, I may just have to self-mutilate myself in the ocular region. Overall, however, despite the frequent warnings about how this show goes right over the rails, I found this to be a smartly directed and emotionally affecting episode, and there is but one more left in the season. As the story expands to better include them, the supporting cast also get to tackle some meaty moments, however brief. One example is Karla Crome’s Riley dimly starting to realize that there is something disturbingly off about Mia’s cool nerves in the face of cold-blooded murder, or when Jorden Bennie quietly takes the hand of his former tormentor but current friend who is bereft by the loss of his father. This episode risks and succeeds, and unless episode six is the one where all those promises of irredeemable wackitude really come true, I hope Sky Atlantic and DirecTV are equally willing to take a risk by greenlighting season two already.
- We keep seeing Mia through a partially occluded doorway, or Riley over her shoulder looking in the mirror, like some kind of judgmental voyeur who has stumbled upon their crimes.
- Love the idea of Ben being utterly disgusted by finding errant extensions in his bed. He has been shunning Mia because he considers her womanhood to be compromised by her physical state, and this is a bit of a lesson about how we are constructed to a certain degree.
- This episode actually has a lot of (dry, of course) humor for such a serious premise. From the visual of Liam sitting just to the right of Riley’s shoulder in every shot like a faithful dog because Mia told him to keep an eye on her, to Levi’s delivery of “I thought you were a virgin?” to his prego sister, to Mia standing in front of the mirror with a fake pregnant belly over cute little shorts, holding up a gun in each hand. Beats the Pinocchio metaphor any day.