If you're counting the days until the return of Hannibal, maybe a Rake episode in which Keegan Deane defends a cannibal will fill the void. Probably not, though. While Hannibal has shown that it is possible to conduct a stylish exploration of deeply troubled characters on network television, Rake spent its first three episodes squandering whatever adventurous potential it may have had.
"Cannibal" suggests a slightly better version of the series, so it's no surprise to learn that this was the original pilot that gave Fox execs the heebie-jeebies. (Or at least part of the original pilot, as some of it was apparently re-shot after the network decided to go with a lighter tone to launch the series.) This episode also helps explain the Groundhog Day quality that has dogged the show so far, as Rake has essentially started over in the exact same place it was four episodes ago. The scene in which Keegan meets up with his friend Roy, who also happens to be his bookie's muscle, plays out almost exactly as it did in the first broadcast episode. If you missed the first three weeks, you really haven't missed anything.
If "Cannibal" had been the first broadcast episode, I'd have had a little more hope for the series. As directed by Sam Raimi, it's a more blackly comic, visually rich variation on the formula established from the start. The pre-title sequence, in which Kee listens to the football game he's bet on while Ben is delivering the eulogy for his father, is the funniest scene in the series so far even as it reveals how much Kee's character has been softened since it was originally shot. Kinnear can still make us like him even while behaving like an unapologetic bastards, and the Fox suits should have realized that and let him run with it.
Keegan's case of the week is the most satisfying to date, both because it downplays the courtroom shenanigans that have marred the earlier episodes and because it allows for both black humor and a touch of unlikely pathos. The client is the mayor's economic advisor, Dr. Graham Murray, who is accused of murdering and eating one Paul Wilson. (The Murray character was also featured in the first episode of the Australian Rake, where he was played by Hugo Weaving.) As it turns out, cannibalism isn't a crime in California (I haven't looked this up, so please don't try it at home), but murder still is, so Kee tries to get his client to plead insanity.
Murray reveals that the man he ate committed suicide and recorded a video confession to that effect, which is still on Murray's phone. It seems like an open-and-shut case, except that Murray's wife, disgusted by his actions, has destroyed the phone. Keegan manages to get the charge dismissed not through some unlikely courtroom speech, but by actually using his brain and realizing that Wilson would have sent a copy of the confession to the sister he adored. The whole scenario is outlandish and repulsive, but also a little sad at the core. It's a note Rake hasn't hit often in its short run to date.
My guess is that it won't hit that note again, but instead revert back to the form of the first three episodes as soon as next week. At least Rake did advance one of its running subplots, as Mikki the prostitute becomes Mikki the law student and, presumably, Mikkie the next Keegan Deane client. But Kee's ongoing financial troubles become harder to take seriously as time goes on, because they never seem to result in any tangible consequences. He has to keep moving from office to office and ride the bus next to a sandwich-eater, but there's no real sense that the walls are closing in on him.
In any case, it's hard to believe Fox will stick with the show much longer, barring a mysterious uptick in ratings. There's no point in pulling it as long as the Olympics are going on, but suggesting you invest in Keegan Deane's long-term prospects would be a sorry stock tip indeed.
- The C-plot involving Finn's teacher was almost subliminal, but I gather that Keegan's son took him up on the invitation to use his pad anytime for some illicit student-teacher conferencing.
- We've heard a few fleeting references to restraining-order Margaret, and it appears we'll get the whole story next week as she's behind the wheel of the car coming at Kee in the cliffhanger ending.
- "He told us it was chicken!"