Wait, Vic is married?
One of the easiest ways to get an audience invested in the outcome of a murder mystery is to make the victim a saint. It’s a cliche, really: give the corpse a loving family, a stellar job record, and an endearing nickname, and suddenly the identity of the killer becomes more than just an intriguing puzzle. It’s a moral imperative. But the thing is, if we’re going to buy into the fictional world of the story, finding the killer is always a moral imperative, even if the victim was a creep—like tonight’s bear-baiting victim, Ed Crawley, an ex-con meth-head and murderer whose corpse is found in the woods at the start of the episode, torn to bits. Nobody misses Ed once he’s gone, except maybe his sister, and even she’d be better off without him. His brother-in-law doesn’t trust him, and the parents of the girl he stabbed to death don’t exactly sing his praises when Walt goes to visit. Ed’s shuffle off this mortal coil might have been the best thing he did in his miserable stupid life, but that doesn’t mean Walt can just call the case closed and move on. For one, there’s a man-killing bear out in the woods; for another, the evidence strongly indicates that the bear didn’t act alone. Law and order doesn’t just apply to the people we like.
“The Worst Kind Of Hunter” suffered from some of the flaws that have become a recurring feature of the series: it’s heavy-handed at times, the baroque mysteries don’t always fit the the laconic tone, and Walt’s difficulties with Inconvenient Flashback Syndrome continue to be awkward and more than a little forced. (Tonight, he’s so overcome by the past that he fumbles a meth-lab bust.) That last bit is the most frustrating, because it’s so obviously a plotline the show is trying to push that isn’t working at all. Yes, I’m curious as to the exact details of what really happened. After tonight’s episode, it’s pretty clear that Walt went after some guys on a revenge kick, and that this might come back to bite him in the ass come election time. That could be interesting, but now the way it’s been handled so far, with the kind of phony, trumped him dramatics that fail to provide us with either enough detail to care, or enough emotional connection to get invested. A Walt who drinks too much and has a troubled past? That’s cool. But I don’t need a weekly dose of bland PTSD to sell his woes. It’s poor writing, trying to use a flashy effect to tease out information which should have been given to us straight off.
That complaint aside, this wasn’t a bad hour. It wasn’t great, and given how much Vic brings to the show I was disappointed to have her sidelined for most of the second half, but the case was twisty enough to stay interesting, and Peter Weller was a fun guest star. (Weller also directed, and did a decent job, apart from at least one really misguided editing choice: the cut at the end from Walt at Blackburn’s place to Walt letting the bear go was confusing in the worst way.) Weller plays Lucian, Branch’s crusty uncle, and the actor brings a dry contempt to the familiar role of “cranky old fart,” shooting up his retirement home when he gets bored and spending most of the episode in the sheriff’s office bitching about how everyone is mishandling the case. He’s fun, and he also does a fine job poking a few holes in the show’s ongoing attempts to eulogize the Gary Cooper type. (At one point, Vic even tells Walt “You’re different because you’re a man.”) Walt asks Lucian, a former sheriff, how he would’ve handled a suspect who didn’t talk back in his day, and Lucian says they would’ve beat the information out of the guy. We can’t do that anymore, Walt says ruefully, but before this can turn into a “Gosh, civil liberties really take all the fun out of police-work” moment, Lucian tells him, in effect, to stop whining and do his damn job.
The reveal of the mastermind behind Ed’s mauling serves the same purpose, albeit in a subtler fashion. Earlier in the episode, Walt sits down with Dan Blackburn, the former warden at the prison where Crawley did his time, and they talk about how everything’s going to hell and that young people are pushing out old people and it’s all money these days, etc. Some of this is undoubtedly true, but it’s too easy if this viewpoint is presented as the only one. Unless its presented from a surprising angle or with a singular passion, mono-perspective storytelling is basically inert, which is why it’s more interesting when it turns out that Blackburn was responsible for Ed’s death. He had the best of reasons—revenge, both for the girl Ed stabbed and the guard the con killed in prison—but that doesn’t make what he did right. Law and order may have its limits for individuals—Ed’s incarceration certainly didn’t make the dead girl’s parents feel much better—but that’s why men like Walt are necessary. They stand outside and do the job that needs doing without letting emotions get involved. Except, apparently, there was that one time Walt failed to keep up his part of the bargain, and it would be really nice if the series would let us know exactly how that went down; it sounds like it would make for some really interesting drama, if we just got a chance to see it for ourselves.
- Again, Vic is married? I like this a lot, honestly; it doesn’t contradict anything we’ve seen so far, and it provides us with backstory when the narrative needs it, and not just as part of some info-dump. Well, “need” is stretching the point, I guess, since I don’t think the episode would’ve fallen apart if the Great White Hunter Omar hadn’t decided to hit on Vic. And it’s just weird having her resent her husband because he’s not a “man,” and not because of the really obvious reason that constantly moving around is a shitty thing to do to your spouse. But hey, at least we know why she left Philadelphia.
- Another point in the episode’s favor: Omar and Peter Brooks, the scientist who tags and monitors the bears in the area, aren’t bad guys. Omar’s a creep and Peter’s a granola hippie nut, but neither of them had anything to do with Ed’s death. And Walt seems to like Peter, which makes me like both men more.
- The casual way Walt visits Blackburn did a decent job to hide the fact that he falls into the “recognizable guest star with no clear reason to be the killer and is therefore the killer” trope.