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Terriers: "Asunder"

“Never play detective in your personal life.”
-Hank Dolworth

The personal and the professional collide like a sonofabitch in this week’s Terriers, a somewhat unusual outing for the series but one of its strongest. For the third episode in a row, Hank and Britt are separated for most of the hour, though they at least they’re in roughly the same location: a San Diego luxury hotel, where Hank’s ex-wife, Gretchen, is getting married. And our heroes do end the episode back together, ready to forge ahead—Hank triumphantly, and Britt with his heart and guts dangling around his shoetops.

That’s quite a turnaround for Hank too, since he begins “Asunder” wondering if he can make it through the day of Gretchen’s wedding without breaking a 543-day run of sobriety. He cleans his gutters. He listens to some Sarah Vaughn. He nurses a coffee at the diner. (“You know you’re abusing our bottomless cup policy,” the owner grumbles.) He ignores Britt’s advice to “check into a hotel, watch Love, Actually” and instead goes to an AA meeting. But ultimately, when Britt calls in a panic because he spilled red wine on a dress shirt, Hank pulls up outside the wedding to bring Britt some new clothes. Then he parks. And goes inside. And walks up to the bar and orders a Famous Grouse. A double.

Luckily, the pending disaster in Hank’s personal life is thwarted when he gets the chance to do some detectin’. Local villain Ben Zeitlin arrives at the hotel with his hired muscle Mr. Burke and takes the best suite in the place. A curious Hank rents the room right above Zeitlin and calls in his techno-nerd pals to help him bug Zeitlin’s suite by having one pose as a waiter and roll in a cart with a camera. Now, Hank’s privy to Zeitlin’s meeting with intrepid reporter Laura Ross (played by Alison Elliot, looking much older than when she starred in the infamous indie-film fiasco The Spitfire Grill). As was the case with last week’s guest journalist, Laura is a blogger (a Terriers-like profession), which means she’s beneath contempt as far as Zeitlin is concerned. But since Laura has been running some damaging stories about Zeitlin’s real estate dealings, he’s obliged to demand that she give up her sources. If not, he’ll have her mother killed and will call the cops to come take a look at the drugs he’s had planted in her car.

While all of this is going on inside, outside, Britt is failing to heed Hank’s warning about applying his detective skills to his relationship with Katie. He wants her to admit that she’s pregnant, and is noticing all the little clues, like her drinking water at the wedding instead of booze. He provides a running commentary on the opulence of their surroundings and talks about he doesn’t want “any waste” at their wedding, because he prefers directness, honesty, intimacy. Finally, Britt does what Britt does and just asks Katie if she’s knocked up. She denies it and even drinks some wine to prove it. But then she vomits and the jig is up.

Worse, when Britt demands to know why she lied, she whispers the answer in his ear and he crumples. Then she turns it back on him, saying that Britt’s jokes about Gretchen’s wedding are proof that he was never really ready to settle down anyway. Britt reacts badly (but understandably), saying that he’s coming by to get his stuff and then, “I never want to see you again.”

“Asunder” isn’t strictly a “bottle episode,” since it features a half-dozen or more locations, but it follows the basic structure and philosophy of a bottle show: The main action is limited to just a few spaces, which means the writers are challenged to find a way to use those spaces to tell a strong story, with all the proper twists and tension. Terriers creator Ted Griffin and his brother Nicholas (who previously worked together on the very good Matchstick Men) don’t completely ace the test. “Asunder” relies on a few contrivances to keep it moving and all in one place, most creakily in the scenes involving Zeitlin. It’s a wee bit improbable (just a wee bit, mind you) that Mr. Burke would do a thorough sweep of the suite for bugs and then just let some room service guy in. It also seems imprudent to threaten an investigative journalist so aggressively, unless you’re planning to kill her immediately. (Granted, that probably was Zeitlin and Burke’s endgame for Laura, but as presented, their plan came off as too scattershot and sloppy for a couple of criminal masterminds.)

But I’ll forgive those lapses, partly because this is Terriers, where no character is perfect, not even the supervillains. And also because you have to buy the premise to buy the bit, and damnit, the bit works. It’s gripping to watch Hank try to sneak messages to Laura (via text, or by whispering to her from the balcony above) and to see him and his geek squad try to track down the tidbits of info Laura is parceling out before Burke and Zeitlin can.

More importantly, the Griffin brothers make good use of Hank and Britt’s personal crises to ratchet up the tension. I waited nervously to see if Hank would take a drink, or if his investigation would force him to crash Gretchen’s wedding. (The closest he comes is when he sneaks Laura away from the hotel by putting her in the front seat of the newlyweds’ departing limo.) And I felt a sense of creeping dread, knowing that Britt was bound to find out more than he wanted to know about his fiancée by the end of the hour.

Making matters worse, Britt is at his most endearing for the first half of “Asunder.” When the diner proprietor sees him sitting down at Hank’s table, he begs, “Britt, tell me you’re eating,” and Britt mock-indignantly says, “I would never eat here!” When he walks into the wedding with Katie, he whistles, “This is nicer than the other thing, and the other thing was really nice.” (And then, seeing what he’s looking for, Britt shouts, “Oh, barbarbarbar!”) And when Hank pulls up to hand Britt a clean shirt and asks what it’s like inside, Britt thoughtfully shrugs, “Chairs, flowers, people.”

The most Britt expected out of the day was that Katie would finally confess to being pregnant, so that they could move ahead together as parents-to-be. Instead, he ended the day a single man, devastated. Like I said, the episode ends with Hank and Britt heading off to begin the fight to bring Zeitlin down, with Hank so cocky that when Mr. Burke socks him, Hank smirks, “I hit you harder.” Britt’s distraught, saying that he’s never needed a drink so badly in his life. And Hank’s energized, saying the words no bride or groom wants to hear: “I don’t.”

Grade: A-

Stray observations:

  • A nice look to this episode, which opens with leaves falling, then cuts to a cool shot of Hank crossing his lawn with the ocean in the background. 
  • Another cool shot: Gretchen’s wedding cake rolling by, unremarked-upon, as Britt comes inside to answer Hank’s call.
  • The scene that follows is pretty great, too, as Britt refuses to help with Hank’s investigation and Hank gives him one of the most intense, “Well, I have to do this” looks I’ve ever seen from him. Donal Logue, ladies and gentlemen.
  • “Tell that to Bobby Kennedy. … That’s too soon?”
  • “There’s a name for guys who punch and run.” “Independent contractor.”

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