Last night I checked out the first episode of CBS’ Hawaii Five-0 revamp, a show I really wanted to like. I dig cop shows in exotic locales; and I dig pretty much every member of that cast whose name doesn’t rhyme with Malex Mo Mofflin. But I did not dig Hawaii Five-0, because there wasn’t a single element about it that wasn’t wanly familiar: not the gunfights, not the friction between the two male leads, not the loose cannon law enforcement, and really not even the location. I may watch the show again later in the season if I get word that it’s lightened up or become more original, but for now I can think of no good reason to tune in.
Now Terriers, on the other hand… well, let me just say this: After my H50 experience, I popped in my screener for tonight’s third Terriers episode, “Change Partners,” and I can honestly say that this isn’t anything I’ve seen before.
At first it’s familiar, yes. In keeping with the “every case needs a narrative justification” approach that made last week’s “Dog And Pony” such a treat, Hank stumbles into a job—once again—because of his efforts to buy back his old house from his ex-wife. Last week, Hank needed money; this week he needs a lending institution to guarantee his mortgage. But Hank’s not so good a credit risk. He “retired” from the police force a year before he was pension-eligible, and he runs his P.I. business without a license, so that he won’t have to deal with people checking up on him and digging into his records. (“Much like a mortgage company might,” suggests the man from the mortgage company.)
Just when Hank’s ready to slump out the door, defeated, the company’s vice-president Armond Foster (played by Big Love’s Shawn Doyle) comes out and offers Hank a deal. He’ll set Hank up with a mortgage if Hank will do a little gumshoe-ing for him. In particular, he wants Hank to tail his wife Miriam (played by Dollhouse’s Olivia Williams) and provide definitive proof that she’s cheating on him. So far, typical detective show stuff.
But then Hank follows Mrs. Foster and finds nothing, which angers Mr. Foster because he knows for a fact his wife slept with another man that night—because she confessed to him. So Hank follows Miriam some more, only this time she catches him, and explains the situation. She did cheat on Armond, once, at his behest, and the humiliation of it so excited him that he asked her to keep doing it. Only she can’t bring herself to, so she lies to her husband and says she’s screwing other men even when she isn’t. And that’s when Hank has his bright idea: He’ll get Britt to pose with Miriam in compromising positions, and thus keep Armond Foster happily miserable.
Like I said: this is a private detective plot that hasn’t been done a hundred times already. Even more surprising? It comes from the pen of Phoef Sutton, a veteran TV writer/producer best known for his extensive work on Cheers and Boston Legal, two shows that aren’t especially Terriers-like. And yet “Change Partners” is right in line with the first two episodes, in that it’s odd and unpredictable and clever—and thematically consistent to boot.
In particular, “Change Partners” asks the one question that seems to be haunting our heroes so far: Why stay in a shitty situation? Both guys have made major changes in their lives: Hank has kicked booze (for now at least), while Britt has put aside a shady past. But as Hank’s AA buddy noted last week, even without alcohol fueling him Hank keeps putting himself in places he shouldn’t be. (Like his ex-wife’s house, for example.) He’s driven by sentimentality and loyalty and impulse, just as we all are. Just as Miriam is. She can’t leave Armond because despite his sickness, he’s a good man. And besides, she has a sickness of her own: she’s a chronic caregiver.
Carrying the theme of change and recidivism even further, “Change Partners” delivers a huge chunk of the Britt and Hank origin story (something that, after last week’s tease, I’d assumed would be trickling out over the rest of the season). We learn that Britt used to be a full-time burglar, and that he befriended Hank after Hank caught him burgling and gave him a break. We learn also that Britt’s girlfriend Katie knows all this already. When one of Britt’s old crime buddies, Ray, holds up a bar where Britt’s drinking, he takes Britt’s wallet and tracks him down, to see if Britt’s still up for doing some crimes. When Ray realizes that he can’t use the general fact of Britt being a burglar as blackmail material—“Shit, I used to hook,” Katie jokes—he instead threatens to tell the story of how Britt happened to meet Katie in the first place.
Britt’s solution? He pretends to give in to Ray and agree to participate in a heist, but when the two meet in a dark alley at night, Britt brings a gun that Ray discovers and pulls out of Britt’s waistband. Then Britt uses that gun to fake-rob a bar where Hank is hanging out, and Hank hands that now-Ray-fingerprinted-gun over to the cops, thus busting Britt’s old pal. But Britt still feels obliged to spill the beans to Katie about what Ray would’ve told her: that he and Ray once robbed Katie’s apartment, and that Britt was so smitten by the pictures of her that he tracked her down and asked her out. Her response? She acts mad, but it’s just an act. The truth is: it turns her on.
Which brings us back to the complicated relationship of the Fosters. After Hank stages his sexy photo shoot with Britt and Mrs. Foster, all seems well, until Armond Googles Hank, and discovers a news item about Hank’s recent misadventures—complete with a picture of Britt. Luckily, in one of Miriam’s “chronic caregiver” moments, she slept with Hank and left a note in the morning, so Hank is able to give Armond what he wants after all. He shows him the note, and lets him smell his finger, and tells him that, “When she comes, she laughs like a 10 year old.” So Armond agrees to give Hank the mortgage, though he forgets to sign the last page, which means Hank has to come back to Armond’s office, just in time to see that Armond has jumped out a window and committed suicide. Hurriedly, Hank finds the suicide note, and uses it to forge Armond’s signature.
I can’t really explain why, but I like the idea of Hank being low enough to forge a newly dead man’s name, even though I was a little skeeved out by him waving his stinkfinger under the dude’s nose. (We all have our limits, I suppose.) Either way though, I liked the way “Change Partners” presented different examples of people mired deeply in problems—some psychological, some historical, some of their own making—that they can’t even conceive of escaping without doing something truly desperate.
Even the episode’s stinger keeps the theme alive. At the start of “Change Partners,” we see Britt doing what he enjoys—stealing stuff—at the behest of Hank, who asks him to lift a man’s wallet at a tuxedo shop. Turns out the man is Jason Adler, the fiancé of Hank’s ex, Gretchen. Later on, Jason and Gretchen stop by Hank’s place to ask for his help finding out who’s been putting weird charges on Jason’s credit card. While they’re talking, they hear noises in the attic, which all agree are just normal house-settling noises. But in the last shot of the episode, we see a hooded figure sneaking into the attic while Hank’s playing guitar. There’s trouble coming—and it’s right over Hank’s head.
-Britt baits Hank into admitting that he stole Jason’s wallet by pretending that he saw Jason naked in the tuxedo shop, adding that Jason’s penis is prodigious. “You could screen a movie on that thing,” he whistles.
-“Self-described” means “you’re only that thing ‘cause you say you’re that thing”
-Is it me, or do Hank and Britt make terrible stake-out/pursuit guys? They’re not exactly inconspicuous.
-Miriam complains about the automated money-taker in the parking garage, and Hank says that modern technology also made his old job obsolete. “I was a microwave oven.”
-Miriam’s oddly phrased response to the question of whether her husband is out of his gourd: “Only desultorily.” (She also quotes Norman Bates: “We all go a little mad sometimes.”)
-Great beat before the commercial break, when Miriam asks Hank how they can fool her husband and he answers, “Get laid.”
-When Britt’s pretending to be Ray and robbing the same bar again, Hank grumbles, “Even Jesus waited three days.” (Although he doesn’t finish the joke. This show trusts its viewers enough to let them fill in the punchline themselves.)
-I was preparing to write the following: “As part of Hank’s ongoing slide into dementia, he tells Britt that he found a box of CDs on a shelf that he doesn’t remember putting away.” But then I realized: The Attic-Dweller probably put the CDs away. Very sneaky, Terriers. Dropping those clues. (Did the Attic-Dweller drink Hank’s milk a couple of episodes back, too? Did the Attic-Dweller squat at Hank’s old place and then move along with him?)
-Hank throws out Britt’s pee-bottle, which complicates their stakeout considerably.
-When Gretchen calls, Hank answers his phone with, “Gretchen Dolworth and Associates.” Smart-ass.
-Was Hank really asking for “a plate of eggs and a Tab,” or did he mean “a plate of eggs and a tab,” as in a running bill at the bar? If so, that joke may have been too subtle.
-When Katie asks Britt to go outside and come back in, pretending to be a burglar, their dog barks quizzically at him. Katie’s retort fits what this episode is about perfectly: “Don’t judge me.”