Terriers: “Fustercluck”
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Terriers: “Fustercluck”

Years ago, Mickey Gazny owned a house in Pescadero with a lemon tree in the backyard, but then he got bit by the bottle, lost his house and his family, and drifted in and out of jail. Before he died, Mickey had been reduced to working nightshift security at a construction site for a ritzy new resort, The Montague. There he saw something he shouldn’t have, involving men in hazmat suits. Mickey got fired, and not too much later wound up dead, injected with a fatal dose of heroin. When the police assembled Mickey’s personal effects, they all fit in one small, dusty cardboard box.

This week’s Terriers returns in force to the story that began back in the show’s first episode, when Hank agreed to help the still-living Mickey find his daughter Eleanor, and subsequently crossed the path of Robert Lindus, a rich, powerful real estate developer whom Hank and Britt framed for murder. (It was a murder that Lindus was involved with, sure, but still… that was some cold-blooded shit from Hank and Britt.) “Fustercluck” opens with Lindus’ wife Josephine finding our heroes in their favorite diner and offering them a thousand dollars to go meet with Lindus in prison to discuss a job. Britt’s insulted—“I wouldn’t shit in this dude’s mouth for a thousand,” he grumbles—but Hank’s been feeling blue and thinks that seeing Robert Lindus behind bars would cheer him up. And even Britt has to admit that it’s fun to see Lindus suffer. When they walk into the visitors’ room to meet Lindus, Britt grins and says, “You know what I was smelling? Freedom.”

At the prison, Lindus insists once again that he had nothing to do with Mickey’s death, and that while he was a player in the murder he’s been charged with, he wasn’t the only one. Even more powerful people are aligned against Lindus, he swears. They’ve planted physical evidence at the crime scene, and have forced his attorney to quit the case. Worse, his assets have been frozen and his offices sealed off. So Lindus has a proposition for Hank and Britt. He wants them to steal a quarter of a million dollars from him.

Last week I was praising Terriers for its unpredictability, saying that’s what sets it apart from just about every other show airing right now, outside of maybe Mad Men and Sons Of Anarchy. This week’s Terriers was another case-in-point. It starts with a light, larky tone, then segues into a nifty little heist sequence, before ending with a string of accidents and bad choices as nerve-wracking as a Breaking Bad episode. This is a defining characteristic of cable TV’s best dramas, like Terriers and Mad Men and Breaking Bad and SoA and The Shield: their writers aren’t afraid to risk burning the entire premise of their shows, by putting their characters in exactly the circumstances that they’ve been trying to avoid. 

And like its top cable contemporaries, Terriers grounds its crazy plot twists in the strengths, flaws and moral codes of its characters. In “Fustercluck,” for example, just about every move Hank makes in the episode can be traced back to that pathetic box containing Mickey’s entire life. What does Hank have that’s so different, really? He can’t sleep. He’s burned bridges with just about everybody who used to be his friend. He just overpaid so that he can live in the house where his marriage fell apart—a house that’s also occupied by a mysterious stranger.

Well, not a stranger, exactly. This week we found out the identity of The Attic-Dweller: It’s Hank’s sister Stephanie, a mentally unbalanced genius who graduated summa cum laude from M.I.T. but has lately been living in various institutions. Now she’s off her meds and she’s been following Hank around from place to place, eating his food and rearranging his stuff and just generally leading Hank to believe that he’s becoming as unhinged as his sis. Stephanie is amusingly literal-minded (evidence that she might be on the autistic spectrum), but she’s also a danger to herself, such that when Hank and Britt head out to commit Lindus’ self-heist, they need Britt’s girlfriend Katie to stay with her.

So understandably, Hank’s a little distracted when it’s time to do the deed. But what I love about Terriers is the way it leavens all this heavy material—the mentally ill sister, the depressed detective—with snappy dialogue. When Britt leaves the foggy Hank so that he start putting their plan into action, he asks Hank if he’ll come visit him in prison. Hank’s reply? “Conjugal visits, yeah.” Then comes that aforementioned clever bit of capering. Here’s the setup: There’s a safe in one of Lindus’ locked-up offices, containing enough money for Lindus to pay his bail, and to pay Hank and Britt a hundred grand. In addition, Lindus will give Hank the name of the man who killed Mickey Gazny. The plan: Hank will distract the security guard while Britt changes the phone number for the alarm company; then Britt will trigger the alarm and Hank will come in as “the alarm company guy” and raid the safe while he’s “fixing” the problem.

The duo’s timing is a little off—they alert the cops by accident, and they notice that they’re being watched by a black SUV—but they do complete the job, emerging with an envelope full of bearer bonds and a key. They could’ve just called an end to everything right there; just counted their money and relaxed until their next job came walking through the door. But Hank gets pissed whenJosephine Lindus gives them the name of the drug dealer who supplied the drugs in Mickey’s death, not “the guy behind the guy,” and so he and Britt tail Lindus after he makes bail, and when they see that Lindus is heading to a private airfield where a small plane is waiting, they get even more pissed.

And here’s where “Fustercluck” turns Breaking Bad-y. Hank and Britt come roaring onto the airfield, dangling the key that they swiped from Lindus’ safe, and demanding that the would-be-bail-jumper come with them to open the safety deposit box that matches said key. There they find a document related to The Montague—a document that puts Lindus’ life in danger. Lindus promptly distracts the P.I.s for a second and takes off running. Very comical. Then he gets hit by a car. Very shocking. Then he stumbles into Hank’s house, saying, “I’m going to take a nittle lap.” Pretty funny. And then he just dies. He up and dies.

Before we at home have time to cut loose with a proper, “Holy shit,” Hank’s ex-partner Detective Gustafson knocks on the door, following up on a tip from Josephine Lindus that Hank and Britt had kidnapped her husband. Hank and Britt and Steph are able to keep Gustafson at bay, mainly by quickly burying Lindus’ body in the remnants of Hank’s recent move into the house. Still... just a short time earlier, Hank and Britt were home free, rich and untroubled. Now, at the end of “Fustercluck,” they’re in about as tight a corner as they’ve ever been in. 

There’s so much to like about this episode. I liked Gustafson’s parting comment to Hank that “if you want me to I can leave a uni” to look after Steph. (Even as he’s trying to bust Hank, he’s looking out for his old friend.) I liked the way Britt tries to tell Hank a joke while the two of them are sneaking onto the Montague site to do a little reconnaissance. (And I liked Hank’s failure to catch the punch-line, and him telling Britt, “I always miss the funny part with you.”) But I especially liked the small details about what all these people have to call their own, and how easy it might be for them to lose it. Stephanie is a  brilliant woman who’s as helpless as a child when she doesn’t take her pills. Josephine Lindus is a millionaire’s wife living in a mansion with no electricity because she can’t access his accounts. Robert Lindus gets out of jail and promptly becomes a dude in a box—a literal version of Mickey Gazny’s personal effects.

Then there’s Hank, whose grudges and pride and fear drives him to screw with a good thing whenever and wherever possible.  “Curiosity killed the cat,” warns Britt. And Hank, perhaps in a moment of puckish self-awareness, replies, “Yeah, but I hear the cat had that shit comin’ to him.”

Grade: A

Stray observations:

-Hey, it’s Ossifer Dolworth!

-“Breakfast is one of the top five most important meals of the day.”

-Raccoons… not tidy.

-George Wallace… still dead.

-“Robbing a building, man. Need prep-time.”

-The security guard at Lindus’ old office building spends his evening watching kung-fu movies.

-“We’re rich now. Kinda sorta. I can finally buy a decent waffle-maker.”

Filed Under: TV, Terriers

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