A-

Terriers: "Hail Mary"

Tying up the loose ends has never been my favorite part of any mystery story. Once we know whodunnit and it all comes down to good guys and bad guys pointing guns at each other, my interest tends to wane. If nothing else, the Terriers season one finale “Hail Mary” succeeds at doing more with the resolution of its season-long master-plot than just crossing all the Ts. It’s not a perfect send-off. Some of the machinations required to keep our heroes out of jail and on the case stuck me as a little implausible, and while I don’t have a problem with the 11th-hour introduction of a previously unseen villain—if only because I think his existence suits what this show has been about—I felt like the big showdown between Hank and the mysterious Tom Cutshaw was too rushed and squandered both the magnificent Neal McDonough and some crackling Griffin brothers dialogue. But then came the epilogue, which was so, so satisfying. Almost painfully so.

Plot-wise, “Hail Mary” does a good job of keeping the various balls in the air for as long as possible. The episode picks up a day or two after “Quid Pro Quo,” with Gretchen still grieving over Jason, investigative blogger (and possible murder witness) Laura Ross still missing, Hank still preparing to kill Ben Zeitlin, and Britt still facing jail-time for beating up Gavin, the vet student he wrongly assumed had slept with Katie. When Britt goes to his hearing, he gets a two-year sentence, of which he’ll most likely serve no more than one. His lawyer Maggie warns him not to try and run—“They may lose track of you for a while, but they will not forget you,” she says—but Britt still goes to Katie, tells her her still loves her, and asks if she’ll be a fugitive with him. She tells him that she still loves him too, but … “I saw Gavin,” Katie says. And she’s not sure she can trust a man capable of that kind of savagery.

The question of whether a person should be judged by what they’re capable of is one that’s been woven through this whole season of Terriers. Hank Dolworth, our main hero, is a master of snap judgments and is frequently wrong—which is ironic, given that he’s a recovering alcoholic who’s constantly trying to convince his old friends and partners that he’s changed. But a major part of Hank’s identity—and maybe what helps keep him away from the bottle—comes from seeing himself as an underdog who champions underdogs, even if it means developing a kind of tunnel-vision when it comes to the rich assholes who stand in his way. It’s that narrow focus that makes Hank clumsy at surveillance, because he tends to think of himself as beneath the notice of the people he’s watching. And it makes him bad at recognizing surveillance too. “Hail Mary” opens with Hank calling in his techno-nerds to sweep out the bugs that have been planted all over his apartment and truck by Zeitlin’s goons. And then later, when Hank’s on his way to the marina to kill Zeitlin, his old pal Mark Gustafson plants himself behind Hank and calls him off. “Man, you can’t spot a tail for shit,” Mark chuckles.

Gustafson lets Hank know that Laura Ross is alive and has posted a column laying out most of the details of Zeitlin’s big land-grab and airport-building scheme, using as a source for the soil sample fraud data an MIT scientist that Hank recognizes as his sister Steph. Hank goes to visit Steph at her upscale sanatorium and discovers that Laura is hiding out there, having checked herself in as a voluntary patient. Laura reveals to Hank what she’s found out since last they spoke, including a pamphlet for a Mexican children’s hospital that her secret source passed along. Around the same time, a depressed Britt goes to see Ashley, his source in the Zeitlin organization, and finds out that she once drove her boss to a meeting at the marina district, attended by Robert Lindus and “some young female assistant.” But just when our heroes are zeroing in on Mexico and Eleanor Gazny as the key to usurping Zeitlin’s plan … Hank gets arrested for Jason’s murder.

Having Hank get pinched was a nice twist for a show that’s dropped more than few good twists over its run. It’s also a twist rooted in what’s gone on all season. Zeitlin has a couple of illegal aliens take the heat for Jason’s murder, and the aliens finger Hank, saying that he hired them. All the evidence actually points to Hank, too. He’d been stalking Jason, and using his credit card, and digging up dirt about his involvement with a daycare sex-abuse scandal. (And, let’s face it, in a roundabout way, Hank is responsible for Jason’s murder, since he wouldn’t have been in that liquor store if not for Hank.) All that’s left is for Hank to end up in lock-up with the aliens, who undoubtedly have been hired by Zeitlin to shank Hank. 

But then comes the next twist: Gustafson calls in favors from his guys in uniform, and they let Hank escape during his transport. Now Hank only has a few hours to speed down to Mexico with Laura and Britt and find out what Eleanor Gazny knows—which, as it happens, is not much, though it is significant. Eleanor says that her dad Mickey was a drinking buddy with the rich dude in the children’s hospital pamphlet that Laura’s carrying. She adds that Mickey had acquired some valuable information, which he likely left in his army jacket, which is sitting inside Hank’s house—which is currently being watched by cops, since our heroes’ few hours of head start is pretty much up.

Back in Ocean Beach, Hank and Britt pull off a nifty bit of subterfuge to get Hank past the police and into his house, where he finds the contents of Mickey’s jacket, just as Zeilin’s goon Mr. Burke steps behind him, cocks his pistol, and asks what he’s holding. Hank says, “Photographs. I was going to say of whom, but then some peckerwood pulled a gun on me.” Then he makes a move on Burke and chokes him to death. The next morning, Hank and Britt corner Zeitlin on his bad-ass yacht and hold a gun on him. When Zeitlin says he’s sure Hank won’t shoot, Hank says, “Maybe. Maybe not. This is a work in progress.” Then after Britt knocks Zeitlin around a little, the crooked lawyer comes clean and says that he’s not responsible for everything that’s gone down in Ocean Beach over the past couple of months because he’s not The Big Boss. “I give orders because I follow orders,” he says.

Enter Tom Cutshaw (played by Neal McDonough), Mickey Gazny’s old drinking buddy and the man behind the San Diego airport land-grab that threatens to pave over Ocean Beach. Ordinarily, I’d say it’s a cheat to pin a season-long mystery on a guy we’d never seen before, but then Terriers has never been a “mystery show” per se, at least not in the sense that the writers drop clues and expect us to pick them up. If anything, the way this season has played out fits more with a story about scrappy little nothings and the powerful men they annoy. First, Hank and Britt frame Robert Lindus, only to learn that Lindus was just a pawn in a game orchestrated by Ben Zeitlin. Then they learn that Zeitlin was just doing what Tom Cutshaw was asking him to do. There’s always a guy above the guy—or at least that’s how it looks to the people at the very bottom of the ladder.

As for Cutshaw, when Zeitlin leads Hank and Britt to the fancy seaside restaurant where The Actual Big Boss is dining, Cutshaw brings them all out to the balcony where he claims to know nothing about the murders committed in his name, which prompts Hank to say that he’s “either lying or spectacularly ignorant.” My personal opinion? He’s both. When Cutshaw explains his understanding of the way things get done in the world by saying, “If the water comes out when I turn on the tap, it doesn’t happen magically,” I honestly believe that he believes he’s done nothing worse than hire people to make sure his plumbing works the way he wants it to. Yes, he knows he’s cutting corners and skirting ethics—when Hank asks him why he didn’t ask if the people wanted an airport, Cutshaw shrugs, “They might say no”—but he’s insulated himself from the particulars, so he sleeps fine at night.

Then again, there is the matter of those pictures that Hank received from the late Mickey Gazny: pictures of Cutshaw on a bender south of the border, doing things he’d rather his wife and family never found out about. Cutshaw may not have had any direct hand in the murders that have facilitated his airport project, but chances are, he had Mickey killed. And because of that, he’s going to have to build his airport somewhere else, or risk Hank exposing him for what he is. As Cutshaw puts it, in a line that sums up what so many characters on Terriers are going through: “I work very hard to be a decent man. Sometimes, something inside me works a little harder.”

“Hail Mary” wraps up sweetly, with Gustafson back on the job, and Hank taking down his real-estate map and putting up a photo of Cutshaw. (As he explains to Laura, “I never said I wouldn’t come after him for something else.”) Hank also has a touching moment of apology/forgiveness with Gretchen, whom he offers to sell the house back to. She declines, saying, “Find a good owner. Someone who’s … hopeful.”

But as I said a few weeks ago, I think Terriers has been a kind of love story, about two best friends who need each other, even though they try each other’s patience sometimes. And so the sweetest moments in “Hail Mary” involve Hank and Britt. The episode opens with Hank suggesting to Britt that they “grab our fishing poles, drive down to San Felipe, and then throw away our fishing poles.” (“We’ll be Mexicans for the rest of our lives,” Britt says, weighing the idea.) And it ends with Hank making the offer again as he’s driving Britt to his date with prison. (“We’d have to sleep late, take naps in the afternoon. We’d get used to that, though,” Britt says, weighing the idea some more.) We never find out what Britt decides before the credits roll. The season ends with Hank asking again if they should go straight or turn left. Prison or The Lam?

I don’t really consider that a cliffhanger, because for one thing, I fully expect Britt to choose prison. He’s got a kid on the way, and he too is working very hard to be a decent man, as is Hank. Anyway, the real happy ending here is that Hank and Britt are together again, no matter what happens next. There’s a moment about halfway through “Hail Mary” when Britt notes that there’s an APB out on Hank and Hank cracks a smile and says, “You say there’s a PB&J out on me?” Both of them grin at each other like idiots—like they used to in the early episodes of Terriers, when they’d crack cases together and banter. A little bit later, Britt will walk into Hank’s house and find that his partner has killed a very bad man, and he’ll say what fans of this show have been saying since about halfway through this season,  and what we’ll keep saying until we get the final word on Terriers’ fate.

“We gotta stop splittin’ up.”

Stray observations:

  • “You know the best thing they say about prison? Ladies drink free.”
  • Did the conclusion of this episode remind anyone else of the movie 25th Hour? Intentional homage, rip-off, or coincidence?
  • Also, the fast-paced balcony face off with Cutshaw reminded me of the moment in Point Blank when Lee Marvin finally tracks down and ambushes Caroll O’Connor.
  • Another of Terriers’ many wonderfully observed character moments in the first scene between Katie and Britt, where she picks some crud off his suit and feels awkward and uncertain while doing so.
  • Also some very nice moments between Hank and Gretchen, as he tries to take responsibility for robbing her of her second husband without letting on why he’s responsible.
  • Did you know that you can detect whether there’s a listening device in your Ocean Beach house by tuning to 91.6 and listening to classical music? If the violas are distorted, there’s a bug there, my friend.
  • Hank to Mark as he comes upon his old partner doing some fix-it around his house: “Y’know, Hitler was a painter.” Mark’s reply: “And Jesus was a carpenter, but you don’t hear me bragging about it.”
  • Very funny scene of Steph giving Hank a tour of her sanatorium and explaining everyone’s ailment, until Hank looks at one loon and asks, “What’s this guy’s problem?” Steph: “He’s a doctor.”
  • I don’t know if there was a scene missing on my screener or if it was just never explained in the episode, but after Britt led the cops away from Hank’s house and was pulled over, how did he get back to the house without the cops following him there?
  • Britt’s going to punch you in the face every time you don’t answer him. And sometimes even if you do.
  • Britt takes in the view from the balcony at the restaurant where Cutshaw is eating and says he could probably see Mexico from where he’s standing. “You could,” Cutshaw says, “If it were that way.”
  • I watched this episode last night, and all day today I’ve been remembering all the little moments and character beats, and thinking about Laura and Steph and the techo-nerds and Gustafson and all the minor characters that have helped populate this world of Ocean Beach. If this is the last I’ll see of them, I’m not going to lie … it’ll hurt.
Filed Under: TV, Terriers

More TV Club