As exciting as it was to see Terriers punch the accelerator on its season arc last week, part of me wondered whether the writers were moving too fast. This week, when Detective Gustafson let Hank and Britt leave police custody to help him with the biggest case of his career—sending them out with the classic admonition, “You have 24 hours!”—it looked for a while like “Manifest Destiny” was going to wrap up the story from the series’ first episode, and perhaps give way into another multi-episode story, or an end to longer arcs altogether. (The fact that FX sent out Terriers’ first five episodes to critics in one package and the next four in a later package made that possibility seem even more likely.) But then, about halfway through “Manifest Desitiny,” Hank told Britt that he was done with this Lindus case for good and was ready to “let sleeping dogs lie.” From that point on, I relaxed. Because I know these kinds of stories work. When someone says they’re out? They’re bound to get pulled back in.
Waiting to see how Hank would get pulled back in added an layer of tension to an episode that was a fraction less grabby than the previous four Terriers. “Manifest Destiny” was every bit as clever and funny as what we’ve seen so far—with a little stylistic flourish provided by director Rian Johnson—but with no new case for our heroes to investigate, there was more of a businesslike feel to the episode. Dice to roll. Cards to play. Pieces to move.
Specifically, Hank and Britt need to figure out how to dispose of Robert Lindus’ body, rapidly stiffening back at Hank’s house and put on ice by Hank’s handy-with-an-icepick sister Steph. They also need to track the identity of “the dude in the tan suit with the big chunky glasses,” who’s responsible for the death of Mickey Gazny (and who’s looking for the missing Montague soil report that Hank grabbed from Lindus before Lindus got smacked by a car).
First up: corpse-removal. Britt steals a car from Lindus’ house, then he and Hank prop Lindus up behind the wheel, decide what radio station he’d be listening to (they settle on smooth jazz), and switch on the cruise control to send the car tumbling down a ravine. It’s a decidedly unspectacular wreck. No noisy crunch of metal and no explosion; just the soft whisper of tires through grass and a dull thud. I loved the matter-of-factness of the crash, and Britt’s disappointment. It’s in keeping with the plausible shagginess of Hank and Britt’s whole operation: the way they feed Mrs. Lindus the very unconvincing lie that their husband hired them to pretend to kidnap him; the way they use Lindus’ frozen credit cards to create a fake trail for him (and to draw out his pursuers); and the way they accidentally take a call on Lindus’ car-phone while they’re trying to wreck it.
As for Tan Suit w/Chunky Glasses, it turns out his name is Mr. Burke, and as Hank finds out when he tails him to a downtown office building, Burke’s been hired by the law firm of Zeitland & Associates to do a little investigating and track-covering related to The Montague resort and its shaky soil samples. Hank clumsily tries to gather some info on Burke and Zeitland, but is surprised when Mr. Zeitland walks out to greet him, and invites him into the office to talk. Here, Hank makes a bold play. He tells Zeitland everything he knows about Lindus and The Montague—up to a point. He doesn’t give up Lindus’ corpse, and he doesn’t give over the soil report. Zeitland responds to Hank’s cockiness by showing him the results of Burke’s investigations: pictures of Hank and Britt robbing Lindus’ office, photos of Hank’s ex-wife Gretchen and Britt’s girlfriend Katie, and so on. The message is clear: Play ball or you and everyone you love will pay the price. Hank sends back a message of his own, by telling Burke a story about a mugger he knew once who tried to rob a woman leaving a kickboxing class. The point: Why would you try to rip off somebody with martial arts training and no handy wallet? And to punctuate that moral, Hank socks Burke in the face.
Meanwhile, throughout the episode, Hank and Britt try to get in touch with their lawyer Maggie, but Zeitland gets to tell Hank the good news: she just that morning gave birth. So Hank and Britt rush over to the hospital and explain the trouble they’re in (but again, only up to a point). When Maggie hears that Zeitland’s involved, she advises Hank to turn over the soil report, take a vacation, “and then quite possibly never come back.” The problem? Gretchen and her architect fiancé Jason have looked over the soil report and say that it reveals a dangerous level of carcinogens on the grounds where The Montague is due to be built. If Hank stays silent, people could die.
The solution? Hank and Britt decide to expedite the discovery of Lindus’ body, after they plant the soil report on him. (As Britt scampers down the hill, Hank says, “Do you know this reminds me of? The time we had to climb down the ravine to the car we crashed with the dead guy inside.”) Hank does a terrible impression of a stoner on a pay-phone, tipping the cops off to where they can find Lindus’ car and corpse and evidence of wrongdoing. Afterward, Britt says, “You’ve never been stoned in your life, have you?” and Hank replies, “Looking at me, you’d think yes” (with one of those great Terriers Donal Logue line-readings that I can’t do justice to in print).
As I mentioned above, “Manifest Destiny” suffers some from being a door-closer kind of episode, drawing some plot points to an endpoint (of sorts). But moments like Hank’s “you’d think yes” or Britt muttering “giftgiftgiftgift” as they enter the hospital to visit Maggie more than make up for the absence of a nifty “Dog & Pony” or “Change Partners” kind of case. I also like the way that Terriers’ writers, directors and cast continue to balance the snappy dialogue and wild plot twists with small human reactions to the craziness, like Hank being genuinely touched at Gustafson’s gratitude for the way the Lindus case wrapped up, or Britt looking ashamed when Hank lied in front of Lindus’ young son about their involvement in his abduction. Also, I don’t know if I was just more attuned to this because I like Rian Johnson’s films Brick and The Brothers Bloom (as well as his episode of Breaking Bad, “Fly”), but “Manifest Destiny” seemed especially well-shot, with clever little visual touches like the reflections of high-rises behind Hank in the Z&A offices, and the shot of Stephanie disappearing into the attic via the top of the frame.
Best of all, by the end of the episode it was obvious that the Lindus/Zeitland/Montague story is far from over. After Hank collects Stephanie from Gretchen and Jason’s house, where he’d stowed her for safety, he asks whether she’s sad to be leaving such a ritzy home with so many appliances to take apart and rebuild, and Stephanie shrugs, “Everything’s fixed now.” Then she tells Hank that she read the soil report herself and that Jason and Gretchen are wrong: the numbers and chemical combinations are so skewed that they have to be staged. Somebody wants people to think that the Montague property is toxic, and has been dumping chemicals there to fool everyone.
And so the case continues. Because that’s another truth about stories like these: When a character says that everything’s fixed, you can be certain that something’s about to break.
-Hank’s question about Gretchen and Jason’s new house: “Is it designed to live in or just for perfume ads?”
-Love the misdirection of an icepick-wielding Steph saying that she was “taking care of the body in the tub.”
-Hank finds it hard to believe that Brit didn’t know he had an icepick in the house. “I drank for years,” Hank says. “Yeah, I have an icepick.”
-The rules for babysitting Steph include “don’t let her read Proust” and “don’t take her to the wild animal park.”
-When Hank digs out Lindus’ wallet, Britt asks why and Hank gives a fine response: “Reasons!”
-Gretchen asks Hank if he’s done anything illegal, and Hank ducks the question, saying, “Immoral, no.”
-Britt, catching a whiff of Lindus’ day-old corpse: “It smells like your bedroom in here.” Hank: “That was a one-night thing, quit bragging about it.”