It’s tough to sell dramatic irony when it’s only possible through a liberal application of contrived plotting. Just putting that out there at the outset.
Josh is dead.
Hunter Parrish’s best buddy/possible love interest/suspect hasn’t had much to do other than what those roles suggest, but, as tonight, his exasperation at the Harris family’s machinations has allowed some fresh air into the plot, so that’ll be missed now that K.D. has slit his throat. That Garret Dillahunt’s K.D. is able to slit poor Josh’s throat is a matter of absurd plotting that points up once more the serious deficiencies in the writing of Hand Of God. Not only are the circumstances of the actual murder rife with some ludicrous, overheated contrivance, that the whole episode is consumed with setting up his death only highlights how Hand Of God hasn’t got a clear vision of where it wants to go.
It all starts when Pernell tells K.D. never, under any circumstances, to call him on the phone while K.D.’s stalking Josh, who Pernell is convinced was the mastermind behind Jocelyn’s rape. Then, confronting Josh in P.J.’s hospital room, Pernell finds out that Josh was not, in fact, behind the attack, but had only taken the secret apartment K.D. found out about in his name so that P.J. could use it to have an affair. Cue Pernell sprinting around town to prevent K.D. from killing Josh—only K.D. won’t answer his phone! (“You know how many people I sent to the chair because of a fuckin’ cell phone?!,” booms Pernell, before commanding K.D. to turn the phone off completely.)
The fact that Pernell and K.D. haven’t been apprehended yet for Shane’s murder (and Julio’s attempted murder, and all of Pernell’s various acts of transparent court malfeasance) doesn’t speak well of San Vicente’s police department (although watch out once the DNA testing of that vomit comes back). Or maybe it’s Hand Of God’s writing staff. “No, I learned from that,” protests K.D. to the judge about his botched attack on Julio, but it doesn’t seem like either conspirator has learned much here, as Pernell spends the episode chugging from the church, where, in a panic, he tries to reach K.D. from Alicia’s phone, and then, breathless, to Josh’s door (where he promptly tells Josh that God wants him to avenge Jocelyn’s rape).
Then there’s the fact that, for K.D. to murder Josh means that he—watching Josh through the windows all night and seeing that Pernell is there with him—thinks that Pernell’s orders still stand. And, even if K.D.’s established zealotry in believing in Pernell’s pipeline to the divine is taken into account, it still means that he waits until Pernell falls asleep (after Pernell has tied Josh to a chair to keep him safe) and then sneaks Josh out of the apartment past the sleeping judge. Without Josh calling out when a crazy stranger kidnaps him. And without Pernell waking up. (Alternately, it means that Josh wiggled out of his bonds himself, a dramatic cheat so tired as to be even more objectionable in its laziness.) When Pernell finally does awaken, his latest sprint to the garage, where he finds Josh with his throat cut and K.D. waiting in the shadows for a pat on the back, ends with Pernell weeping in what’s meant to be existential despair. But after all the episode’s frantic plot contortions, it plays more as unintentional comedy. (Only Garret Dillahunt’s alarmed “Why are you sorry, judge?” plays with any sort of resonance, the ex-con’s unshakable faith in Pernell’s unassailable righteousness clearly shaken.)
After seven episodes, Hand Of God is a scattered, rudderless mess. Pernell’s born-again status and possible visions from God are both merely props holding up a rickety crime plot. Ron Perlman is stranded, left to do his best in the isolated snatches of time when he’s not simply under the influence—divine or screenwriting—of forces jerking him from here to there. Tonight, Perlman gets his usual allotment of emotions to run through, crying as he watches home movies of his son with Josh, barking insults at Josh (before he discovers Josh’s innocence), speaking softly and kissing his comatose son, and that final yawp to the heavens. But, as has been the case all season, no scene builds on another because Pernell Harris isn’t a character. He’s a powerful actor asked to keep a leaky boat afloat.
The same goes for the rest of the talented cast here. After an episode that allowed them to show some unwonted complexity, the lineup of Bobo, Crystal, April, and Tessie also falls into lockstep for the dictates of the plot. April finds out someone is planning to blackmail Pernell over his bigamous marriage to Tessie. Crystal tells Bobo, who sets up a sting and finds out it’s Tessie’s dumb brother Khalil (Kendre Berry) behind the scam. Crystal confronts Tessie about her longstanding relationship with her husband, a smoothly spiky scene for both Emayatzy Corinealdi and Dana Delany which cuts out abruptly as soon as Crystal finds out Tessie isn’t behind the blackmail. And then there’s another installment of the Reverend Paul and Alicia subplot, cementing their fealty to bogus televangelist Bishop Congden. And while all of it (perhaps excepting the Paul-Alicia story) glances off of Hand Of God’s main character, none either affects the purported main story in any meaningful way nor comprises anything sufficiently interesting on its own.
Is Hand Of God about a conservative judge changing his opulent, corrupt lifestyle to incorporate his newly born-again morality? Is it about Pernell Harris following the voice of God (real or imagined) to solve a horrible crime? Is it about the sleazy underpinnings of a deeply compromised city? That it’s difficult to answer any of those question this late in the season is not a good sign.
- Hand Of God would provoke more outrage from Christian viewers if its religious content weren’t so clearly a shallow plot device rather than a thoughtful examination of the nature of faith. If there’s a case to be made that the show is glib about religion, it’s in the characters of Paul and Alicia who inexplicably command air time disproportionate to the characters’ inherent interest, and whose storyline continues to hammer home the idea that some people use religion to fleece the faithful. Here, the return of Obba Babatundé and Paula Jai Parker as the flamboyantly larcenous evangelist Bishop Congdon and wife only doubles down on the well-worn stereotypes, especially as both of them take the time to sexually objectify Paul and Alicia as they groom them to join their T.V. ministry.
- Both Pernell and Jocelyn have symbolic dream sequences tonight. Jocelyn’s is mainly excuse for a sex scene and a gunshot jump scare, but Pernell’s is effectively sad, as he imagines Josh, K.D., and Jocelyn telling him what a great father he was to his son. Perlman’s face as Pernell hears everything he’s ever wanted to believe is as quietly heartbreaking as anything he’s done on the show.
- Crystal brushing off Bobo’s attempt to soft-pedal the Tessie news: “I have a sister-wife now!”
- “I guess I think there’s a higher power…” “There is. It’s God.” Pernell’s peevish anger over Josh’s waffling lets Perlman inject a modicum of life into Pernell’s faith.
- As fun as it is to see Delany and Corinealdi drink snifters of brandy and trade even-keeled barbs, Crystal continues to coarsen into straight-up villainy: “It’s my dime. I’ll call you Hattie fucking McDaniel if I want to.”
- Bobo’s back to scene-stealing this episode, but his handling of the “Emergency Bobo System” on Khalil is some outstanding comic timing from Andre Royo.
- One witty touch: After Bobo and his cops sweep off, leaving poor Khalil standing stunned in the four-way intersection, the applause from Jocelyn’s poetry reading begins, as if in admiration for Bobo’s feat.
- Still enjoying Cleavon McClendon’s mix of wisdom and incompetence as Asa, tonight getting a laugh blurting out Tessie’s name while Bobo pretends not to know her and making his appeal to Khalil improbably genuine.
- Alona Tal’s been left stranded of late, but her choice to forego a reading of P.J.’s favorite poem (T.S. Eliot’s “Gerontion”) in favor of his poetic suicide note is movingly understated, especially as episode director Peter Medak slowy pulls out, leaving her on the stage alone.