Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Catch needs a sharper hook

Illustration for article titled The Catch needs a sharper hook

In its pilot, The Catch focused on its serialized set-up: the cat-and-mouse chase between Alice and Ben/Christopher. But by introducing Alice and Valerie’s team of investigators, the pilot also made it clear where the weekly stories would come from. The conflict between Alice and Ben, after all, isn’t enough to sustain the series week-to-week on its own. But it remained to be seen just how The Catch might handle its case-of-the-week plotting. And so after none last week (unless you count the attempted museum heist in the cold open), “The Real Killer” gives us two…sort of.

There’s too much story going on in the episode, which has brief moments of excitement but mostly just clips along without much to really latch onto. As I noted last week, The Catch has two sets of gladiators: the cunning investigators and the cunning conpersons. Over in Bentopher (Christoben?) land, the team has resorted to petty pickpocketing as a means of paying their looming “benefactor” (every time Sonya Walger so deliberately uses the vague and archaic term, she might as well be screaming “you are watching a television show!”). But they finally score a new con, which involves a princess, her extravagant spending habits, and her guard. Technically, this con is going to bleed into the next episode and possibly even beyond, so it doesn’t technically fit the bill of “case of the week.” But “The Real Killer” builds the princess tale alongside Alice’s investigation in similar strokes. And regardless, this plot feels dispensable throughout “The Real Killer” and significantly contributes to the episode’s lack of focus.

It would probably work better if Ben’s coworkers had any semblance of detail to them. We get a brief glimpse behind the curtain of Margot’s steely exterior: She was jealous of Alice, she loves Ben, and she loves cons even more. Those little tidbits unfold in a terribly written but wonderfully shot scene of Margot lending a hand to Ben as he shaves. And sure, they tell us something about Margot, but only really in terms of Ben. That’s not really character development. Reggie isn’t much better, acting as a sort of overbearing parental figure to Ben as well as a catch-all con man. All we really know about him is that he’s a bit nostalgic for old-school thievery. It doesn’t take an investigator to tell you that doesn’t count as character development either. Sure, it’s still early on in the show. There’s plenty of time for these characters to become more whole, for their motivations to become more clear. But without any kind of stakes and with a heist that hasn’t gone anywhere yet, this particular plotline in the episode only runs on some very broad writing and the charisma of its leading man.

The real, true case of the week is headed up by Alice and the gang, who take on Jeffery Bloom—a man accused and acquitted of killing his much older, extremely wealthy wife—as a new client. Bloom and his new wife Rebecca ask the team to find the real killer, and Alice is convinced it’s him. Between Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, and The Good Wife, and Castle, the acquitted-wife-killer story is one I have seen play out many times. The Catch’s attempts to personalize it come in the form of Alice’s emotional connection to the betrayal. Alice projects her own insecurities about being played by Ben onto the case. She wants to be right so that she can know she’s still good at what she does. She wants the whole Ben thing to be a random fluke and not a permanent dent in her armor. She also looks at the case and sees a woman swindled by a charming man, and she can relate, which she reminds us of many, many times. Alice’s emotional stakes in the case would hit a lot harder if the writers weren’t hammering them in so forcefully. The Catch is by no means trying to be the kind of drama that operates in subtext and nuance, and that’s fine. Part of the show’s allure is its frothy fun. But certain moments in “The Real Killer” stand out as excessively dumb, like the overwrought Alice line when she finds the jewelry: “I was wrong about Jeffery. He didn’t kill Edith. I was wrong about all of it. It was Peyton all along.” Enos, for what it’s worth, makes the best of her reading.

I promise not all of my reviews of The Catch will circle back to Scandal. But Alice’s repetitive lines throughout “The Real Killer” did make me think of its Shondaland lead-in. Scandal is by no means a subtle show either, but it has a very distinct and often intoxicating way of delivering its characters inner thoughts. If Alice existed in the world of Scandal, she would have packaged her repetitive comments in a neat but explosive monologue. Scandal’s monologues have become an essential part of the series. And as overwrought as the writing can sometimes be in those monologues, they usually still work, elevated by outstanding performances. Crucially, they’re unlike anything else on television, distinct even from the Aaron Sorkin monologues to which they’re sometimes compared. I’m by no means saying that Alice and Ben and the rest of these characters should suddenly start monologuing. That’s Scandal’s thing. The Catch needs to find its own hook. That’s what’s really missing right now. So far, it doesn’t really have much distinguishing it from a very by-the-numbers crime drama. That hook doesn’t need to be a gimmick. It can be as simple as layering in some more complexity to the conflict between Alice and Ben, which already seems to be happening very gradually. Right now, there’s too much of a focus on plot to really bring those details to the surface though.

It could also be as simple as digging into other relationships on the show, because Ben’s crew isn’t the only one that needs some developing. The relationship between Valerie and Alice has so much potential to be a fascinating part of the series, and the fact that they run their investigation firm together distinguishes The Catch’s workplace from Scandal’s, where peerless Olivia runs the show. Valerie and Alice are two women working together without any apparent competition or jealousy brewing between them. While they’ve yet to pass the Bechdel test, scenes between Valerie and Alice have already been some of the strongest of the first two episodes, especially because in them, the two women feel like real people and not just like characters in a rigorously plot-oriented television show.


Stray observations

  • This is implied in everything I said about Valerie/Alice, but Rose Rollins is currently being very underused.
  • Wowzers, Mireille Enos has some fire looks tonight. My favorite, though, is that flowy, short white dress.
  • The flashbacks between Alice and Ben are not working that well. They had more chemistry in that encounter at the end of the pilot than they do in any of the glimpses
  • On that note, this is small, but it stood out as weird to me: The episode opens with a flashback to Alice’s first date with Ben (Christopher, at the time) interspersed with cuts to them having sex after said first date…and then Alice wakes up from it all in the present? So the flashback is both a memory and a nightmare of that memory? Am I overthinking this? Yes, definitely. And yet, it just bothered me for some reason.
  • The reveal that Jeffery really is the killer after all wasn’t super shocking in retrospect, but I it actually did throw me a little, mostly because I become so thoroughly convinced that the new wife Rebecca killed her as part of some highly elaborate long-con. Of course, Jeffery as the killer works much better thematically and also makes way more sense. But hey, as a devout Shondaland viewer, I like to go as crazy as possible with my theories.
  • The moment when Alice realizes it was Jeffery after all is actually a fantastic scene, riddled with tension. It’s worth repeating just how good Enos is.