Showtime’s Escape at Dannemora
Directed by Ben Stiller
Written by Brett Johnson, Jerry Stahl, & Michael Tolkin
* For a recap & review of Part 5, click here.
* For a recap & review of Part 7, click here.
At the roadside, a cop (Jim Parrack) sits checking speeds with his radar gun. He hears an APB about a truck used in a robbery. He leaves his post and stops at a gas station to pick up ketchup and mustard, anticipating a big gathering for a BBQ he and his wife are hosting. When he’s back out on the road he comes across a vehicle swerving over the line, so he flicks on the lights. But the driver won’t stop right away. Eventually, the vehicle pulls over. Inside is a young driver and her father, who’s teaching her to drive for the first time. “Happy birthday,” the officer tells her after checking her ID. He explains she ought not be driving at night and to pull over any time a cop flashes their lights. He sends them off with just a warning. Afterwards, the cop’s alerted to debris on a stretch of road. When he gets there he sets up flares, then goes about cleaning up what he can manage.
All of this is just another night being a cop on a relatively boring beat. At a certain point, he heads home to put away the ketchup and mustard, take off his belt, and say hello to his wife briefly. When he heads back out, he sees a truck and people in a parking lot. He gets out to confront them, only to be shot down by David Sweat (Paul Dano), then run over brutally a couple times. Sweat tells the cop “I‘m sorry” before two other men show up ad one of them shoots the man dead. This was 2002— the crime for which Sweat was originally convicted.
Cut to near Christmastime in 1997. Richard Matt (Benicio del Toro) breaks into a house, where he beats up his old boss, William Rickerson (Richie Allan), looking for $10K in a safe. He ties his belt around the guy’s neck, choking him and leading him around the house. Only William takes a tumble down the basement stairs, leaving Matt with a bigger problem than when he started. He and his meth head buddy take off on the road together later with Mr. Rickerson in their trunk. They stop on the road while Matt breaks a few of the old man’s fingers to try getting answers. Merry fucking Christmas! For 24 hours, the two men drive around with Rickerson in the trunk, stopping occasionally to beat the shit out of him. They don’t exactly keep it a secret, either. Smart.
That night, Richard duct tapes the man’s head and lets him suffocate. (In reality, Mr. Matt used his bare hands to break Rickerson’s neck before he dismembered the body, tossing parts into the river.) A great scene features him watching Deliverance later, calling “bullshit” on Jon Voight’s character waking later from the stress of having killed a man while he’s sleeping soundly after doing the same— genius bit of writing. We do get to see where he earned the name hacksaw, as well. Solid use of “Bad Company” by Bad Company here in this sequence, continuing the series’s great soundtrack choices.
Seeing the two incidents which led to both Matt and Sweat being incarcerated, eventually taking bringing them to the same prison together years down the road, we see 1) what these two men are capable of and how dangerous they are truly, and 2) how reckless these men can be, despite the fact they’ve seemed like smart, sly criminals from the inside of prison so far to the audience. These men aren’t necessarily stupid. But it’s clear they’re both prone to irrational behaviour, both inside and outside those prison walls. All the same, they’re ruthless, each doing unspeakable things to the majority of society in order to survive far outside the law.
We see Tilly Mitchell (Patricia Arquette) back in 1993, before she worked at the prison, and before she was with Lyle (Eric Lange). She was with Kenny Barrile (Charlie Hofheimer) and they weren’t exactly doing so great. It’s obvious Tilly was searching for something else. She worked at Tru-Stitch, where she and Lyle had a relationship similar to the one she has with her lover inmates at the prison, and people were already jumping ship for a “union job with benefits” over at Dannemora. Tilly and Lyle would sneak into the woods where they’d fuck and she’d lament her average, shitty life. It’s no surprise Kenny found out about the affair, confronting Tilly in the parking lot outside the factory, and their relationship fell completely apart. Seems like, for her, the grass has always been greener on the other side. She’s a terrible manipulator, not unlike the inmates she’d later befriend/bed in Dannemora. She subtly convinces Lyle to confront Kenny in hopes of provoking a violent response that can be used against the father in court, and the pathetic Lyle plays along not realising what Tilly will do to him in 20 years time. They also lie to Kenny Jr. saying his father didn’t want him anymore. Absolutely brutal irony to see Tilly express gratitude to Lyle, as if pledging herself to him forever for his twisted act of (non-)chivalry when we already know what happens. Excellently nasty.
Again, good soundtrack: “My Wave” by Soundgarden closes out this chapter.
“You took a punch for me, Lyle, and you didn’t hit back because you knew how important it was not to— and I’ll never forget that.”
One of the best episodes. Fascinating to see the backstory of each lead character come out, showing us more of their psychology by explaining how they’ve wound up where they are when we met them at the start of the series. Part 7 is next time.