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Leigh Whannell's UPGRADE is a kick ass horror thrill ride. It's also a deep, dark rumination on technological singularity.
Season 1, Episode 8: “nước chảy đá mòn”
Directed by Greg Yaitanes
Written by Graham Gordy & Michael D. Fuller
* For a review of the penultimate episode, “Carnival of Souls” – click here
From what I can tell, the English translation of the Vietnamese title for this episode means “flowing water wears away stone” roughly. An interesting thing to think about in terms of all the water imagery, Mac Conway’s (Logan Marshall-Green) love of swimming, and so on.
We start ten months before the current season’s timeline. The choppers fly overhead of the Vietnamese jungle. Troops are at base camp, relaxed for the moment. Mac and Arthur (Jamie Hector) get a few orders from their platoon captain. Mac watches the river carefully as a boat floats by; always suspicious, never off his guard.
But in his present predicament Mac’s definitely off guard. Detective Tommy Olsen (Josh Randall) has him dead to rights, hoping to get more out of ole Quarry about Cliff’s death. That’s not long for this world; neither the conversation, nor Tommy. He gets his face shot off horrifically, as the carnival grounds around them come alive and bullets ring into the night. It’s Credence Mason (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), of course. He gets his, too. Then Buddy (Damon Herriman) and Mac are left in a gunfight with some of Mason’s Dixie crew. They’re a pretty handy pair, though.
They make it back in one piece, appeasing The Broker (Peter Mullan), as well as leaving Karl (Edoardo Ballerini) with a new game of Pong to play. Things are looking pretty good for The Broker now, poised to take over the local scene. Only problem is that now Mac has walked himself into something far bigger than just killing bad dudes for money. Again, that’s the call of the wild animal in him, unleashed by the United States Army overseas.
Mac’s dad Lloyd (Skip Sudduth) has him and Joni (Jodi Balfour) over to his place. Seems Lloyd got a cash offer for the house. A small family wants to buy the place, especially excited over the pool. Out of the blue, Joni doesn’t want to sell. Not after her husband put the pool in himself, they made a home for themselves. Things don’t get any better when Lloyd’s wife drops two dirty words on Mac: “war criminal.” She thinks Mac and Joni only want money from them. A truly insulting moment. Moreover, people always assume they know exactly what happened, all because of how the media tells them and frames it for the people back home. They don’t consider how it really was for soldiers, they don’t take in all the factors. In a dirty war like Vietnam that was particularly true.
At least now Mac has the money, paid off by his stepmother to never come back, and he can pay The Broker off. Or is it that simple now? Oh, I don’t know about that. In the meantime, we flashback to Vietnam those ten months ago. Mac, Arthur, and the rest of their platoon wade through water to a spot further inland. They’re headed for Quan Thang, which we already understand is where the massacre went down, the one in which Mac and Arthur were heavily implicated to have done terrible things. Supposedly.
Poor Mac, he’s trying to find himself a job that doesn’t involve killing anybody, or guns in any way. He applies for a job selling pools. Luckily, the guy interviewing him doesn’t really pay attention to the news. I wonder how long it’ll last before discovering who Mac is, or at least who the media implies. He’s got the job, but I can’t help feeling there’s a gut punch coming down the line.
Ruth (Nikki Amuka-Bird) has Moses (Mustafa Shakir) over for dinner. Although she still doesn’t know that’s his name. And she also doesn’t realise why he’s there in the first place. He starts sniffing around after Marcus has been fixing the TV, buying things, suspicious little clues that Moses definitely suspects has to do with Arthur’s missing cash.
When Joni and Mac go out to celebrate the new job, the former soldier has a PTSD episode where he sees that Asian mask standing in the background, staring at him. He interrupts a band playing, terrifying everybody a bit. Outside he falls to the ground nearly weeping: “I‘m sorry,” he repeats, over and over.
So we go back those ten months again. In an abandoned building the soldiers come across that Asian mask hung on a wall, sitting in the dark. Mac stares at it for a while, fixated on the face. Something that’s obviously stuck with him, buried in the recesses of his mind and bubbling to the front in the worst of times.
Finally we see Moses confront Marcus. He asks plainly – “Don‘t fuckin‘ lie to me, son” – where the money’s stashed. He takes the cash, and makes sure to tell the kid he better keep his mouth shut. Moses threatens his family with death. That’s a bad dude.
Later on we see Mac at the voting booth, choosing between either Nixon or McGovern. At the same time Joni’s trying to find a doctor to talk with about Mac and his PTSD. Of course back then it wasn’t known as that, or at least not treated with the appropriate respect and gravity deserved. A guy at the VA hospital hands her a pamphlet, as if that’s meant to help. He also implies that seeing as how Mac has “both his arms” and “both his legs” then there’s nothing actually wrong with him. Sickening display of what we’re seeing now as the result of all that neglect. Tons of mental illness, death by murder or suicide or whatever else, too many problems.
Buddy’s having a tough time. Sitting with his mother Naomi (Ann Dowd), he talks about survival, from the time of dinosaurs right to the Black Plague spreading across Europe. He feels like he’s done nothing with his life: “What am I doin‘ with it, mama?”
In ‘Nam, we see Mac and the platoon heading further to their destination. Once there they take all precautions, although Arthur notes there’s a Catholic cross at the front of their village. Either way, the platoon’s captain sends them in making clear to “fire then you ask questions.” Inside the village all hell breaks loose. Civilians are killed. Napalm lights the forest on fire and burns villagers alive. Gunfire gets exchanged between the Americans and some Viet Cong. At one point Mac throws a grenade in a hidden tunnel, where women and children scream. He sees the bloody bits of a child next to him, still moving slightly. This all but melts his brain and his psyche. We can easily see, from this POV, that Mac and Arthur, most of those guys, did not realise what they were doing, led astray by orders followed blindly. Still, they then had to go on living with what they’d done.
At home, Mac goes to meet The Broker. Instead he runs into an old face from the army, someone he isn’t so happy to see – his old captain, Thurston (Matt Nable). They catch up on things, rather contentiously. We get the impression that Thurston hasn’t repented whatsoever, in any shape, for what they did in Vietnam. He seems to want to go back, not able to adjust at all to civilian life anymore. In Thurston, Mac sees everything he hates; about himself. He reminds Mac of what they did in that fishing village. On top of it all we get another flashback to Thurston commanding his officers to execute remaining villagers, under threat of death if they won’t comply. Close by, Mac looks into the distance with heavy sorrow. Well, in the series’ current moments Mac attacks Thurston outside of the bar. They tangle a bit before he takes off after the former captain into the woods.
Do you recognise this scene?
It’s the very first one, from the beginning of the season. This is where it all started. We witness Thurston beating Mac, holding him below the water. After he thinks Mac is dead Thurston walks off. Only to take a bullet. And here, we see Mac pump more lead into the man making sure he’s good and dead. He pushes Thurston’s corpse out into the water to float out and far away from him.
In other news, Buddy goes out cruising but ends up getting attacked by a couple men. They viciously beat him, taking his money and leaving him unconscious, or worse.
When Mac finally goes to meet The Broker he’s beaten and fucked up. That whole meeting with Thurston was, naturally, the old fella’s doing. More than that The Broker tries to keep Quarry on for another job. However, our soldier doesn’t want anything to do with him after all they’ve been through together. “Who‘s a fella like you vote for?” Mac asks The Broker. He also says he “wrote someone in” on the ballot: Otis Redding. We discover The Broker hasn’t voted “since Truman.” Kind of fitting. Likewise, we discover Mac misses war. Not hard to tell.
Flashback to the war. Thurston receives a visit from none other than The Broker. He’s walked through Quan Thang. This is where Conway’s name first comes up for the old gentleman. The Broker takes a stroll in through the trees, to where a field is full of the ripe, beautiful plants needed for processing heroin. Ah, and it all comes together. Very interesting political twist on the Quan Thang.
Buddy – or Sebastian, as we find out – makes it home to his mother, beaten into bloody pulp. Detective Verne Ratliff (Happy Anderson) has one last look at Cliff Williams’ book of lyrics. President Nixon is announced to have won on live television. And Ruth, she finds that Moses is no longer waiting for her at the diner, but sitting home with the found money, contemplating his next move.
On the shoreline Mac sits with his next kit – gun, money, name. He got himself out, yet allows himself to be sucked back in. The carnage of war has crept into his veins, important as the blood flowing through them. Meanwhile, The Broker plays him like a fiddle.
Then we see Mac strip down for a swim out into the river, perhaps doing the only thing he can to not think about everything other dark thing swirling around his entire existence.
What a beautiful, gritty, importantly relevant series! Man, this first season was a blast. With the finale episode and its flashbacks, the revelations, Quarry cements itself as one of the greats, up there with any of the best HBO has had to offer over the past 20 years. Truly amazing writing, lots of fine acting, as well as solid directing.
Cinemax: do what’s right. Give this show a second, third, fourth season. C’mon. Do not pass this up. There’s a lot of other important stories to tell in the world of Mac Conway.
Season 1, Episode 7: “Carnival of Souls”
Directed by Greg Yaitanes
Written by Michael D. Fuller & Graham Gordy
* For a review of the previous episode, “His Deeds Were Scattered” – click here
* For a review of the finale, “nước chảy đá mòn” – click here
Nixon and McGovern are going head to head in the news. Mac (Logan Marshall-Green) hears about Eugene Linwood on the news, too. Then Joni (Jodi Balfour) brings up talking to his father Lloyd (Skip Sudduth) about selling the house. It’s listed now, so too late to have a real discussion. He’s not overly thrilled. Not at all. On top of PTSD and being seen as a war criminal after coming home from Vietnam, Mac’s home is slipping away. But Joni only wants to help. She doesn’t want him drowning under the weight of what The Broker (Peter Mullan) has him do for money. Mostly Mac hates that Joni takes the responsibility on as her own. That’s how it works, though. When two people are together, for better or worse, they both take on each other’s pain.
So where does business take ole Quarry next?
Well, Karl (Edoardo Ballerini), he’s keeping an eye on the fat man, Credence Mason (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), a veritable maniac of a Southern
gentleman. And The Broker, he waits out by the pool for Mac at the Conway place. At least Mac’s down to $12K now. Whittling away at the debt. The next job is indeed Mr. Mason.
Down at the station, Detectives Tommy Olsen (Josh Randall) and Verne Ratliff (Happy Anderson) are mulling some of the former’s obsession over the Cliff Williams murder. Verne doesn’t think there’s anything worth looking at, but Tommy can’t let go of believing Mac is up to something nasty. And we know he’s right. Tommy talks about Quan Thang, believing Mac brought all that horror back home to Memphis with him. “Unless you‘ve been to war you can‘t judge a man who has,” Ratliff explains. That is a very good point, even when we’re talking about murder for hire.
On the topic of murders, Karl is a bit of a nasty bastard himself. He’s killing like a champion marksman, picking up errant packages of heroin to take home for The Broker and Oldcastle (Tom Noonan). A proper happy family. And The Broker’s making moves in the Memphis scene. Perhaps a bit of hubris? Karl doesn’t think it’s exactly a smart idea, which falls on deaf ears.
In his bathroom, Marcus finds a bag full of money: the cash his dad stashed away. Oh, shit. He puts it away for the time being and says nothing to his mother Ruth (Nikki Amuka-Bird).
More Buddy (Damon Herriman) and his mother Naomi (Ann Dowd). She helps him trying on clothes for a big day. They argue over the word “twat.” He shows up over at the dealership to talk with The Broker about their gun racket. Buddy wants to take their enterprise to the next level, he doesn’t want to be the middle man anymore. But his boss doesn’t like the sound of that plan, much to Buddy’s dismay. More than that The Broker sort of digs in with a remark about his “artwork” that explains his cutting out of pictures, et cetera, last episode. Now Buddy and Mac are on the road together, no matter if Buddy just had his dreams crushed.
They’ve got to go look after Mason. He’s a big deal in Dixie. So getting at him requires going through a few others. While they wait and watch, Buddy winds up asking Mac about his service, a little direct. Essentially, he levels about committing murder. He used to “keep count” on the number. “Until one dad I didn‘t,” he explains. They get lost in talk to the point Mason creeps up on them. They use the excuse of being gay, looking for a spot to be together alone, so as not to blow their cover. Except Mason ain’t dumb. He knows there’s trouble. The boys done fucked up, what will they do now?
The Broker shows up like a greasy bastard at the Conway house, while Mac is gone. He pretends to be from down the road, looking at the place. Curious as a cat. Then he gets the story of Mac supposedly having a “new job” and that they’re relocating. God damn, this isn’t good.
In the world of Mr. Mason there’s heroin missing, naturally. Him and his boys try to figure out what happened, if somebody’s trying to make moves on them. Credence proves himself a smart man, he understands already what’s gone on right under his nose. He laments it more than gets angry.
It’s nice to see Ruth connecting with Moses a.k.a Felix (Mustafa Shakir). Although she’s busy working and later that night it’s Halloween, so that means she’s too busy to go with Felix for dinner. Rain check for next week, though. I hope the business side of Moses doesn’t encroach too hard on this burgeoning relationship. Ruth deserves better.
And then there’s Tommy, fucking up his relationship with Sandy (Kaley Ronayne) because he used her brother’s death to get into her bed. Now the whole thing is gone sour. She wants to let go of things, he wants to hang on, and that adds up to nothing easy for them.
One of Mason’s boys sits back watching Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls on Halloween night. He gives out candy at his door to trick or treating kids. One of the next knocks happens to be Buddy and Mac, and things get tricky, indeed. Toes get blown off, a foot gets put in the hot oven. Only the guy passes out from Buddy being too “results oriented” for his own good. Poor ole Mac, he sees that Asian mask lurking outside the door with trick or treaters, as Buddy covers his face and gives out more candy. Fittin that Harvey’s film is on television – a movie about a woman seeing dead people all around her, much like Mac. He’s riding in his own personal carnival of souls. After Buddy gets the information needed, he kills their man, then he and Mac can head out.
But there’s problems at home. Joni calls and he rushes back. Nothing’s happening, just a little freak out on her part. Despite it all, Mac is a good man. He comforts his wife when she needs it, he does whatever he can. What’s the latest problem? Tommy is following him. Right back to meet Buddy, and on to the next stop. Shit. Straight to Dixieville.
Mason’s gang are loading a pinball machine up with drugs to ship out. Outside, Buddy and Mac prepare to drop the hammer; the former popping a bunch of pills and downing some booze beforehand. ‘Cause that helps, right?! A point of contention between the pair. When they go in there are surprises, more men showing up. Nothing ever goes as planned.
Just like when Dt. Olsen pulls his gun, standing behind Mac as our anti-hero mutters: “What the fuck?”
Great cap to another fine tuned episode! I love this god damn series. I need several seasons, more and more. Please, give it to me now Cinemax. We’re already at the Season 1 finale next episode. Wow. Renewal is imminent, if not the network is certifiably nuts.
Season 1, Episode 6: “His Deeds Were Scattered”
Directed by Greg Yaitanes
Written by Max Allan Collins
* For a review of the previous episode, “Coffee Blues” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Carnival of Souls” – click here
Mac (Logan Marshall-Green) is naked with a shotgun protecting the house, sending Joni (Jodi Balfour) into a craze. He’s out into the streets, hunkered down behind a parked car. Is it a real threat, or is it PTSD? Hard to tell with his life.
Eugene Linwood (Christopher James Baker) is locked up because of what he did on the bus last episode. Trusty ole Karl (Edoardo Ballerini) listens to him talking to his racist buddies on the outside. Sounds like deals are being made. Linwood and Credence Mason (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) are making greasy moves behind the scene.
Oh and we get back to Buddy (Damon Herriman), one of my favourite characters! He’s got personal troubles though, and he nearly gets into a big mess at a gay bar. He definitely has an addiction, to a few things. His mother Naomi (Ann Dowd) tries her best to help him even if he doesn’t take it.
At home Mac is trying to smooth things over after his crazy episode. He can’t even remember any of it. That’s rough. I feel bad for both of them because a) he can’t help doing something he does not remember, and b) a shotgun could’ve killed her. So, yeah, it’s a double-edged sword that war veteran trauma. In other news, Mac does what he can to look after Marcus (Joshua J. Williams) in light of all the racial violence lately. They actually bond a bit. The kid brings up “Quan Thang” wondering whether it was a mission. He roundabout wonders if his dad was a hero, or something else. He doesn’t yet understand being a hero and being something else aren’t inherently separate; sometimes heroes are stained.
Another character I couldn’t wait to see again: Oldcastle (Tom Noonan). He fields some calls in his backroom plastered with various photographs. He’s got himself work. Looks like Eugene Linwood is marked as a target by The Broker (Peter Mullan) because Oldcastle’s got a little kit ready, gloves, gun, map of the Greater Memphis Area. Y’know, tools of the trade.
At the police station, Detectives Tommy Olsen (Josh Randall) and Verne Ratliff (Happy Anderson) get a little information on Suggs, the man with one leg, like an old Western plot. Although Verne’s more excited about it than Tommy.
Moses (Mustafa Shakir), as it turns out, is a bassist, jamming in the studio with a band. Laying down a nice groove, horns, piano, the whole bit. Only it’s a bit of a misunderstanding, he gets tossed for some white guy. Just another example of guys like him who try to do honest work and get kicked in the ass for it.
Lots of music now, as Mac flicks through vinyls in a record store. He picks up a Spirit of Memphis album. At the same time The Broker calls. That’s kind of creepy, and impressive. Job time. They meet at Tom Lee Memorial Park. The Broker goes on a bit about his story, but they’re meeting for business. The kit Oldcastle put together goes to Mac: Linwood needs to die. Certainly when Joni finds out she isn’t happy. And who would be? The ball’s rolling with The Broker, so it can’t stop now all of a sudden. Still it can’t be easy for her to sit by and let him get in deeper.
Dt. Olsen is drinking and chatting it up with Sandy Williams (Kaley Ronayne), which gets closer and closer to becoming more than just a friendship. Until they fall into each others arms. And so what does that serve? Well, I feel like Tommy only gets more determined to try and figure out what really happened to her brother Cliff.
Other people getting closer includes Ruth (Nikki Amuka-Bird) and Felix, a.k.a Moses. Even if it’s under false pretence. This gets a little tricky, too. Particularly when Linwood’s been released and racial violence threatens the streets. A curfew’s enacted. Meaning Moses can’t go home and has to stay over at Ruth’s place. He does prove himself worthy by helping Marcus out when the police come around talking a lot of “boy” shit. Excellent, if not very tense scene. Great acting. Also a really nice lesson on racial politics, as Marcus wonders why things are the way they are, and Moses relates that it’s something, unfortunately, they have to get used to; sad how things haven’t changed, barely a bit outside certain laws. That doesn’t stop the same type of sentiments from thriving.
Oh, Mac. He’s off to do the latest bidding of The Broker, picking himself up a vehicle from Oldcastle’s car lot. This time a pickup truck. And then off he goes. Simultaneously, Lloyd (Skipp Sudduth) is looking over Mac and Joni’s place, checking things out to see how it might sell, what needs to be done, so on. This leads to Joni realising Mac actually went to Lloyd, to try and get out of debt without having to kill again. So she knows he’s at least trying in that sense. And Mac doesn’t know Joni is trying to sell the house.
Back to Buddy, yay! Naomi and Buddy are like their own show, love it. She goes on and on about Linwood, saying what we all feel. Instead of playing Bingo with his mother, Buddy cuts out a “proposal” that looks like a ransom note.
Listening in on Linwood we find Karl hears him say he’s going to Cesar’s, a redneck bar. Mac follows him in waiting for the right time. He follows Linwood away from the bar. He shadows the man’s ever move. Soon enough he finds Eugene doing some sneaky things at the school bus terminal. Mac gets the drop on him as he plants a bomb under one of the seats. He beats the life out of Linwood, leaving him on the bus, then shoots the bomb triggering a huge explosion. Massive. It throws Mac to the ground, luckily not killing him. He manages to get out, watched at a distance by another of The Broker’s insurance agents, Mary (Aoibhinn McGinnity).
Another job done. The Broker’s informed and another stack of cash taken off ole Quarry for his debts. Closer to the finish line, and further than neck deep in shit. Again quoting President Calvin Coolidge from the monument to Tom Lee: “His good deeds were scattered everywhere that day and into eternity.” A fitting testament to the actions of Mac Conway in this episode. And all episodes.
Yes, he’s killing. But sometimes, can the killing be good?
Another beautiful chapter. This one written by original novelist of the series upon which the show is based, Max Allan Collins. Next episode is titled “Carnival of Souls” and I love that they named it after one of my favourite films of all time, the Herk Harvey classic.
Season 1, Episode 5: “Coffee Blues”
Directed by Greg Yaitanes
Written by Jennifer Schuur
* For a review of the previous episode, “Seldom Realized” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “His Deeds Were Scattered” – click here
Mac (Logan Marshall-Green) and Joni (Jodi Balfour) are back home after all the madness. They’re a little better for it, too. They’re strong again together. Such a traumatic experience may have, in a roundabout way, done them some good. Horrible to experience, but I’m glad they’re connecting once more after everything they’ve been through to now. Joni admits she wasn’t sure if he’d stick around. He assures his love for her. Aside from all that they have money troubles. She wants him to go to his father. At least that way there’s “one less person” on the list for The Broker (Peter Mullan).
We see things aren’t going very well for Ruth (Nikki Amuka-Bird) and her family. Her son and daughter have to eat their cereal with water instead of milk. If that weren’t bad enough, her boy Marcus (Joshua J. Williams) then goes to school and his bus is attacked by white supremacists. A bunch of ordinary white dudes. Scary bastards, frightening helpless kids and a terrified bus driver. One man, Eugene Linwood (Christopher James Baker), makes his way inside the vehicle. He knocks out the driver before spewing a bunch of n-word hate. When a kid speaks up Eugene hauls him outside and beats him with a crowbar in front of everybody. Even some of the men outside protest, those bunch of fucks.
Mac goes to see his father Lloyd (Skipp Sudduth) at one of his house viewings. “Hat in hand,” he asks his father for help. Four grand. Lloyd assumes it’s gambling, drugs, something shady. After a bit of arguing though, he agrees to try and do what he can to help.
Detective Tommy Olsen (Josh Randall) stops by Cliff’s place to try rustling up a bit more information with the sister, Sandy (Kaley Ronayne). He tries to figure out if there’s more of a connection between Cliff and Joni. Not much comes out, however, it’s clear he’s not stopping the investigation.
At home, Mac and Joni see a car outside sitting mysteriously quiet. It’s The Broker, certainly. He’s come round to see what Quarry’s been up to, and it looks like they’ve got places to go. Mysterious shit, and that worries Joni. Like it would anyone sensible.
On the road again – Mac and The Broker are on the road again.
Yet ole Quarry’s got no clue where they’re going, other than by the moment directions from his boss. “Death is just a switch that gets turned off,” The Broker repeats the words of Mac, the night he murdered Cliff. He questions Mac, whether he believes that statement. Is there nothing? Or is there “something else“? Intense conversation for a dude who has people killed for cold, hard cash. When they get where they’re going, it’s a real backwater-type spot with drinks and music and cigars and FUN! So, are they hanging out? I’d bet it’s more than just that.
Joni goes to help Ruth, getting accosted by a few men on the way in; racial tension running high. She understands, only wanting to do what she can for Ruth. Poor Marcus is shaken, depressed. Again, understandable.
In a small backwater casino Mac gets the chance to play a bit of money, work off a bit of debt, and if not Karl (Edoardo Ballerini) takes the hit. Hilarious. They move from roulette to a poker table, where The Broker talks casual smack and plays hard. Everything gets a bit wild after he starts a fight over Mac’s service in Vietnam, prompting Quarry to smash a glass into a dude’s face. I feel like The Broker is a predator. And with Mac left needing somebody to command him, requiring orders after being brainwashed by the army, he’s overly susceptible to getting preyed upon.
At work, Ruth chats with Moses (Mustafa Shakir) about the racist attack on the bus. It’s clear that Moses is keeping an eye on her, trying to find things out. But he’s also a strong, proud, black man. He knows the horror of being black in America, which sort of brings him and Ruth together. Maybe a sympathy that leads to romance? A conflict for Moses and The Broker?
Out in the dark, The Broker and Mac talk. Seems like Mac has the guy figured out, despite my own thoughts. He knows that it was all a way of bonding “over a common enemy.” I still think the slithering serpent in The Broker’s going to work its way into Mac’s brain. Just the calm before the storm. The wolf playing sheep.
Marcus is absolutely pissed with his mother. He’s pissed with the world. Then on the news we see that Eugene Linwood was arrested. Although “street violence” in the black community looks expected. Why wouldn’t it? Fucking racists beating kids in the street.
Mac and The Broker play some more cards. Except out of nowhere the old bastard disappears. So out wanders Mac, walking aimlessly. He finds his way to a big, old house, looking for a telephone. The place is all wrapped in plastic, nothing working. In another room, Mac hears Asian voices. The Broker is sitting with somebody, listening. An Asian mask appears in the door frame, frightening Mac. Flashbacks. He sees another couple masks, people standing in dark hallways. Quickly he rushes outdoors and away from the place. The Broker finds him when the sun comes up and the head off to get Mac back to his wife.
The Broker starts asking about Joni, what she believes happened at the motel. Mac explains things, as well as he can to keep the man off their back. Even worse, The Broker puts butter in his coffee. Gross. He’s clearly got problems. A murderous, butter coffee drinking motherfucker.
At the backwater camp, Karl is lurking. The stuff Mac thought was bullshit, the story The Broker told him about the fat man that needed killing – all true. And you can bet that the reptilian side of him is also very real. He’s lying in the grass, hooking Mac, deeper and deeper.
When Mac gets home there’s $100 from Lloyd. Far shot from $4,000.
Joni’s glad to see her man back obviously. When he pours up a coffee, he drops a sliver of butter in: “Tryin‘ somethin‘,” he tells Joni. A lighthearted ending, but underneath there’s a sinister meaning. That butter in the coffee is just the beginning. Mac’s becoming a bit too accustomed to the world of The Broker. A bit too blind to its unhealthy aspects, just like that butter in the coffee (I don’t care who says it’s healthy that is bullshit). He’s falling into a bad, bad world.
I love this series. Absolutely brilliant! The writing is spectacular and I cannot get enough. Next episode is titled “His Deeds Were Scattered” and I cannot wait to see what’s coming.
Season 1, Episode 4: “Seldom Realized
Directed by Greg Yaitanes
Written by Michael D. Fuller & Graham Gordy
* For a review of the previous episode, “A Mouthful of Splinters” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Coffee Blues” – click here
On the dirty floor of a bathroom, Suggs (Kurt Yaeger) strips off his clothes, covered partly in leeches hanging off his wounds. He manages to cut them free with his buck knife before having a little laugh. Like you would.
Poor Mac (Logan Marshall-Green) is worried about the whole situation, after Joni (Jodi Balfour) spent time under the thumb of Suggs, who’s loose out there. Mac tells Karl (Edoardo Ballerini) over the phone that things need to get sorted, so he can go home. I love this part because we see Mac hiding out in a little motel, one with a dirty, closed pool. Yet he has a swim anyway; it’s in his bones, swimming. I wonder if we’ll see more on that because it’s obviously a big part of his life.
For now he tries to keep under the radar. To keep his wife safe, no matter their differences. A knock soon comes at their motel door. Joni readies a gun, just in case. Looks like it’s only housekeeping. Who can blame her? She was abducted, terrible things nearly happened to her. Things aren’t easy between the married couple, though. She cheated on him a bunch as he served in Vietnam; he returned the favour after getting home and discovering this fact. Mac’s involved with the Broker (Peter Mullan), doing bad things that got his buddy Arthur shot, stuff that Joni has no idea about. So the secrets between these two are thick enough to choke a horse. Plus, who knows what else Suggs will get up to now.
Speaking of the one-legged bastard, he’s made himself at home – in Mac and Joni’s house. He takes a shower, looks around. This is going to get ugly. Interestingly, Detective Tommy Olsen (Josh Randall) and his partner Detective Verne Ratliff (Happy Anderson) happen by the place. Tommy wants to talk with Joni, although after a couple knocks they get pulled away on a call. Fate almost pulled a good one.
Life at the motel moves slowly. Mac talks about back in the day, Joni looks disillusioned with everything. They end up arguing a bit about starting a family. “Like you woulda made such a great fuckin‘ mother, huh?” Mac spits at her before walking away. He winds up helping the motel owner, Harlowe (Bill Irwin), to try getting the pool back in working shape. At the same time a man in a nice car shows up, spooking Mac. Meanwhile, Suggs is posing as a Memphis detective looking for Joni at the newspaper where she works.
In the background at the motel, Olympic coverage plays. A swimmer named Spitz competes heartily. At the same time Mac hallucinates, seeing that Asian mask draped over the television; cutting to a vision of him in combat boots, falling in the water and reaching for the same Asian mask floating nearby. Then Joni gets back with beer, acting very unfair towards Mac by bringing up his military service. Seems that nowadays he has nobody on his side, not even her like it was first when he got home: “I needed you,” she tells him when he tells her that his men needed him (re: his 2nd tour of duty). There’s an in-depth look at how combat changes people. Particularly vicious combat, as it was during the war in Vietnam. He tries to explain it to her, about how swimming in a pool at home wasn’t comfortable for him while his “brothers” were over there, getting killed and brutalised. He also wanted to do something to make her proud.
Well, on her way for ice Joni bumps into the man in the nice car, the one who showed up the last time we saw the motel manager. He starts asking Joni questions, about where she and Mac are headed. Hmm. Back at the room – after getting a joint from a lady named Shaynie (Ariadne Joseph) – Joni gets high and relaxes a bit, remembering better days (“Mac n‘ Joni n‘ Cheese“), before her husband cleans the wound on her back and patches it up again. They come together a bit, but Mac can’t face their harsher realities just yet. He heads to hang out with Harlowe again for a while.
Suggs has a kid named Billy (Joshua Mikel) tracking down numbers for him; he’s trying to figure out where Joni called in sick from to keep tracking her. Tricky, tricky. And he’s cold blooded, too. Instead of paying his pal, he shoots him right between the eyes – there’s your service charge, ya bastard!
At the motel, Mac watches live on television as word from the Munich Olympics in ’72 comes on about the massacre perpetrated by Black September. Mac’s so desensitised he barely takes time to contemplate the implications of what’s happening. But he does have other things to worry about, such as: who’s driving that fancy car? He pokes around a bit before the guy notices. He asks Harlowe a bit about him, though nothing big comes of that. Then while the motel manager is running around doing a few things, unbeknown to him Suggs calls and finds out the location of Mac and Joni. They’re caught up arguing in the room. Gets fairly rough. “You have no fuckin‘ idea about over there, you understand me? You have not a fucking clue,” Mac screams at her after she accuses him of banging Vietnamese prostitutes. Afterwards, she drops a bit of nastiness about him being “too busy killing women and children” to do anything else over there. His paranoia boils over when he runs to the fancy car man’s room and nearly tears the place apart, believing it’s somebody in cahoots with Suggs. What a doozy of a scene.
Finally ready to talk, Mac asks about Joni and Cliff. Simultaneously we see Suggs pulling up outside the motel. Just as Joni asks her husband about whether he killed Cliff, a knock at the door – it’s Suggs, who kills Harlowe before pistol whipping Mac brutally. An amazing, quick gunfight breaks out when Joni fires a bullet into Suggs’ face, skimming him. Then the woman Mac kept seeing around the motel steps in, putting another couple right in the bad dude to put him down; a headshot to be sure. Turns out the Broker’s had her sitting on the place. A great, unsuspecting choice. Love it. She tells the married couple to flee, and flee they do indeed.
Back safely in their house Mac explains his relationship with the Broker, how Arthur got into business with him awfully fast. So, above all else, the truth comes out between he and Joni. I mean every last little morsel of honesty. He confesses to the murder of Cliff, her former lover. I wonder how this will ultimately affect their relationship going forward? Joni doesn’t appear overly surprised, though that doesn’t mean she’s happy, either. “How did this become our life?” she asks, exhausted by it all. Mac can only try and apologise, for everything. He’s a gentleman about it all. Offering to leave if she wants, explaining he’ll understand if she calls the police. But really, he wants them to move on. To live life and rekindle their love. Can they ever actually do that?
One thing’s for sure – for all that’s happened, Joni loves Mac. Let’s hope they can make it after all. Because you know there is a lot more struggle to come.
Another spectacular episode. One of my favourites out of the quartet so far.
Next up is “Horla” and I’m excited to see more of the Broker, Buddy, Karl, and the crew.
Season 1, Episode 3: “A Mouthful of Splinters”
Directed by Greg Yaitanes
Written by Michael D. Fuller & Graham Gordy
* For a review of the previous episode, “Figure Four” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Seldom Realized” – click here
A man shows up at Joni’s (Jodi Balfour) door in the middle of the night, looking for Mac (Logan Marshall-Green). He says he served with him and Arthur over in the Vietnam War. He seems fairly genuine, at face value. But there’s something not quite right. He’s been following Mac, casing the place. Still, Joni doesn’t know that. And she lets him inside. It’s Suggs (Kurt Yaeger), the one from the night Arthur died.
Off doing his thing since discovering his wife’s betrayal, Mac has no idea about what’s going on at home. He’s all twisted up. At least he’s not putting a gun to his lips, as too many Vietnam War veterans did after coming home, as many veterans still do today, sadly. For now he has a beer, a couple Little Debbies. Just to try and feel normal for a while. Arriving home he discovers the place deserted. On the bed are the tapes he and Joni sent one another.
But in the bathroom is scrawled a terrifying message: I HAVE YOUR WIFE. Mac gets a call from Suggs. He wants explanations. More than that he wants money; a cold $20k. “A nice figure,” as he puts it. Like poor Mac isn’t already on the hook for close to $30K with the Broker (Peter Mullan).
The wonderful Ann Dowd plays Naomi, mama to Buddy (Damon Herriman). A good woman, taking care of her boy’s stitches. She’s a plain speaking type of lady. I dig it. They’re hilarious together. “Oh honey, our people don‘t die of gunshot wounds. Our people die of alcoholism and heart disease,” Naomi explains to her son. Not only does she stitch him up, she fixes a nice meal to go with his painkillers. Bless her heart.
As if Dowd wasn’t enough, fucking Tom Noonan graces us with his presence, playing Oldcastle, a dude with one righteous beard going on. By the looks of it, he keeps book of some sort, as well as does a few other things like take calls for the Broker. In fact, he gets such a call from Mac. This connects the chain to Karl (Edoardo Ballerini) in a nice blues club, where the Broker’s hanging with some ladies and jamming to the music. But he’s got to step off, there’s a “man in need.”
So Mac is understandably frantic. He wants to find his wife, although the Broker isn’t exactly helpful making Mac essentially beg for it. That’s how he does it, he sucks people in.
Over at the police station, Detective Tommy Olsen (Josh Randall) meets Sandy Williams (Kaley Ronayne). Their deceased lover, Cliff Williams, brother to Sandy, was high when he’d been working on the car, Olsen’s partner Dt. Verne Ratliff (Happy Anderson) thinks they ought to leave the whole thing alone now. No big deal. Good for Mac. Not so good for actual justice, I guess. Olsen seems like a straight arrow, he doesn’t want to let it go so easily. He actually calls Mac asking if he can come in to talk about Arthur’s murder. This sets him off trying to wipe down the creepy message in his bathroom.
Tucked away somewhere, Suggs has Joni tied against the wall to a bed frame. He rages a bit before apologising: “I get low blood sugar, I get irritable.” Moreover, he tells Joni about her husband cheating. On and on he goes, telling her more about his missing legs (diabetes) and the night Arthur got killed. As well as the fact Mac killed a man, stuffing a sock down his throat until he choked to death. “You don‘t know shit about shit,” Suggs taunts with menacing carelessness.
Recovering from his little ruckus, Buddy laughs it up and drinks with Mama Naomi, whose humour just does not stop. They have a great time together. You can tell there’s some deep sadness in Buddy, though. He doesn’t like the work he’s into, not sure if he can do it anymore. I wonder does Naomi know the extent of his work? “I just feel like the inside of me is worn away,” Buddy says.
Suggs calls Mac asking for the money, threatening sexual violence against Joni. They set a meet for 11 PM.
The Broker meets with Moses (Mustafa Shakir) on a rooftop in the city. They chat about Ruth (Nikki Amuka-Bird), whom Moses had been checking out recently. Trying to find out what Arthur did with his money. It’s clear Ruth doesn’t have it, by the looks of things. This leads to Moses needing to “keep an eye on” Mac in the foreseeable future. The Broker has a relationship previous to all this with Moses; sounds like there was trouble at one time, to some degree, and Moses fucked up. He’s working his way back into the man’s good graces.
Well, at least Mac gets $20K to retrieve his wife. Karl helps out with that, or helps by bringing the money. He doesn’t help with the way he talks and Mac isn’t pleased with his nonchalant bullshit. Regardless, the plan’s going ahead. All depends now on whether Suggs lives through the whole experience, or if Karl will end up killing him. No matter what he does now, Mac is linked to murder for a long while in an escalating number of ways.
Joni makes a go of it and tries getting the upper hand on Suggs. Resulting in a nasty little fight between the two. She manages to get into his boat, speeding away. God damn right, Joni!
In an underground gay club Buddy mixes pills with booze, reaching behind the bar and generally acting like a mess. He thinks he spots a guy named Gary (Phillip Daniel) with whom he previously had some sort of relationship, that definitely ended badly: “Glitter don‘t lie, bitch,” Buddy spouts off before leaving in a pissy, drugged up mood.
Joni’s far from the little cabin on the water and looking for help, some shelter. She winds up breaking and entering, technically, ending up in a country store somewhere. Meanwhile, Mac waits with a gun, all the money counted – and Joni gets a call through to him. Off he goes to collect his wife and get her out of harm’s way.
Getting away, Mac tries to assure Joni he’s taking care of things. But she’s finding life a lot more difficult now, more than when he was away in Vietnam. Because there are so many new things going on, from betrayal to crime to so much more underneath it all. Still, Mac will do whatever it takes to protect his wife, despite her cheating and his own cheating. Except tell her the truth.
And maybe, just maybe, that is the best thing. For the time being.
Continually, each episode, I love the series more. The actors, the cinematography, the gritty story and its themes. Lots to love!
Next up is “Seldom Realized” and I’m sure there’ll be a good doses of action, intrigue, humour to hook us in further.
Season 1, Episode 2: “Figure Four”
Directed by Greg Yaitanes
Written by Michael D. Fuller & Graham Gordy
* For a review of the premiere, “You Don’t Miss Your Water” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “A Mouthful of Splinters” – click here
Mac ‘Quarry’ Conway (Logan Marshall-Green) is probably feeling sort of lost. He’s sitting by the pool listening to tapes Joni (Jodi Balfour) sent him while he was serving in the Vietnam War. Back when they were in love, before he found out about her affair. Before he killed the man who was sleeping with her. This opening sequence is great, watching the paperboy, Joni in her room, Mac by the pool, as the tapes play over top. All the while her lover lies dead in his garage. That’s where paperboy comes in: he finds the man crushed under his previously jacked up car.
The couple are barely hanging on. Not sure how long that’ll last, either. Detective Tommy Olsen (Josh Randall) is looking into the death of Arthur, the one-legged man. His partner Detective Verne Ratliff (Happy Anderson) doesn’t seem as dead set on it all, but time will tell. Meanwhile, Mac meets the ever strange Buddy (Damon Herriman) and they head for a drink. Although it’s not a friendly one really. Mac’s tense about where the deal with the Broker (Peter Mullan) goes next. “There‘s no good news in this world,” Buddy tells him. Either pay the money, or, well… we all know how these stories go, and Mac does, too. At the same time, Joni and her friend Andrea (Heighlen Boyd) discover the former’s lover dead, his house a crime scene.
Ruth (Nikki Amuka-Bird) and her family try to get on after Arthur’s death. Things weren’t perfect before, so they definitely aren’t doing any better now. Mac shows up to pay a visit, though, and Ruth appreciates it. He isn’t there just to check up. He’s poking around trying to find out where Arthur hid the money from the Broker. He cares for his friend, Ruth, but right at the moment it’s only fear and self-preservation that drives him. When he leaves Ruth’s place somebody watches him not far away.
Mac looks more flustered by the minute. He heads over to his father’s place. He isn’t there, only his wife. The one who doesn’t want Mac around. He barges his way in there, drinking up liquor and acting fairly passive aggressive. After leaving abruptly he doesn’t look any better, though he at least makes it home to fall in bed. Except it’s the bed where his wife cheated on him. He drunkenly, sadly, hilariously tries to get the mattress out before giving up and punching the shit out of it.
Detectives Ratliff and Olsen sit in a bar drinking. Turns out Olsen knew the deceased, Joni’s lover. He wants to keep the case, just finds it “weird” to have known the victim. Naturally. I can see that he’ll be a bigger part of the show moving forward, at least that’s what I imagine. Knowing the guy, plus being police, naturally he’s going to want to find out who murdered him.
At home, Joni finds the vinyl rocking, Mac on the floor, a torn up and bloody mattress in the hallway. He is absolutely wild. Scaring her slightly. I can see that. All the same I totally understand Mac. He went to serve his country, now he’s home and his wife cheated on him, his country doesn’t want to take care of him, the one guy who knew exactly what he’d gone through died on a dirty apartment floor. Life for Mac Conway is absolute fucking shit. But now, after seeing the crime scene briefly from outside, Joni worries what he’s capable of when pushed too far. Murder; that’s what.
Buddy meets with a connect named Joe Don (Owen Harn) to get some guns. He’s a haggler. Trying to knock things down a few notches. After awhile this doesn’t make Joe too happy. What we see here is the intimidation factor of Buddy. He’s not a big man. Commanding, though. And in a split second – “No cussin‘” – he stops Joe in his tracks. Then brokers a proper deal. We already know that Buddy’s likely gay, or at least a bit feminine. Joe almost offends him by offering up a gift: a gun with a nice pink handle. Buddy takes the piece and does not look pleased.
Working at the newspaper, Joni gets called in by Detectives Ratliff and Olsen because of her connection to the dead man under his car. Of course Quan Thang comes up briefly. Mostly, we can see that her affair is probably going to come out eventually. She knows it. The worry is barely containable, she starts having a panic attack at the thought of what could happen. And paranoia’s setting in, as well. She winds up stealing evidence, one of the tapes.
Mac goes out for a night of Dixie Wrestling with the Broker. They chat. Well, the Broker does, and Mac resents their even being there together, not wanting to deal with what’s to come. What’s noticeable in this scene is the Southern racism – Confederate flag flying, a Mandingo wrestler in the ring being booed as he inches towards victory. The Broker has a line on what’s happening in the investigation, assuring Mac nothing’s coming of it just yet. Mac starts to think Joni’s in danger, but the mysterious Broker only wants him to do more work, and in turn to provide more money for him.
A man named Moses (Mustafa Shakir) dines where Ruth works, he befriends her while she takes his order. He keeps a watchful eye on her. There’s something more in it. He slips back into her house, knowing she’s at work. He looks through the place. But soon the family comes home and he has to make a quick getaway.
Out at the gun meet, Buddy brings Quarry to do his deal with Joe Don. All of a sudden things get sketchy. Guns are drawn on the boys. When shit gets real, Buddy proves he’s not some “cocky little faggot” like Joe taunts with vicious bigotry: he chops big Joe in the throat, starting a gunfight. You know with a guy like Quarry on his side things manage to come out well for them. After a bit of messing around, anyways. Great acting all around from Logan Marshall-Green and Damion Herriman, plus a spectacular showing of practical special effects that will really wow even a horror fan. Intense. The car chase is fun, too.
Karl (Edoardo Ballerini) and the Broker catch up with the banged up pair. Yet through all the violence there’s just as much sense in what’s happening at home as what happened in Vietnam, for Quarry. Or, now he’s transitioned back to Mac after the dirty deeds are done. He already had to become someone else over there during the war. Now, that someone else is hard to define because he’s becoming a monster at home just like he was as a soldier.
The episode ends with Joni listening to a tape from Mac. Full circle to the episode opening in the opposite way. After she listens to a tape of her and her lover, that is. While she does that, Mac tries to find a bit of love elsewhere; a bit of physical love. They’re certainly drifting apart.
And the man following Mac, he heads up to the house, knocking on the door. Before Joni gets to answer, the credits roll.
Until next time. Following episode is titled “A Mouthful of Splinters” and there’s no telling what kind of mess Mac and his criminal alter ego Quarry will get into next. No telling what’ll happen at all. So much exciting development here. So much pain and suffering, so much paranoia, all kinds of ways the plot(s) can go.
Season 1, Episode 1: “You Don’t Miss Your Water”
Directed by Greg Yaitanes
Written by Michael D. Fuller & Graham Gordy
* For a review of the next episode, “Figure Four” – click here
A man lies face down in the water at the edge of the shore. This is Mac Conway (Logan Marshall-Green). He’s seen better days. At least he’s alive. Stubmling down the shore further Mac sees a man and shoots him from behind, putting another bullet in him after he’s down. Then into the river he goes.
But time hasn’t gotten there yet. This is Mac’s future.
In ’72, Mac’s returning from Vietnam with his buddy Arthur (Jamie Hector). At the airport they’re greeted by Arthur’s wife Ruth (Nikki Amuka-Bird). Coming home is a surprise for Mac’s wife. That’s pretty nice. What’s not so nice is that Mac and Arthur were “implicated” in a massacre that happened in Vietnam. They were cleared, but obviously the sentiments back home feel differently. I dig the story within the first ten minutes because it’s a side of American military history we don’t often get to see, other than a few choice movies. Quarry sets up a unique look into the lives of men who were in the army during a dirty, especially underhanded (at times) military conflict.
So Mac gets back to his place. Inside he finds “Tupelo Honey” playing, his wife Joni (Jodi Balfour) cleaning the pool. A better reception than at the airport.
Outside, a familiar face from the airport, Buddy (Damon Herriman), is lurking strangely and taking pictures of the house. He’s also got an arsenal of weapons in his trunk. All the while the happy couple relax inside with a joint, swim in the pool. Except Mac has strange visions after diving below the water, nearly choking before pushing above the surface. Of course he pretends it’s nothing. Yet the strange image of an Asian-looking mask in the pool lingers in my mind.
Later that night Mac gets a hang-up call. This almost immediately creates paranoia. You can tell just by the look in his eyes.
Back in his neighbourhood, Arthur plays some ball with his boy Marcus (Joshua J. Williams), as Ruth is busy making a nice breakfast. They’re a sweet little family, glad to have papa home once more. Arthur’s busy heading out to try and find work; another struggle for many of the men coming home from Vietnam, sadly. A problem that still persists to this day, too. He has an interview where the white man who sees him in won’t even shake his hand. From there it doesn’t look so hot. No management position like Arthur imagined. He fought for his country, now they’ll have him doing whatever grunt work they can find.
A welcome home party sees Mac and his father Lloyd (Skipp Sudduth) sit together awhile. Every relationship has changed, except for Joni it seems. The wives are the most understanding of everybody. Lloyd lets his son know he’s not welcome around the house, his wife doesn’t approve of all that stuff Mac got involved with over in Vietnam. I assume they’re talking about something similar to what we now know as the Mỹ Lai Massacre. Only wonder exactly how involved both Mac and Arthur were.
Looks as if Buddy is working for the Broker (god amongst men Peter Mullan), keeping an eye on Mac for some reason. Perhaps they’re preying on newly returned veterans.
Out looking for work, Mac finds further resistance to him being home. Nobody seems to want to have anything to do with him. It becomes more clear by the minute Mac will have to figure something else out. “Two tours, one hundred and fifty–six dollars, sixty–eight cents. Your thank you for your service card must‘ve got lost in the mail,” he laments looking at a cheque from the government. Terrible to see how veterans were being treated, and in some cases still are; Mac’s situation is a microcosm. Judging by the episode opener, he’s been left with no other choices. Nobody wants to help him, employ him.
Until the Broker shows up on the deck of Mac’s pool. He has a bit of an offer. Including if Mac makes any trouble, a man named Karl (Edoardo Ballerini) inside with a gun. The “opportunity” is refused. The Broker has a line on how desperate Mac is beginning to get, how badly he needs income. “All you gotta do is pull the trigger,” he explains to Mac. They chat a bit about why Mac went back to Vietnam. Things end abruptly before Joni gets home. Not before Mac straps a shotgun underneath the bed.
At a garage, Mac finds the mechanic there as greasy as any criminal, doing anything he can to fleece customers. So what’s the difference, really? Meanwhile, poor Arthur’s breaking his back in a mill for shit pay, wondering exactly why there’s nothing better for him either. The two of them discover they’ve been approached by the Broker. Arthur is totally fine with doing contract killings, although Mac is understandably reserved. After Vietnam a man’s morals have been degraded. “If you do this, you are who they say you are, man,” Mac pleads with his friend. To which he replies: “We already are what they say we are, where you been?”
The damage to Mac’s psyche is clear. He almost wants to kill a man who tries to assuage his guilt about the Quan Thang Massacre. Instead, he hugs the man. Tightly.
It isn’t long before Mac has changed his mind. He and Arthur have a look at the job they’re up for currently. The Broker gives them guns, plus a file full of information on the target. Arthur and Mac scope the guy out, start doing some recon. When the time is right Arthur sneaks into the man’s apartment. Problem is he’s shot by someone waiting in the dark. Across the way Mac watches through binoculars, horrified by the turn of events. He heads in blasting on his own. The two men wrestle with him awhile, but Mac gets the upper hand on one, as the other runs. So sad to see Mac and Arthur survive Vietnam, only for the latter to die on the floor of some dirty apartment. Then having to see his friend be buried, feeling alone in the midst of all those people with the knowledge of what happened; this is excellently visualised showing Mac literally alone, the people around him disappearing momentarily.
The Broker calls Mac up to let him know he’s now officially on the hook for $30K. They’re also meeting up at the quarry to discuss everything further. Oh, I can see the sinister way all this is headed. Things are already deteriorating between Joni and Mac, a little. They start arguing over a misplaced Otis Redding record; not exactly fair on his part. But the divide is beginning. I only hope he doesn’t manage to push her away because she’s about the single person on Earth who seems to understand him on any kind of level.
Out at the quarry, Mac meets the Broker. Certainly the veteran has himself covered, shotgun and all. The Broker’s smart, though, and has a sniper on a nearby ridge covering them, as well. Quarry becomes Mac’s new nickname. Also, the veteran will have to do a few things for the Broker. Surely to make life more complicated than any easier.
Over in that lonely room, Mac goes to see Buddy about what’s next; another file. At the same time, Buddy makes himself a spiked bat while they talk. Next target is Cliff Williams (Daniel Brunnemer Hall). A lot of great dialogue from Buddy in particular here. Love this scene. His bit about the “unexamined life” is a perfect work-in of philosophical thought into an unexpected scene.
When Mac follows Cliff he arrives at his own house. So, he heads up along the side, crying, hearing his wife inside with that man. They get naked together, Mac trying not to reveal himself just yet. An awful situation to experience. All a setup by the Broker to show him what’s happening in his own life. Afterwards, Mac goes to see Cliff in his garage; that’s where his Otis record went. Yikes. Fucking harsh, Joni. Death comes harsh for Cliff, too. The transformation of Mac into Quarry is happening fast, the descent into nothingness egged on by this brutal betrayal. And job done for the Broker.
Back at his house, Mac puts on Otis, so that Joni can hear. He swims laps in the pool. Without words they understand one another. Just no telling where they go from here.
This is one of the BEST opening episodes of a series I’ve seen in awhile. Great story, great characters. Plenty of intrigue. And it’s timeless, the subject matter, the themes. Can’t wait to see the follow-up episode titled “Figure Four” – guaranteed it’ll be another intriguing chapter. The acting is phenomenal from Logan Marshall-Green. I’m beyond pumped for more.
You don't dig PROMETHEUS? Well, Father Gore does— so buckle up!
The Invitation. 2015. Directed by Karyn Kusama. Screenplay by Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi.
Starring Logan Marshall-Green, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Aiden Lovekamp, Michelle Krusiec, Mike Doyle, Jordi Vilasuso, Jay Larson, Marieh Delfino, Tammy Blanchard, Michael Huisman, Lindsay Burdge, John Carroll Lynch, Toby Huss, Danielle Camastra, Trish Gates, & Karl Yune. Gamechanger Films/Lege Artis/XYZ Films.
Unrated. 100 minutes.
I’ve long said a film can survive on atmosphere alone sometimes. Not that a movie can be perfect without story or plot, but I can love a piece of cinema for its mood and its tone above other elements. But what happens when you’ve got a strong, palpable atmosphere that deals in the strongest sort of psychological horror combined with a mysterious and thrilling drama? The Invitation from director Karyn Kusama is what happens.
Using some character actors who are off the beaten path, such as the fabulous John Carroll Lynch and Logan Marshall-Green, as well as a very interesting perspective in a screenplay from Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, the quiet, at times frightening thrills of this film are well-honed. This film has the right looks, the right feel, and the performances pull its effectiveness wire-tight across the throat, never letting go until the last frame. In a new Golden Age of horror that’s seeing indie film lead the charge towards better stories, better production, more focus on smart writing and practical effects rather than CGI and half-assed screenplays, The Invitation is another welcome addition to my favourite films since 2000.
Will (Logan Marshall-Green) is heading to a dinner party with his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi). They’ve been invited by his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman). Many tensions surround Will; not only is it the first time in a couple years he’s seen Eden, the party is in the former home which they shared.
Once there, Will starts to question exactly what is is that brought them there for the party. As the night wears on he begins wondering if Eden and David have some other intentions for gathering their former group of friends together. Some leftover trauma lingers over Will from the life he had with his ex-wife. At the same time, Eden seems to have moved on. She and David belong to some type of cult, a supposed self-help-styled community. And a little way in the evening descends into something much more wild than any of the guests ever expected.
But is it real? Or is Will just losing his mind?
The mystery of the screenplay works wonders. Slight bits and pieces of the backstory to these characters trickles out. As the scenes move forward, the characters develop through a solid pace. Some of the best parts of The Invitation have to do with the thin line it treads, tightrope walking between excitement and subtle creepiness. I dig slow burn stories, as long as they’re done properly. At the same time, when a plot moves from steady to thrilling this makes things all the much better. Kusama weaves the story from start to finish with an underlying tension, a pulse-thumping dread that nearly rattles the bones, so that once the plot breaks out full force you want to grind your teeth down to the jaw.
Part of the wonderfully effective atmosphere comes from the haunting, rhythmic, ghostly score that adorns the movie. Surprisingly, Theodore Shapiro has mostly done a lot of comedies, from Old School to more recent stuff with Paul Feig. Yet here he perfectly adds such a paranoid edge to many of the scenes with his score. It oozes out from the edges and scoops you up, pulling you in, getting under your skin. This works well in addition with cinematographer Bobby Shore’s shadowy work. Much of the film is cast in a great deal of dark, naturally lit spaces, from the living room to hallways to the candle-lit table at dinner. Shore hasn’t done a ton of notable work, but the camera here captures everything so flawlessly it is hard to believe he isn’t doing more films of this caliber. Between Shore and Shapiro’s score, these elements make The Invitation suspicious, filled with paranoid moments, it never lets you move back from the edge of your seat. And above all, these aspects together with the screenplay make for a story that will keep you guessing, one moment to the next.
There are a handful of good performances here. Everyone in the core group of friends does a nice job. Further than that, the central role of Will is perfect in the hands of Logan Marshall-Green. He’s played some great characters, from his turn in Prometheus to his portrayal of Jewel Bundren in James Franco’s film adaptation of As I Lay Dying. This role requires him, along with the screenplay, to keep us guessing. The paranoia of his character is almost evident from the very beginning. His emotion, his range and subtle acting all make Will a raw, honest, even sometimes uncomfortable character.
Added to Marshall-Green, the casting of John Carroll Lynch was a solid choice. He is a character actor that can bring to life many different types, from gentle sort of people like his character from Fargo to the disturbed maniac like his Twisty the Clown from American Horror Story: Freak Show. His character in this film, a man named Pruitt also involved in the cult of which David and Eden are a part, adds an extra layer of mystery and paranoia. He is an outside force, independent of the original group of friends, and that very fact puts him on the periphery of the group. So with his unnervingly calm performance, particularly in the first half of the film, Lynch adds more tension and suspense to chew on. He keeps things off-balance much like the screenplay as a whole.
The film’s finale still has me reeling. Even if the lead-up were mediocre, which it was not – it was almost pitch perect – the last twenty minutes of The Invitation make this into a horrifying, reality-driven thriller. And it just may take your breath away. Part of the impact comes from the inability to completely guess what will happen next. However, a large portion, again, is the atmosphere. Karyn Kusama can now be considered a master o suspense, as the story sucked me into its black hole then completely chewed me up in the final act. This is another movie that, as of late, has been subject of huge hype. For good reason, too. Go into this knowing as little as you can about the actual plot. This will make for an even more deafening blow to your psyche once the movie takes hold.