This article contains Spiral spoilers.
After all these years on the force, Chris Rock’s seasoned Det. Zeke Banks still hasn’t figured out that when you play a Jigsaw game, the unwritten rule is you have to lose. Sure, his one-time partner, Det. “William Schenk” (Max Minghella), isn’t actually Jigsaw, nor even a true-blue disciple of John Kramer. However, Will learned the master’s trade, and he learned it well. Which is why at the end of Spiral: From the Book of Saw, Will’s on an elevator that’ll apparently lead him to safety out of this warehouse, and the SWAT team just murdered an innocent Black man.
… Well, as innocent as a man like former Police Chief Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson) can be. It’s interesting though that Will let Marcus’ son, Zeke, live, isn’t it? We’ll get to that later.
For those who want a refresher about how this Saw movie all played out, let’s go back to the moment which set this all in motion. Twelve years ago, Zeke Banks was a beat cop with a crooked partner named Pete. While investigating a crime in an apartment building that apparently involved a cop murdering someone, Pete is taking a witness statement from a man who says he’ll go on the record: yes, he saw a corrupt police officer commit a crime. So Pete pulls out a gun and shoots the witness in the heart.
By the time a younger Zeke gets on the scene, Pete has placed a gun in his victim’s hand and claims he shot him in self-defense. Zeke of course knows it’s a lie, as does the child who watches from a bedroom doorway in the corner. That child grows up to be Minghella’s character.
The twist is actually pretty heavily hinted at throughout the movie. When Zeke and Will go to a church to talk with Pete—who ended up serving nine years of hard time after Zeke turned him in—the former partner even admits what they did was wrong, saying “it was crazy back then” and that the guy he murdered “had a family.”
Throughout Spiral, we are told that these Jigsaw murder games are “too personal” to be another Jigsaw disciple. This copycat is out for revenge. And at least for this viewer, I immediately began suspecting Will, who always talked about his wife and son but never introduced them to his new partner. When Zeke calls Will at home, we hear a baby crying off-screen but never see it.
So when Will then also dies, apparently off-screen, in a murder that wasn’t even apparently a game—it seemed like he was skinned alive in a butcher’s shop—it becomes pretty obvious that Will is actually the son of the man Pete murdered. Seriously, we have a whole scene about Zeke consoling the widow of a buddy on the force who died, but no one thinks to call Will’s supposed wife about the young detective’s death?
But you’re not supposed to think about that plot hole. The point is that as a child, Will only got nominal justice thanks to Zeke turning his partner in. But Zeke is the anomaly: the one good cop who will not tolerate the “code of silence” in cases of blatant corruption.
That corruption in the police force stems from the system itself. While we’re never told exactly what Article VIII is, the citywide law is apparently the PATRIOT Act on steroids, or just Giuliani Time redux, allowing police to deal with perceived criminals at their “own discretion.” One of the apparent architects of it was Zeke’s father, then-Police Chief Banks. Played by a cocky Jackson, we learn in flashbacks how systemic the coverup culture is on his watch.
Hence Marcus dreads Zeke will be killed by other cops because his son did the right thing and turned in a rotten apple. Indeed, one of Will’s future victims, Det. Fitch (Richard Zeppieri), even lets Zeke take a bullet, refusing to answer Zeke’s calls for backup.
Zeke is protected, to an extent, by his father and his otherwise reasonable seeming, if complicit, captain (Marisol Nichols). But Zeke turning in Pete failed to bring any tangible change to corruption among the department’s ranks. Even Zeke’s best friend on the force winds up being the new Jigsaw’s first victim because he lied constantly on the witness stand, getting potentially innocent people sent to prison in order to bolster the DA’s conviction rate. It’s why Jigsaw takes his tongue.
This is Will’s grand idea: take the teachings of John Kramer and apply them to the entire Metropolitan Police Department.
“[The spiral] is a symbol of change, evolution, progress,” Will says. “But why limit that to an individual when you can apply it to a whole system? You got shot for doing the right thing. Let’s face it, these cops aren’t going to clean up on their own. We take a tongue here, a few bones there, they’ll come around. We’re going to fix a broken department. You and me.”
So the boy who saw his father murdered by a dirty cop changed his name to Will Shank, became the top of his class in the police academy, and situated himself as the partner of the one honest cop who’s spent 12 years looking over his shoulder. He also created a fake home life, so no one wondered what he was doing after hours.
Strangely, he isn’t above a little murder himself. A drug addict named Billy Riots is who Will pays to bump into his first victim. Will later kills Benny, skinning him so that it’ll look like Zeke’s new partner died screaming.
In any event, the movie ends exactly how Will wants it to. He sets up a trap where Zeke can try to save the old crooked partner he sent to prison (Zeke fails twice in Will’s eyes, first by attempting to actually save the man and then by not succeeding). Next he gives Zeke the choice to join his crusade by standing by and watching his daddy die.
I’m not sure why Will thinks the best way to win over an accomplice in Zeke is by killing his father in front of him since the murder of a father is what inspired this whole mess. Nevertheless, Zeke winds up in another no-win scenario. He has one bullet he can use to kill Will, if he so chooses, or use it to disarm the elaborate trap bleeding Marcus to death, drip by drip from tubes into mason jars.
Zeke tries to save his father, which fails another test in Will’s eyes. At this point though, he’s already implemented his “full-proof” escape plan: Zeke still can’t win.
When the SWAT team busts down the door, they hit a wire which triggers another fail-safe in Marcus’ trap. Like a puppet on strings, Samuel L. Jackson is pulled back into the air, with the blood draining out. A string also pulls his hand up with a shotgun in it, making Marcus seem like a threatening Black man. The chief is brutally gunned down by his own police force.
The political subtext in all of this is thick. With a story idea originated by Rock—notably before the murder of George Floyd last year—the Saw franchise has returned in the Black Lives Matter era with a potent (if heavy handed) allegory about racism in law enforcement and the institutional menace of authority valuing the protection of their own over the safety of the public.
One imagines the real reason, then, Will lets Zeke live—even after he still tried to save his corrupt daddy from being gunned down like so many other fathers and sons—is so Rock can go head-to-head with Will again in another sequel. It certainly feels like we’re all still on the same spiral downward. So why not a Saw sequel with a recurring protagonist?