This Briarpatch review contains spoilers.
Briarpatch Episode 2
Maybe it’s watching the characters of Briarpatch interact in the searing temperatures of San Bonafacio, but I’ve already warmed to USA Network’s new neo noir quite a bit. However, after two episodes, a clear problem looks to be arising for the show; there are two seemingly competing storylines, and one is more interesting. At the moment, it isn’t an issue because the hunt for Felicity’s killer is bringing Allegra into contact with all sorts of quirky characters with shady motivations. But as more time is spent on Allegra’s day job, the one bringing her back in touch with old flame Jake Spivey, I’m already finding myself wondering when we will get back to the Spivey, the Senator, and the Clyde Brattle case.
Showrunner Andy Greenwald is famously against using flashbacks, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt if the viewer was able to spend more time with Felicity. The anecdotes delivered by the other characters aren’t enough to have me as invested in finding justice for the slain officer, partly because there’s an air of insincerity to all of Briarpatch’s supporting players (though that’s a feature and not a bug), but mostly because Allegra hasn’t spent much time verbalizing her emotions. It’s obvious that Allegra isn’t the “talk about my feelings”-type, and Rosario Dawson is playing the stone-faced detective well, but our lack of real connection to Felicity is already making that side of the story start to lag behind when placed next to something that’s truly crackling.
Even when Briarpatch is telling us more about Felicity’s connection to the other characters, we’re still learning more about the living than the deceased. For instance, the episode opens with a great bit of comedic business involving Detective Colder and a dead cat. Colder’s reaction to the cat’s death, plus the shrill voice heard off-screen and the artwork dedicated to the fallen feline tell us everything we need to know about Colder’s home life, why he’d find such solace in a pretty young woman, and why he’d be so woeful now that she’s gone. Yet that still doesn’t tell us much about the dead girl, and that lack of connection to the person at the center of the mystery has hurt better stories than this.
That doesn’t mean that Allegra’s investigation into Felicity’s death is boring or bad. In fact, it feels like a fun Texas-twist on a classic noir whodunit where anyone and everyone is a suspect. While trying to get more information about Felicity’s finances and her apartment building, she jumps around San Bonifacio local to local. While each supporting character rattles off some requisite exposition, they still each manage to present themselves as fully-realized characters. While John Aylward’s take on the boozy, pain in the ass reporter is a delight, and Allegra Edwards’ flirty Cindy certainly makes an impression, Pick’s most important meetings are with Kim Dickens’ Chief Raytek and John Beavers’ Floyd Ferness.
Allegra runs into Raytek in the bathroom after visiting the coroner’s office. Raytek behaves warmly, with some Southern nice to Allegra right away. She even vows to avenge Felicity’s death. Still, based on Singe’s comments, we know not to trust the police officers in San Bonafacio. We also know something is up with Raytek when she very publicly throws Freddie out of the bar and humiliates him, but at the end of episode montage, she’s seen buying a drink for the man and showing her respect. Based on all the information we have, we can confidently call this suspicious behavior.
Though suspicions are enhanced when Allegra finally catches up with Floyd, who had been creepily following her all day. A former star athlete and lover of Felicity’s, Floyd sounds more like a burn out conspiracy theorist these days, discussing exactly how he’ll eventually be framed for Felicity’s murder. Except everything Floyd predicts comes true before Felicity’s eyes. Beavers gives Floyd an instantly likeable quality, and maybe if he truly is framed for the crime, avenging Floyd could be another wrinkle that gives this side of the investigation more pop and emotional ressonance.
It certainly needs it, because the other side of Briarpatch’s story features a coked-up Jay Ferguson in a jump suit dancing around to “High Pressure Days” by The Units. That’s hard to compete with. Spivey just adds so much energy to the series every time he’s on screen, partly because Jake and Pick’s fire and ice dynamic works so well. The snowcone scene this week is the best five minutes of television I’ve watched in a while, enhanced by director Steven Piet’s staging, like when he pulls the camera out wide and shoots Jake and Allegra standing on opposite sides of a vacant lot, with Spivey’s personal security lurking in the background.
Clyde Brattle, Jake’s gun-running buddy, has slipped U.S. custody and now it’s imperative that Allegra get Jake’s deposition immediately, before he learns that the Senator has lost his leverage. Unfortunately, Spivey is too savvy, notices Pick’s desperation, and makes that assumption himself. By the episode end, Allegra is choked out in her hotel room and Spivey’s deposition is stolen, bringing Allegra back to square one as Cyrus and the Senator are breathing down her neck.
Briarpatch continues to delight with its specific, engrossing setting and the ripe chemistry between its two leads. I’m certainly still invested to see where this ride is heading, but if the series isn’t careful, the snap, crackle, pop between Pick and Spivey could overwhelm the main storyline. Knowing that notorious ham Alan Cumming is joining the cast next week as Brattle seems like it will tip the scale even further to that side of the plot’s direction. Hopefully Allegra’s personal investigation continues to feature memorable townies, because the professional investigation feels like where all the personality is really shining. These two roads are likely to converge, but how long will we have to wait?
Nick Harley is a tortured Cleveland sports fan, thinks Douglas Sirk would have made a killer Batman movie, Spider-Man should be a big-budget HBO series, and Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson should direct a script written by one another. For more thoughts like these, read Nick’s work here at Den of Geek or follow him on Twitter.