This review contains spoilers.
2.1 Home, Sweet Home
It’s February 5, 1865. Five Points, New York is every bit as seamy and depraved as we left it, and Copper wastes no time in throwing us back to the wolves.
First, a little recap. Detective Kevin Corcoran and company have foiled the Confederate plot to burn New York City. Elizabeth Haverford was in on the Confederate plot, but no one knows it yet. Corky’s former best friend and partner, Francis Maguire, is in prison for murder. He slept with Corcoran’s wife Ellen and then confined her to an insane asylum. It was Ellen who killed Corcoran’s daughter, by accident. Meanwhile the Civil War continues, and Lincoln’s assassination date is drawing near.
Almost three months have passed in-story since the season one finale, and things have changed since then. Home, Sweet Home reveals new information passively, as though we have been there watching it happen all along. Robert Morehouse and Elizabeth are now engaged. Sara Freeman miscarried her baby. The Sixth Ward has been placed under the jurisdiction of General Brendan Donovan (Donal Logue, a new series regular). The entire episode feels as though it’s taking place mid-season.
This could be a plus or a minus, depending on how you look at it. It’s an excellent example of Copper’s refusal to talk down to its audience. The show never spells things out or dumbs them down, trusting that we will catch on to its often subtle storytelling. It even expects us to know a bit of history (or at least to go Google it). This is a refreshing departure from the attitude of many other TV shows, and it’s fun piecing things together for oneself. On the other hand, while watching the episode I found myself haunted by the feeling that I was missing things – that I had forgotten crucial details from last season, had spaced out and overlooked some important plot point, or even had gotten the wrong date and was watching episode two. After so months away from Copper, I needed some time to reacquaint myself with it. None was given, and it left me scrambling to catch up.
The confusion is exacerbated by an odd plot structure. There are two crimes on Corky’s to-do list. One involves Buzzie Burke, a crazy curly-moustached guy who carves open Eva’s back. (The scene in which she describes her revenge plot to paint his face on the bottom of her privy is an instant classic.) The other involves dead and missing teenage boys. The Buzzie issue dominates the first half of the episode, but he is caught with twenty minutes still to go and the focus shifts to the teenage boys. That case will continue in next week’s episode, according to the promo. The two cases appear (so far, at least) to be entirely unrelated.
But seriously, who’s in this for the procedural stuff anyway? For the premiere especially, what we really wanted was to check in with the diverse crew of morally ambiguous Five Points citizens we grew to love last season. The episode obliges us, giving substantial screen time to its many characters and reassuring us that yes, they are just as screwed up at ever. (The only one they short-change is Annie, though she does have a BA fry-pan moment.) This episode touches on many plotlines, too many to cover in this review. It’s a sampler of things to come, and I suspect every one of them will come up again later in the season.
Probably the most noteworthy plot for most viewers is that of Francis, who now has a long mess of hair and sits in the corner singing – the top two symptoms of character craziness. After Buzzie is thrown in prison, Francis kills him (it’s not clear why). Later, Francis is released from prison after evidence against him goes missing, apparently because he paid someone off. Promos of him with his shiny glass eye and snazzy new haircut suggest that he may turn into the Big Bad for this season.
A small thing, but of note: this episode passes the Bechdel Test twice, with conversations between Eva and Sara (about Eva’s toilet plans, among other things) and between Sara and Elizabeth (about dresses). It’s sad that this is worth mentioning, but it did stand out to me, and it was nice to see. I’m not sure it happened at all in season one.
Although I spent way more of this episode wtf-ing than I would have liked, it was still great to have Copper back, which is a testament to the strength of its characters and setting. It will likely get easier to follow once we’re back in the swing of the show, so I’m not too worried. The writers have said they’re moving away from the crime procedural formula, too, and that’s good news, because interpersonal drama is what Copper does best.
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