Forever episode 5 review: The Pugilist Break

The immortal Henry sees things repeating themselves over time, much as they do in this show...

This review contains spoilers.

1.5 The Pugilist Break

The fast pace, quick wit and nuanced comedy of the Chris Fedak-written previous story dissipated rather too rapidly with The Pugilist Break. This was a by-the-numbers detective yarn that seemed borrowed from a dozen other New York crime stories, where the property developer is the nemesis, and people are forced to make poor choices in their circumstances.

But its biggest sin was the lack of any significant character development given the amount of screen time that both Henry and Jo were given here. We already know that Henry is a sucker for anyone being oppressed or downtrodden, and we also know that Detective Martinez is a rule-breaker, so playing those cards again seemed pointless.

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Only right at the end of the story, when Henry convinces her to come to dinner with him and Abe, did any true character work momentarily surface. In terms of the rest, New York seemed amazing to look at, but populated almost entirely with cookie-cutter characters. The young kid who idolises the boxer, the win-at-any-cost city developer, and the drug dealer who is just a businessman on the wrong side of the law. It was almost the complete set, missing only the prostitute with a heart. Obviously using stereotypes does enable less pedantic storytelling, but nothing in this episode moved with any great pace or momentum. 

Also, having experienced the environment in which Forever is set first hand, and having more than a few corrolations with Henry’s character, how he gets complete strangers into conversation seems wildly optimistic. That he doesn’t get mugged wandering around the East Village at night talking with drug dealers, dressed like that, is also a stretch possibly too far. That said, in the gambit of places in NY that have depressing histories, Alphabet City is probably one of the few where filming street scenes wouldn’t require close air support, and the avenues look great.

So what did I like? Where the show works well is when it takes us back in time, overlaying past events with the present. If the writers want to do something really interesting with Forever, why not have an episode that’s almost entirely set in the past, where the crime is set in motion only to be revealed in the present? There isn’t any great cost to this, as it’s only costumes, and when we look back at Henry’s life it is significantly more interesting.

In this story they did a very cool effect sequence where Henry’s torch glimpsed into the past, before it changed to a lantern. That was a nice idea, and very well implemented. However, as cute as some of these touches are, they’ve entirely forgotten about any larger story arc, and there seems a pitiful amount of character development. Presenting instead what seem like narratives that could have been Kojak episodes probably isn’t going to bring Forever a second season, or even an extended first one.

I’m really hoping this is a blip, and it wasn’t the forth story that was the exception, because bad things lie in this direction for the show. The synopsis for the next story does hold out some hope as it involves Henry’s personal experience of both the Whitechapel murders (Jack the Ripper) and the Black Dahlia murder. I suspect the more that story wanders into the past, the better I’ll like it.

Read Billy’s review of the previous episode, The Art Of Murder, here.

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