“It’s Never Too Late to Start All Over Again”
Well, it only took five episodes and a sixty day time jump to get there, but “Other Lives” finally filled in season two’s major gaps.
There’s a good argument to be made that this episode should have come much sooner in the season. Where the first four episodes focused mainly on the uninteresting Caspere case and awkwardly fit our four main miserable characters together, this episode finally colored them in. We understand the major motivations behind each character. Now we know what makes them tick, what they care about and why, and why they acted the way they did during the previous episode.
On the other hand, I wonder if this episode would have had the same revelatory reactions to it if it happened earlier. Ultimately, what would have been a solid episode for almost any other TV show turned into the best episode of the season almost by contrast alone. After so much plotting and investigating, it was refreshing to get back into good ol’ cause and effect storytelling.
Let’s start with Frank Semyon. His arc has been mostly about trying to go legitimate, then get back into the game when that doesn’t work out, all while trying to have a child. It’s a solid place to begin because the episode seemed to be about children. The defining moments of who we eventually become are made during those early years. Sure, we’re a product of our parents’ genes, but the environment we’re raised in plays a major role in how we act and what our wants and needs are.
Thus, the arguments between Frank and Jordan about their fertility issues is finally given great context. Yes, it’s revealed she had three abortions that could have left her sterile, but the larger force at play is the instability of Frank’s life. She doesn’t want their child raised by a “gangster,” a word Frank hates. To him, having a child would validate his desire to go legitimate. Now their arguments seem less like a cheap stab at characterization, but more like a symbol of their unstable lives.
A child, for many, means family. It means being able to settle down and hold onto something tangible. For Ray Velcoro, he continuously rejects the very real possibility that his child isn’t his own. For the first time since we were introduced to the character, we were finally given a clear explanation of what happened between him and his wife. She was sexually assaulted during the timeframe that could have made her pregnant. Not only could the child not be Ray’s, but it could be the result of someone he has every right to completely hate.
Ray’s wife wants to know so she can “put everything where it belongs.” In some ways, I think she hopes the child isn’t Ray’s so that he can’t be granted custody. She doesn’t want to buy into the fantasy life he seems hellbent on living, even if he may not fully buy into it himself. To make matters worse, the serial rapist who assaulted his wife was recently caught. That means the name Frank gave Velcoro in that awkward flashback during the first episode was incorrect. But why? It’s a question I actually want an answer to, and it’s a great example of some of the character drama that had been missing thus far.
For Woodrough, I finally believe his half-hearted expression that having a child is “the best thing that could happen.” For him, too, a child means stability, but for a very different reason. “Other Lives” finally gave us the true dynamic between him and his mother. She was a dancer, his father was most likely a client, and she believes she has been “carrying him” his entire life, despite the fact that she stole twenty-thousand dollars he had stashed “from Afghanistan.”
This is the first time it’s finally been acknowledged that what he did overseas wasn’t just “bad” in the sense that war is “bad.” He was involved in some illegitimate ventures, and I’m curious to see how his knowledge of this kind of crime will influence how he reacts to the as yet unsolved case going forward.
This episode also connected the dots between Ani and the case at large. Her sister is a camera girl who has contacts who can get her into some of the parties where girls have gone missing and highbrow clientele have been blackmailed. She has a much larger stake in this unsolved mystery because of her sister’s ties to the industry, and that was never clear to me before. (Although, I suspect that comment about her getting accepted to a school may have been a bit too heavy handed when it came to foreshadowing her ultimate fate.)
This episode put into focus all the blurry edges around each of this season’s leads. What’s more, they were actually given interesting stuff to do. Velcoro is now working for Semyon, and even gets to beat up a greasy psychiatrist. Woodrough stumbled across some of the underhanded work Dixon was doing before his death. Ani matures enough to support her sister in anything she does. Frank, torn between going legitimate and sinking back into his old life, makes time for his wife in an attempt to form any semblance of stability.
By having these character motivations filled in, we’re finally given enough reason to care about them. Even their individual investigations felt connected and relevant, not just to the larger case, but to each other. Their individual narratives have never felt so knitted into a cohesive story before.
The title “Other Lives” may be a cheeky nod at the fact that it took so long to finally understand these characters, but, like a child born into a rotten home, were we quick to judge them too soon? This episode showed us things may turn out alright, if given enough time, but any commentary on parentage or raising children is a clunky analogy at best when you compare it to the quality of this season.
There were no big shootouts in “Other Lives,” but enough character drama was created to propel us into the final three episodes. It may have taken five episodes to get there, but like Ani says, “It’s never too late to start all over again.”
Or is it?
Our Vince Vaughn quote of the day: “It’s like blue balls, in your heart.”
Steve Dixon is still grieving the loss of Hannibal and you can console him on Twitter @Driver194