The title of episode 2, A Flintlock & A Hound, refers to an old-style gun fired by striking a spark from a flint and a traditional type of hunting dog. In other words, the hunt is on, and the hunters are armed and ready. Doris is searching for the best crew to act as her backup when she confronts her enemies in the Banished Brawlers. Big Graham is framed by Molly and Doris and thus on the hunt for revenge. Individually and as groups, the Happiness Ghouls and the Banished Brawlers are hunting for a lot of things, most of them conflicting. Joel is definitely trying to maintain the status quo, but he’s not getting any help. The hunt for peace is never an easy one.
The episode begins with a major piece of Ethan’s origin story. Late one night in Detroit, several weeks ago, Ethan prepares to leave work at Doris’ restaurant. As he says good night to her at the bar on the way out, they’re both mocked by the last customer, an obnoxious redneck. The bartender informs the redneck that it’s closing time. The customer continues to argue and insult the staff before he stumbles outside, shoving Ethan as he leaves.
Ethan follows him outside. Doris stands at the door and watches him pound the redneck into the pavement, until the bartender pulls Ethan off. Later, Doris and Witt bail Ethan out of jail, since Ethan is broke. Doris tells Ethan that the redneck died in the hospital, but the police don’t know it yet. She and Witt want to get Ethan out of town before the police come looking for him.
Witt knows some out of town people he can work for while Doris has some of Tommy’s lawyers make this all go away. Ethan shouldn’t mention her name to his new employers. Witt will give him a cover story to use instead. It’s just for a while. She gives him a bracelet with 2 charms on it, a hound and a flintlock rifle, and tells him to wear it. She says it’s to help him any time he’s too deep in the woods. Ethan is scared, but she tells him it’s his only choice, so he goes along with it.
Maybe the flintlock and the hound will be a signal to an ally? Or maybe it’s just to remind Ethan that he owes her.
In the present day, Ethan stands with the army of Banished Brawlers who confront the smaller army of Ghouls at the racetrack, with 20 feet or so separating the two groups. He looks at both the gun in his hand and the flintlock and hound on his wrist.
The Ghouls all rode in on motorcycles wearing leather jackets, as if they’re still teenagers. Most of the Brawlers came in cars and they wear a signature shirt. There’s greater strength and stability in the Brawlers, who are encouraged to grow up.
Konstantinov, a Ghouls lieutenant, approaches Bash and Joel and says they want the Brawlers to turn the Phoenixes over to the Ghouls as punishment for breaking the truce. Joel refuses, without actually saying he’s refusing. He tries to play nice by reminding Konstantinov that the Ghouls won the fight, so they should be willing to let it go.
Bash asks what the Ghouls intend to do with the Phoenixes and if the leader of the Ghouls knows this meeting is happening, queries meant to question Konstantinov’s authority.
Konstantinov tells them they risk starting a war if they don’t turn the Phoenixes over, but if they turn the boys over, all will be forgotten. What the Ghouls do with the Phoenixes is their own business. In response to Bash’s other question, he asks if Burt knows they’re having this meeting. Bash asks if Konstantinov actually wants Burt to know.
Konstantinov starts to say that the Brawlers are all full of themselves and think they can get away with anything, but Joel senses the direction this is about to go in and says that the Brawlers respect the truce. They’ll punish the Phoenixes themselves.
Unfortunately, Joel can’t stop Bash, who takes off his glasses and puts them in his pocket like he’s preparing for a fight, while saying that Konstantinov is a good talker. According to Bash, there is one crucial difference between the Brawlers and the Ghouls. He picks up the other man by his throat carries him a ways, then puts him down and drags him across the pavement as he speaks.
Bash knew he could manhandle a Ghoul all he wanted, and none of them would move to defend their brother while the other Brawlers were there to back Bash up. They wouldn’t move because they know that the Brawlers will all jump in to defend Bash and they won’t hold back.
Bash throws the Ghoul lieutenant back to his people relatively unharmed, then he returns to the Brawlers, telling Joel that he worries too much. Joel is clutching his own arms and having an anxiety attack, while trying to maintain his confident front.
The Ghouls might not attack an army of Brawlers all assembled in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they won’t look for vulnerable spots and people to exploit. Joel happens to be the father of a vulnerable person. And the Phoenixes are out on their own everyday.
Speaking of anxiety, Molly is being questioned by the police regarding her husband’s death. She tells Detective Fowler that Colin and Graham had an appointment, but she doesn’t know what they discussed, other than that it was business. Her husband’s body is being removed from the house while they speak. Molly tells the detective she heard gunshots after Graham had been in their house for about 5 minutes. She got scared, so she hid in the bathroom, but she’s positive it was Big Graham.
Doris is also questioned by the police. She’s more vague than Molly, having no direct knowledge of the crime. 😉 Her husband’s body is being removed from their home while she speaks to the police, so she has a lot on her mind. She’s just so sad that Colin was mixed up in something like this and didn’t get to say a proper goodbye to his father.
Once the police are gone, Witt picks up Doris and her suitcase from the house. He’s miffed, because he wasn’t informed that she was going to take care of Colin herself and frame Big Graham in the process. Doris doesn’t apologize for the oversight and shows Witt her fading facial bruises to remind him that she had a personal score to settle with those two. Witt has found a potential crew in Indiana, so they pick up Molly, who also needs protection from Graham, and leave to hide out a few states over.
Meanwhile, Detective Fowler arrests Graham as he’s dining with his pals at Slimmy Hank’s. Hank is at Graham’s table. So is Graham’s lawyer, Davie. Fowler apologizes for arresting Graham, since he knows Graham is being framed, but says he has to put on a show. Fowler also says that he’s sorry for Graham’s loss.
It’s not clear whether he means Tommy or Colin or both. That opens up a slight possibility that Colin was Graham’s son and it was an open secret.
Fowler didn’t offer his condolences to Molly or Doris. No wonder Molly felt like an outsider.
Ethan calls Doris to complain that she’s gotten him into crazy, dangerous stuff and he wants to come home to turn himself in. Doris encourages him to breathe and calls him pumpkin. And asks who the other gang was that they met with. She’s very interested to find out that Bash choked one of the Ghouls. She tells Ethan that he’s going to be okay, she promises. Then hangs up.
She’s in a public ladies room with Molly. She tells Molly that Bash got in a fight with the Ghouls. Molly is confused, but asks if he’s okay. Doris says she imagines he is, then cuts off anymore chitchat.
The only thing she got out of her conversation with Ethan was that Bash is still alive and picking fights. It brought her alive for a moment. She was so excited that she confided in Molly, of all people.
Ethan picks up some sandwiches for the boys and joins them at a table outside the Bang-A-Rang, where Matty is trying to convince Bru that the Phoenixes can be more useful. Bru tells him that he shouldn’t be making waves, since things are better now than they’ve ever been in all of his time as a Brawler. It won’t go well for the 3 Phoenixes if they mess it up.
Matty can’t let go of the fact that Avron was moved up instead of him, since he doesn’t think Avron is sincere enough in his devotion to the gang. Bru tells Matty not to worry about Avron, to worry about upsetting Joel instead. Joel is spread too thin with Burt gone missing and they’re lucky Joel doesn’t “make them walk the gauntlet.”
Now, it’s time to meet Queenie, the emcee of the burlesque show and manager of the Pin-Ups. She opens the show with flair, then the dancers and the B-52s take over.
Meredith and another dancer, Tina, hide scratch in various places in their costumes, then remind each other that they each hate the other and that they need to be cool and covert. They work the club floor, dispensing drugs and collecting cash while appearing to dance through the room. The DJ flags down Meredith and insists on another hit, even though she’s sure he’s had enough. She acquiesces and gives him what he wants.
Joel watches the club from the highest balcony, brooding as always. Bru sits down and asks what’s bothering him. Joel thinks the Ghouls are strangely overreacting to the bar fight. Like Bash, Bru thinks Joel worries too much, but asks if he’s going to tell Burt. “If Bash made it worse, Burt would make it war.”
Then the DJ collapses and dies from an OD. Joel gives Meredith the evil eye.
Doris and Molly check into the Donuts and Duvets Motel. Witt isn’t staying, but he and Doris have coffee in the donut shop before he leaves so he can yell at her about Big Graham one more time. He tells her that Graham won’t go to prison, no matter what. He’ll kill Molly, then come for Doris.
Doris isn’t shocked by this newsflash. She just wanted to know about the meeting with the potential crew. Witt says it’s Thursday. He’ll pick her up.
The next morning, Queenie enters Meredith’s trailer without knocking and wakes her up. When Meredith complains, Queenie responds, “Princess, when do I ever knock?”
It’s a show of Queenie’s power over her, with a deeper meaning.
Queenie has come to deliver the message that Joel is mad at Meredith, which Meredith already knows. She tells the Pin-Up that he’ll be sending trouble her way, which Meredith says she’s ready and happy to accept.
Since none of this is really news, Queenie is really visiting for another reason. She looks closely at the collection of articles and ads on stuntwomen that Meredith has hung on her refrigerator door. According to Burt, Meredith’s mother was a stuntwoman, but both women agree that his memory can’t be trusted. Meredith asks Queenie if she thinks any of the women on the fridge are her mother. Queenie can’t say, since she didn’t know Meredith’s mother well.
They have bowls of cereal for breakfast. Queenie asks why Meredith is so restless, wondering if it has to do with her mother. Is she seriously trying to find her? Since Queenie and Burt say her mother is dead, Meredith accepts that she’s dead. But she likes the thought of taking a jump into the void. Queenie suggests they focus on work for the moment.
That conversation was meant to steer Meredith away from leaving or looking for her mother. Joel and Queenie need Burt’s daughter to stay safely in the compound with the Brawlers while he’s gone. Getting her to improve her behavior is a much lesser goal, and she knows it.
Bash and Joel take the DJ’s body out into the woods to dispose of quietly. They ask after each other’s health as they place the body in the front seat of a car, where it can be found without incriminating the Brawlers. Joel and his family, including Lyla’s absent mother, Rita, are all healthy. Joel asks if Bash is healthy. They smoke a joint as they talk.
Bash: “Got a cough I don’t like. Comes and goes, mostly at night. Other than that…” (Shrugs.)
Joel: “You don’t come around much anymore.”
Bash: “What’s to come around for?”
Joel: “What’s to stay in your room for?”
Bash: “Big wide world on those records. Lot of stories.”
Joel: “Don’t ever get bored?”
Bash: “How many more times I gotta watch Pin-Ups discover themselves? Tell you the honest truth of it, I miss it. The constant uncertainty of it all. All that fighting. It was more than that. We were validating ourselves. We weren’t saying this world was ours. Were f—ing showing them it was ours. Now we just drink with our dicks in our hands and our feet on the stage and got no purpose.”
Joel stands very still while Bash makes this speech. Bash has a dreamy quality. He’s living in his glorious past. Joel is living in the present, and the guys who think violence equals glory are his greatest fear.
Joel: “We don’t want war, Bash. Things ain’t never been better. Remember that.”
Before they leave the DJ’s body behind, Joel asks Bash to take care of one more thing for him.
Matty wakes Ethan up where he’s passed out in one of the bedrooms directly off the club floor. Ethan wonders how the Phoenixes survive a life that’s always like this. Matty doesn’t think there’s anything unusual going on.
Matty says he was scared at the meeting yesterday, but Ethan and Johnson say they weren’t. Matty doesn’t think Johnson is scared of anything.
They ask how Ethan knows Witt. Before Ethan answers, Johnson says Witt’s hair is made of yarn, which sounds like an inside joke. Ethan tells them that his mom dated Witt for a little while before she took off. Matty thinks that makes Witt sort of Ethan’s stepdad. Johnson looks alarmed. Ethan insists he’s not. He tells them his mom ran a speakeasy in Detroit after his dad left when he was twelve. She took off for Tucson when he was 15 and wouldn’t take him with her. He hasn’t seen her since.
The parts about his parents sound like they’re true. There probably were guys like Witt, but not actually Witt.
Matty tells Ethan sincerely that he’s on the river now and he’s one of the Phoenixes. That’s all that matters. They drink to the river.
Did I mention that they’re having this conversation sitting at the closed Bang-A-Rang bar?
Joel and Bash visit the Pin-Ups dressing room and all of the girls immediately brighten up, hoping to get noticed. Joel says it’s nice to see them, but he needs them to clear the room, except for Tina and Meredith, the two scratch dealers.
Once the room is empty, Bash sits intimidatingly close to Tina, while Joel pushes Meredith to stop selling toxic drugs before she brings ruinous consequences down on the Brawlers. Meredith points out that they’ve had this talk many times before and Joel agrees, they have. He reiterates that they only get away with breaking the law because they don’t cross certain lines, which she is now crossing.
Meredith may be untouchable, but Tina isn’t. Meredith is unmoved by Joel’s threats. In fact, Tina appears to be in place to take the fall for Meredith, if necessary. Meredith also says that she thinks Joel has gone soft these days and would picture Lyla if he tried to hand out a harsh punishment to a Pin-Up.
Before Joel can respond, Queenie discovers that the Pin-Ups have been relegated to the hallway just before showtime and throws Joel and Bash out of the dressing room. Since this is her domain, they don’t dare argue with her. Meredith smirks at Joel as he gets up to leave.
She thinks she’s won this round. She must not know what happened to her Aunt Katherine.
Molly and Doris watch a cop show on TV together in their motel room. Both women are in black dresses. Molly is having second thoughts about becoming involved with this whole sordid business, but Doris reassures her that she did the right thing. They deserve the restaurant and they’ll have the chance to do great things with it once the current difficulties are over.
Molly asks how Doris knows “the man with the hair”? Doris says he’s an old friend, leading Molly to ask if they were having an affair. Doris doesn’t dignify the question with a response.
Next Molly asks if Doris had ever killed anyone before she killed Colin. Doris says that was the first time she recalls. Molly asks how it feels. With sadness in her voice, Doris says she doesn’t feel much at all. Molly muses that both Tommy and Colin had the same laugh. “I guess you always think you’re prepared for someone to die. Then they actually do.”
Witt knocks on the door, startling both women. Doris announces that they’re going bowling. She tells Molly to get some rest.
A double wake for Colin and Tommy is going on at the same time, hosted by Molly’s identical twin sister, Grace. Big Graham is there and on the hunt for Molly and Doris. Grace tells him that she doesn’t know where Molly is, but she hopes her sister is safe. She also questions whether it’s appropriate for Big Graham to be there. Since he’s the definition of entitled and not phased by the question, he adds an extra dollop of intimidation to his demeanor.
After Grace excuses herself, Graham’s lawyer, Davie, also tells him he shouldn’t be there. They both admit they were blindsided by the latest developments. Graham is determined to get rid of Doris and Molly as quickly as possible. Davie is ready to take care of them for him, but can’t make a move until they know where the two women are. Davie reminds Graham that he’s not allowed to leave town while he’s out on bail.
Molly calls Grace during the wake, to check in. She asks how Colin looked. Grace has to tell her that the casket was closed. Molly hangs up the phone in tears after telling Grace she’s having second thoughts.
Graham notices Grace on the phone and has the operator call the number back after she hangs up. The desk clerk says the name of the motel when he answers the phone. Now Graham knows where Molly is staying, so he prepares to send Davie after Molly.
The bowling alley Doris and Witt are visiting is called Mr Bolo’s Worldwide Rathskeller. Mr Bolo wears a signature bolo tie, like he’s a cowboy from the Wild West. Witt is close to a meltdown in the parking lot outside the Rathskeller because Doris wants to hire a career criminal and his crew of career criminals to rob and kill Banished Brawlers, who are also career criminals. He’s afraid she’ll sugarcoat the truth when she hires them and they’ll be angry later.
Doris drops her polite, nice girl act and uses some choice curse words when she sets him straight. In her Doris persona, she’s normally very disapproving of cursing, but Witt also knew her as Katherine. She tells him, apparently not for the first time, that she’ll be killing Burt and Bash herself, not the hired crew. The crew is just coming along for robbery, to act as a distraction.
Witt makes things worse by telling Doris that she should pay the crew more money, since she’s a wealthy woman now that she has Tommy’s inheritance. He suggests that she only married Thomas for his money. Doris get even angrier, explaining that she married Thomas for love, not for his money and they didn’t have much outside the restaurant anyway. She’s decided to spend the cash she’s inheriting on something for herself, so that she can move on afterward.
Witt has created a fantasy version of Katherine/Doris in his head, who is much more genteel than she is and needs him to be the big strong man for her. He’s not really being the big, strong man, he’s more of a necessary male front man or go-between, and in reality he knows this, but the fantasy keeps him going. It allows him to pretend she might have some romantic interest in him, but she’s held back so far because she was married and now he thinks she has to pretend to be a grieving widow.
Doris is a more genteel persona than Katherine, but she doesn’t pretend to be delicate. If anything, her steel is right on the surface with no pretense, but the softness she also exhibits allows men to pretend it isn’t there. It’s a genius disguise, when you think about it. Like a large cat, she’s both deadly and attractively non-threatening at the same time.
As Witt predicted, Mr Bolo doesn’t take her seriously and refuses the job. He’s particularly rude before he walks away, saying he’s late for another engagement. Witt’s barely had time to say I told you so and leave for the men’s room before the Rathskeller’s being robbed by a couple of highly organized young gentlemen in masks, carrying large guns.
Instead of being scared, Doris is intrigued. She stares at the robbers as they go about their business. When Witt emerges from the bathroom, she tells him that she’s found their guys.
Meanwhile, the robbers tell the clerk in charge of bowling shoes to open the door. You know, that door. After some back and forth between all parties involved, the woman running the gambling tables inside the back room unlocks the door. This is where Mr Bolo went to conduct his important financial business. The robbers stroll in and demand to be given the 4 cases of cash that are kept in the room. They know there are four cases, so they don’t fall for the trickery and lies sent their way by the people in the room.
Once the cases are taken out of their locked safe, the robbers clip them to shoulder straps and safely exit the building, with Doris excitedly watching every step she can manage. Bolo and some others follow them out of the building and exchange gunfire while hopping into cars to follow them, but the robbers get away safely. Once the shooting stops, Doris runs outside and pulls dead men out of one of the gamblers’ cars, then uses the car to follow the robbers.
There’s a bullet hole in the windshield on the driver’s side, approximately where the previous driver’s forehead sat. It doesn’t affect Katherine’s driving.
Mr Bolo looks like he escaped from a Lord of the Rings movie. He could be that one mutant overgrown dwarf, hiding in the darkness and safety of the bowling alley backroom and hoarding his gold. This show is worth watching for the hair and makeup alone. Kudos to the hair and makeup departments. And to Happy Anderson, who even has a dwarf name, for making Bolo so memorable.
Grace’s French twist was a piece of art in and of itself. Watching it was like waiting for the Leaning Tower of Pisa to fall, but that hair miracle stayed in place. Because of it, we know who the more organized sister is. She could probably take down Big Graham by herself. She and Doris are the only 2 people we’ve seen who were willing to confront Graham. And that tells us something about what’s really inside Molly, since they are identical.
Ron Perlman is doing a really great job with making Graham horrible. The fact that he’s big, and it’s emphasized constantly, just makes it even worse. He manspreads and looms even during casual conversations while standing next to supposed friends and allies, nevermind someone he wants to intimidate.
In his few minutes of screen time, Michael Esper also made Colin particularly loathsome. On the other hand, you might not see it yet, but Johnson and Molly are both delightful, soothing treasures with a foundation of steel, thanks to David Dastmalchian and Bethany Anne Lind’s quiet, solid performances. I want to bring them home to live with me.
Witt is rightly worried that Graham won’t take being framed well and they’ll have to watch their backs. Doris is used to being either very protected or left for dead with no one chasing her. Like a mob princess, and Meredith, she knows how to play with the big boys, having grown up being immersed in the game, but she doesn’t really understand how insulated from the worst of the violent revenge she’s been by Tommy and Burt, so she makes some naive mistakes because she underestimates her enemies.
Doris does understand that things can go very wrong for her. She just doesn’t have much experience yet with negotiating as a free agent without the backup of a powerful man. Though she’s not stupid, she has areas she needs to become more practiced in.
Meredith isn’t stupid either, but she’s very, very naive. She has no idea how badly things could go for her, should everyone stop pretending that Burt is there to protect her or should Burt withdraw his protection. She willfully misuses almost everyone in her sphere just because she can, as if she’s a spoiled child, often hoping her behavior will cause them harm.
There doesn’t seem to be any place for women with the Brawlers other than being a Pin-Up, which is disturbing and helps explain Meredith’s resentment. Maybe the married guys leave the gang. But, other than Queenie, who is part of the system that exploits the women, there are no older women, female bartenders or women in management positions in the club that we’ve seen so far.
As Meredith pointed out, you have to wonder what Joel thinks about when he looks at Lyla, who is so bright and has so much potential, and then looks around at what her actual possible future is with the Brawlers. For that matter, what is Meredith’s future? Katherine was tortured and left for dead when she reached a certain age, after being framed for a deadly transgression. Meredith won’t have to be framed.
The Hitchcock Blonde and the Baby Femme Fatale
Katherine Harlow has turned herself into a Hitchcock blonde named Doris Quinn who lived a life full of secrets with a man who understood that was part of her nature. Since it was also part of Tommy’s nature, it worked out for the two of them.
But now that life is over and her roots are showing, literally and figuratively. She’s played her part to perfection, and she’ll continue to play it. But the role of the cool blonde doesn’t come naturally to most people, including Katherine.
A Hitchcock blonde appears flawless and unflappable, intelligent and at the top of her game in her career. She may be in trouble, and it may even be her own fault, but she won’t crumble in front of others. She’ll find a way out and use whoever she needs to in order to achieve her solution.
Chances are she’s been used by others in the past and that’s how and why she developed her icy exterior in the first place. She might be a femme fatale, the main character’s sidekick or even the innocent hero, but she always keeps her own counsel and maintains a quiet strength. No matter how much it costs her, she won’t let her enemies see how much they’ve hurt her.
A Hitchcock blonde can take her need for perfection and stoicism so far that she breaks and everything she’s been holding in tumbles out all at once, as anger, violence, psychosis or tears. Then she becomes something else, often the hidden madness in a gothic or horror film. Southern Gothics and Hitchcock, himself, loved to explore what happens when repression is taken over the edge into madness.
Noirs tend to flirt with the edges of control rather than outright madness; they deal in crimes that evolve out of repression and tears turned into anger and violence, sometimes even the aftermath of psychosis. But the perpetrator in a Noir has enough sanity left in them to cover up the crime and return to a normal life of repression. Often they are schemers and repeat offenders involved in a larger conspiracy.
Doris/Katherine isn’t mad, but she flirts with the edges of it as she deals with characters who are on the edge themselves. You have to fight fire with fire, after all, aggression with aggression, and sometimes madness with madness. As we saw when the Brawlers and the Ghouls met. Bash, who is clearly someone important to Doris/Katherine, understands this philosophy and lives by it. He craves the feeling of barely controlled madness, which is not the same as chaos, to make him feel alive again.
Meredith is, in some ways, a younger version of Katherine. She’s Burt’s daughter instead of his sister, but he’s thrown her to the wolves as surely as he threw Katherine. Yet she’s also protected, as we can see Katherine was.
Meredith looks and acts like a femme fatale, but inside she’s more of an ingenue, a rebellious but innocent princess who doesn’t understand how hot the fire she’s playing with can get. Everytime we see her, this discord between her inner and outer states is illustrated. Things are never quite what they seem when Meredith is around.
She wears bullets, but they’re filled with a deadly drug instead of gunpowder, making her the gun that fires them. That kind of behavior almost makes her a man instead of a woman in the Brawler world, yet she’s also one of the most desirable dancers, strictly a female role. She flirts with everyone and sells the promise of sex, but no one can have her. In fact, even flirting with Burt’s daughter is dangerous and she knows it, so she’s cruelly attempting to lead the men she flirts with into fights and punishment. She’s everyone’s favorite little sister and no one’s friend or lover. She’s more than a femme fatale. She’s poison.
When Queenie enters her trailer, we see Meredith’s legs hanging off of her bed and twitching slightly, as if she’s dying. Then she sits up and we see Meredith in a mirror while seeing Queenie in reality. Though these two are friends and Queenie even seems a bit motherly, there’s danger and illusions here. Queenie hasn’t been in Meredith’s trailer often, so they aren’t close. She came to deliver a message and try to steer Meredith in the direction Joel and Burt want her to go in.
She didn’t know Meredith’s mother well and is uninterested in helping her pursue any version of her mother, whether it’s stories, a ghost or family. Instead, Queenie is there to encourage the caged bird to stop being restless and be happy with what she has. This makes Meredith seem like a prisoner, under guard for her own “protection”.
Times are changing, and, like Katherine Harlow, Meredith might not always have the level of protection she’s enjoyed up until now. There are elements of Snow White in this episode, with the huntsman theme throughout, mirrors and mirror images, Queenie as Meredith’s stepmother and Doris as Molly’s stepmother-in-law and Colin’s stepmother. Doris’ tea already evokes potions and witchcraft. Queenie has shown us two faces, hidden behind sunglasses and proven that she has ultimate control of the women.
Plus, she’s literally named the Queen of the Brawlers. It’s not exactly subtle. 😉
The Banished Brawlers
It’s become clear that Burt isn’t just on a break or a vacation from the Brawlers. He took off and no one knows where he is. Bash has his own issues, so all of Burt’s duties have fallen to Joel. Joel is doing a better job running the gang than Burt ever did, since, like Bash, Burt apparently enjoys the fight more than running a successful business and community. Burt made life better for the most of the Brawlers by leaving, but they are still fiercely loyal to him and some are growing antsy.
Joel is overworked and also a single parent, so keeping the peace is of paramount importance to him. He’s trying so hard to maintain calm that he’s not leaving any room for the more volatile members to blow off steam, an important factor in a group that specifically takes in guys who can’t make it in mainstream society. Without sanctioned races, fights, contests or the like, they’re going to create their own diversions, as we’ve already seen Matty and Bash do. The more restless members may also become vulnerable to the influence of a leader who can offer them more excitement.
This exchange sums up the differences between Bash and Joel:
Joel: “What’s to stay in your room for?”
Bash: “Big wide world on those records. Lot of stories.”
Bash and Joel are Burt’s 2 lieutenants and they complement each other in personality. Joel is down to earth, oriented toward the people and business in front of him in the here and now. He’s a true working class hero who doesn’t need anything more than to have a stable home and family in a decent community, and that’s what he’s created in the Brawlers. He uses his creative side to help Lyla with her stories and to help the business run better.
Bash is a noble poet-philosopher-warrior and a broken romantic. He lives in his head and in his fists/body, but not in the real world, which can never live up to his dreams. He sees the Pin-Ups and the Ghouls as boring, repetitive stories he’s watched before. Probably the individual Brawlers, too, since he doesn’t come out of his room to socialize with them. He wants to return to the life of adventure and war he remembers as his past, but everyone from that past seems to be missing from his life. If it was such a great life, how did it end with him alone in a room listening to records?
Bru is trying to jump in and give Joel the support he’s not getting from Burt or Bash, but he doesn’t seem to understand the full weight that’s on Joel’s shoulders. He still has the mindset of someone who assumes everything will somehow work out for the best in the long run. Either he’s never been the person responsible for everything going south or he doesn’t have anyone important to lose. He’s a good guy, and he gave Matty good advice, but in some ways Matty understands more than he does.
Joel might have been smarter to move both Matty and Avron up to the Brawlers if he could or to at least give Matty a date when he’d probably move up. Avron seems like he was a terrible Phoenix and needed to be gotten out of the car, but Matty seems like he could actually be useful to Joel if given the chance. He’s energetic, intense, responsible and devoted to the Brawlers, which is exactly what Joel needs in a right-hand man. No one else around Joel is taking things as seriously as he does. If Joel had Matty and Bru as his lieutenants, he could use their complementary personalities to accomplish some things. But Joel seems like he might have issues with delegating responsibility.
I am loving the desperate Lost Boy chemistry of the 3 River Phoenixes combined with the fact that they represent 3 different personality types, 3 different physical types, are different ages and have different levels of experience. The characters have quickly found the core emotional damage they share and bonded over it, thanks to Matty’s gift for drawing people out, but also because they are the right trio to become the brothers each has been looking for. Johnson is the still waters that run deep, the foundation of the river, but also where the bodies are buried. Ethan is the angry water that crashes against the shore, which can be either the river’s dangerous edge or an open entry point. Matty is the fast running upper waters, the current that can get you where you want to go or can sweep you away if you aren’t careful.
Though the Brawlers don’t realize it, the three current Phoenixes are the heart and soul of the gang, along with Joel and Bash. It says something about the gang, that their heart and soul aren’t actually members or are leaders who keep themselves separate from the others. Times may be peaceful and prosperous, but the restlessness that many are feeling comes from the lack of passion that both Matty and Bash have articulated. Joel and Bru have both dismissed the need for something to feel srongly about as unnecessary. They might come to regret it.
Joel’s passion is his daughter, so he doesn’t need anything beyond the business and family. As a leader, his flaw vs Burt may be that he doesn’t understand how to lead others to devote themselves to something or someone. Burt is clearly very flawed, but the loyalty he still commands, even after he’s been absent for a long time and things are going well under Joel, is remarkable. The gang is devoted to him like he’s a cult leader.
The Territorialism, Products and Hierarchies of Organized Crime
As anyone who’s ever paid attention to organized crime in real life or fiction knows, the organized part of the moniker is as important as the crime half. Mobsters take rank, ritual, territory and especially signs of respect very seriously. Reprisal is showing us the culture of organized crime throughout its world very clearly in rich, layered ways, from the rankings of the Brawlers and Ghouls to the physicality of the ways the characters treat each other to the visual language created for the world by the cinematography.
The neon signage in Reprisal, which is consistent throughout this world, is one of the most interesting and attractive parts of the visual code. Neon is everywhere in this world, letting us know that it’s an underworld, where fantasies can come true for a price.
In films such as American Graffiti and Grease, neon is seen as part of the post-war 1950s teenage cruising scene, when kids would drive around in their cars looking for adventure and stopping at restaurants and drive-in movie theatres created to cater just to them. The price of the cruising scene was the conformity the post-war generation had to live with. In order to be successful, they had to become mainstream American workers and family members for the rest of their lives, after their brief years of fun as teenagers. They sold their souls for American prosperity, and the social revolutions of the 1960s show how well that ultimately went.
The other common use of neon is in cyberpunk, a nihilistic form of futuristic science fiction, often described as “low life, high tech”, which had a surge in the films of the 1980s, when neon art also became popular in the real world. It’s no coincidence that both the 1950s/early 60s and the 1980s were the times when science fiction in film flourished. The Cold War was at its height, and fears of atomic/nuclear war were also at their heights in each era.
A common piece of a cyberpunk universe is vast corruption, including organized crime as a way of life for the working and lower classes, which make up most of society in cyberpunk worlds. Unlike the 1950s US, a time when the middle class was prosperous and growing, but the government encouraged paranoia and xenophobia amongst citizens, cyberpunk worlds bear a striking resemblance to our own with: corporations run by a few unimaginably wealthy individuals running corrupt governments; violence and lawlessness the norm in the communities most people live in, except for the protected communities of the wealthy; thriving black markets for legal items that are hard to get and illegal items that people want or need, combined with legal vices that encourage people to spend and lose their money on things other than necessities; and a general population that has no way to free itself from its financial burdens, who also lack the education to put their predicament into perspective.
This type of situation, combined with increasingly corrupt and violent law enforcement, ensures that most people are hopeless and will spend what little they earn on things that make them feel good. A world full of vices is a world full of competing advertisements, which is a place where bright neon lights thrive.
Who typically caters to our vices, whether we want gambling, drugs, sex or violence? Organized crime, in some of the glitziest, flashiest places in the world, often building tall towers with their names on them in flashing neon lights. If the criminal organizations or crime lords don’t put their own names on their buildings, they certainly put their accepted aliases up in gleaming lights– their corporate names and logos.
One of the staples of organized crime is the legitimate business that acts as an anchor for the illegal concerns, provides a base of operations, and gives the organization legal standing so that it can operate as a benevolent member of the larger community, accumulating the goodwill of the general population. It grew out of the medieval feudal system, continued in the Renaissance with powerful, influential families such as the Medicis and the Borgias in Italy and other aristocratic families in other countries, and eventually evolved into both the ultra wealthy robber barons who bend the law to favor their businesses (making legal what would normally be illegal) and the various forms of criminal organizations whose businesses are mainly covers for their illegal operations. Sometimes the two types are one and the same.
And this is what we see in Reprisal. Burt’s Bang-A-Rang is a chain of clubs catering to multiple vices, with Burt’s name in tall neon lights on the flagship store, maybe on others. Bang-A-Rang #707 isn’t just a club, it’s a fiefdom. The members of Burt’s kingdom live behind the castle walls, protected by the gate and ready to defend their absent king’s property.
The club floor itself is like the great hall of a castle, open to all Brawlers, with food, drink and entertainment. They can flop nearby to sleep, just as medieval knights did. But they must pay homage to the king, his lieutenants and the rules of the kingdom, as surely as was required of any medieval knight. And they must wait to be chosen to be knighted, as Matty has told us at great length. The Brawlers’ clothing, rank, rituals and territory must be respected at all times, even by those who aren’t actually Brawlers.
The huge Bolo’s sign bearing the owner’s name and a graphic version of the legal product, which is not all that different from the Burt’s Bang-A-Rang sign, when you think about it, tells us that Doris has arrived at another small kingdom when she enters the bowling alley. The bowling alley is another public great hall, with smaller rooms off to the side for more private, and sometimes illegal, pursuits. Bolo’s gang is largely inside the gaming room, so we don’t know much about them.
Bolo acts like a king who expects to be honored and respected as such in his own territory, rather than a man waiting to be hired as a contractor on someone else’s job. He calls Doris and Witt out for not following the accepted rules and rituals.
Witt was worried that Doris would botch the negotiations, but in fact, he failed to properly prepare either side for the fact that they’d each be dealing with royalty. Because that’s what Katherine is, both Brawlers royalty in exile and Detroit mob royalty who’s had to go into hiding. Because this is the sort of world where women have to fight hard to have their rightful places in the power structure recognized, Doris wasn’t going to be able to bring it up mid-meeting and ask for the respect she was due. Her position needed to be established before the meeting, so it was understood that she and Bolo should have been meeting as equals.
I think Witt wants Doris’ plan to fail early and often so that they never confront the Brawlers. Consequently, he’s trying to sabotage her in small, passive-aggressive ways. Or else he’s exceptionally stupid for someone who’s been around the underworld for decades and travels the country. He’s definitely a coward, whereas Doris/Katherine is brave and strategic enough to mount a war.
She has a ways to go before she catches up with how things are going to work for her as the boss of her own crew, without a more powerful man to back her up, but she’s already figuring out that she needs to assert her equality/dominance with the old guard to alert them to the fact that there’s a new queen in town. She’s probably quickly figuring out that Witt is a terrible front man, since she largely dismisses his ideas and concerns at this point. He likes to think of himself as an advisor, but he’s nothing more than a scout and emissary. Doris could use a decent advisor or two, though. It’s useful for every leader.
Now she needs to establish her own crew and territory. Donuts and Duvets has sufficient neon to act as a temporary territory/base of operations, but eventually she’ll need to fight to retain not just the restaurant, but Tommy’s territory, if he had any outside of the restaurant. Given how badly Graham wants what belonged to Tommy, and the long term mentoring Graham did with Colin to make sure he could eventually acquire Tommy’s holdings peacefully, Tommy must have had something worth wanting. Doris’ fight with the Brawlers is a distraction from that, but it will also help prove her family lineage and give her a reputation, if she wins.
If she’s going to hold onto her stake in the face of the likes of Big Graham, Davie, Fowler and Slimmy Hank, she needs to get her own name in lights over something and she needs to have earned both the accompanying power and the business. She needs to have the loyalty of her staff when her enemies come for them all. She had the loyalty of her staff at the restaurant before Tommy died, so she knows how to develop those relationships, and she will have developed many relationships in the larger community as a caterer. But it’s hard to say what will happen to those relationships without him there to back her up and with Graham as an enemy.
Images courtesy of Hulu.