Episode 5 of Reprisal is both a character study and a turning point. We learn who all of the main characters are, at their core, and where their true loyalties lie, before Katherine Harlow makes her return to Brawlers territory and sets her revenge in motion by sowing a little chaos. Her tiny battle has the effect she expects and by the end of the episode, Bash has sowed much more chaos and likely incited a war.
We begin with a flashback to a young, wild-haired Joel as a Phoenix. Johnson is also a laughing, chatty Phoenix. The biggest surprise is that the third Phoenix, who already has her embroidered jacket, is Lyla’s mother, Rita. The 3 River Phoenixes pull up in front of an establishment which belongs to a rival gang, strut in and start a fight for no apparent reason, then come out less than 5 minutes later, with Joel and Johnson injured. Rita tries to stop the bleeding in Joel’s abdomen. He takes the opportunity to tell her he’s in love with her.
As Matty says, fighting breeds loyalty amongst the gang members. But why has Johnson been a Phoenix for so long, while Joel rose to the top of the heap? Johnson never complains, but he never says much of anything, period. The Brawlers give him a purpose and a life, if not exactly a home. It’s a life that largely keeps him and Joel separated, but lends consistency to the Phoenixes. Were they both in love with Rita, or was there some other major falling out between them? Or is Joel doing him a favor by leaving him a Phoenix rather than promoting him?
This puts a new spin on the speech Joel made to Matty when he was upset that he was passed over in favor of Avron, someone who hadn’t put in as much time or shown as much loyalty. Joel is also the kid who jumped the line and maybe didn’t always earn those promotions. Maybe sometimes he was being paid off for keeping Burt’s secrets. Maybe the same is true for Burt’s sort of nephew.
All 3 Phoenixes have their wavy tattoos, suggesting they’ve been together a while. The fight they start was probably part of Burt’s Holy Gang War. But we never learn whether Rita became a full-fledged Brawler. She’s the only female Phoenix or Brawler we’ve seen.
In the present day, Joel and Rita meet in a wooded park to talk about Lila. An old man with a walking stick walks behind Joel just before she arrives- time marching on, tapping out the minutes that remain in his life. When she arrives, Rita notes how much older he looks, with his short hair and gray beard. She looks older too, but she looks like a modern, mature woman in her prime.
She doesn’t let him kiss or hug her hello and silently refuses the coffee he brought as a peace offering. She still suffers from some lingering PTSD, but is coping and doing well overall. She’s careful not to give him any information he could use against her, though she also tells him he could move back out into the real world with her.
And that’s where their separate peace falls apart, reverting into the arguments that led to their break up. He’s rigid and stubborn, Once she had a child it changed her perspective on the gang lifestyle. He wouldn’t leave the Brawlers or let her take Lyla with her. He enforced the rule that when you leave, you’re out for good. With no room for compromise and no way to save her child and herself, Rita chose to at least save herself. Joel hasn’t even allowed her visitation.
But now he’s ready for compromise. He wants to discuss passing Lyla back and forth between them. Though he doesn’t want to admit that it’s because he’s scared of another war, Rita guesses the truth. And she won’t let herself be used. She tells him he has to follow his own all or nothing rule. If he gives Lyla to Rita, then he doesn’t see her again.
Doris calls Ethan, but the Phoenixes are all passed out in the car. Matty wakes up enough to answer. He tells Doris that Ethan isn’t available and she hangs up.
Once he’s awake, Ethan calls her back. She wants details of the ticket and cash drop off and pick ups with Percy Montgomery at the checkpoint and information about the vault at the 707. Ethan tells her what he knows, but he doesn’t have a great head for details. He’s more clear on Percy’s checkpoint than the 707 vault, since the Phoenixes are on the road for 11 days, then stop at the Bang-A-Rang for a few days before heading out again. She hasn’t given him much motivation to be precise, and when he questions her now, she still doesn’t.
Doris explains to Earl that the stop at the checkpoint will get them the tickets they need to get into the Bang-A-Rang, which gets them into the vault. But the rest of it is personal and Earl said he didn’t want to know about her personal stuff. He pushes, so she explains that she intends to sow some targeted chaos in order to get the ball rolling on the rest of her plan. It’ll be messy chaos, but she’s certain it will be effective.
She says that it’s fine if they stay in the car while she sows her chaos, but Earl and Cordell tell her that they’re on her team now, so of course they’ll back her up. They stop at their next motel, the Pillows ‘n’ Pints, which looks exactly like the Donuts and Duvets they just left. For a second, Molly thinks it’s the same motel.
Witt chose this one, too. He’s waiting for them in the motel coffee shop and starts right in on criticizing Doris’ plans and crew, especially Molly. He’s not sure if it’s worse for Molly to be a mousey housewife or to have actually killed Big Graham’s right-hand man the way she did. Either way, he’s sure Doris is doomed and that she doesn’t appreciate everything he’s done for her. Doris calmly and politely tells him he’s a coward and everything he’s done has been his choice.
Witt wants to be her Bogie (the rough guy with a classy woman) and for them to run away together. Doris responds that he never noticed that she doesn’t want or need that. What she’s doing now is what she needs. He’s the one who found her, and stirred the past up again, when she had left all that turmoil behind. She understands that this is difficult for him, since his plan backfired on him.
At this point, Witt lights a cigarette and can’t get his lighter to go out or close. Katherine rolls her eyes while he fumbles with it. It’s a marvelous bit of business on the part of W Earl Brown, who then finishes his hissy fit by telling her that he has to go out of town on business for his real boss, Joel, for a while, so she won’t have him to kick around anymore. Until he comes back. In a few weeks. A couple of months at most.
Doris stops him on his way out to tell him that she’s grateful for the help he’s given her. She understands men very well.
And now it’s time for Reprisal’s most adorable couple. Cordell shows up at Molly’s door with a pretzel cake and a couple of bottles of soda. He got them each a straw for their soda, which just strikes me as so 1950s cute for some reason. Then Cordell tells Molly he’s happy that she’s eating, because she’s been peckish ever since she beat a man into fetus size pieces.
He explains to her that the nerves you get from murdering someone are normal, you just need to develop some perspective so that they can work for you instead of against you. He encourages her to look within. Molly does, and tells Cordell about the way Davie looked at her after she hit him the first time- like he couldn’t wait to hurt her and he knew he could do it, despite what she had just done to him. So she tore him into little pieces and she doesn’t feel bad about it, even a little bit.
She wonders if that makes her a bad person. Cordell says that he’s never cared about anyone, other than Earl. But when he sees someone like her, it reminds him that he should try to do better.
Cordell: “Being good can go a long way. Doesn’t matter what you do or what you did. It might haunt you, but it prepares you.”
Molly: “Prepares me for what?”
Cordell: “It prepares you to go through all this. Because you being you? That’s enough, right there. You could bet on that.”
Molly: “Hmm. The salt on the pretzel cake? It’s a nice balance.”
Cordell enthusiastically agrees.
Take the bitter with the sweet, take care of your own and don’t let the Davies get you down, kids.
The 3 River Phoenixes take a baseball break. In between pitches, Matty asks Ethan to tell them more about the murder he committed. Ethan tells the same story he’s told before. All he can add is that when he got bailed out of jail, he was told the guy died, so he took off. Matty asks if he regrets it. Ethan says he doesn’t, because it brought him to the Phoenixes. Johnson and Matty enthusiastically agree.
Now let’s all sing a few choruses of Livin’ on a Prayer, ‘kay? 🎶You live for the fight when it’s all that you’ve got…
Meredith is working on her new motorcycle. Joel asks if she knows what she’s doing and she tells him she’s figuring it out on her own. He asks if she’s named it yet and she tells him the bike already has a name, Pointy Apple. He says it’s not a real name if you don’t name it yourself. Meredith says that maybe she doesn’t want to be renamed. Joel throws up his hands, before there’s no accounting for someone who would let the
woman bike choose.
Keep Meredith’s thoughts on renaming in mind for the future. Also notice Joel’s body language in this scene, how he weaves in and out like a boxer, looming over her one minute, then moving away, putting his face in her face, then backing off, resting the cold beer on her shoulder and chest, and bantering with her all the while.
This is Joel the mover at work. He and Burt have both already lost the most important women in their lives once, Katherine and Rita. Now he faces another war and the loss both his and Burt’s daughters. He’s using every tool and weapon in his arsenal to find a way to keep them both with the Brawlers. If he has to couple up with Meredith to do it, he will, but I don’t think she’s capable of seeing him as anything other than a father figure.
He asks what she’ll do when she gets the bike running and she says she’ll ride away. He’s shocked and tries to convince her that she shouldn’t feel trapped by the Brawlers and their walled, guarded compound that isn’t prison-like at all. She tells him this world feels so tiny to her. He wants to know if she was happy growing up, but she tells him his question isn’t really about her or Lyla. It’s about him.
To Joel the mover, who couldn’t stop himself from killing before he became a Brawler, it’s home. This prison that isn’t quite a prison provides walls and boundaries that he and many of the others need to keep them under control without totally imprisoning them. It’s not as rigid as the military, but it’s not all that different either.
Little kids prefer structure that provides safety and security, too. Their world is also small. Lyla is okay for now, and Meredith probably was too, when she was 10. But teenagers need a larger world and more independence and young adults need to test themselves. The Brawlers world is a terrible place for that. That all or nothing rule doesn’t work for fledgling birds who need to go back and forth for a while. And it doesn’t actually allow kids to leave home at all, as Meredith is showing us.
Molly and Doris examine the contents of a suitcase, which Doris needs for today’s operation. Doris tells Molly that she’ll have to wait in the car while she and Earl take care of business.
Gary the Ghoul delivers the latest Ghoul tax to Percy Montgomery at the Barbershop checkpoint. Percy and Gary exchange barbs before Gary leaves. Doris and her crew are watching from across the street.
Lyla tells her current story to Meredith and Tina. It’s the story of a war lead by owl generals who would eventually be betrayed from within, by love. Lyla wants to take the story interactive and go owl spotting, but the two women don’t appreciate the value of prophetic mythology and turn her down. She leaves to find Bash.
He’s asleep in his room, so she has to go in and wake him up, though he prefers that she knock. He does agree to go owl spotting.
Katherine Harlow visits Percy Montgomery and Gregory the Cook at the checkpoint. Percy pretends not to recognize her as he tries to get rid of her. Then he wonders how she could have betrayed the Brawlers the way she did. Except she didn’t and she tells him so.
She says she’s missed him, but she has to do what comes next. She shoots Gregory in the head and stabs Percy in the neck. Then she and Earl steal tickets to the Bang-A-Rang 707.
As they are driving down the long stretch of road that defines the Brawlers’ territory, they pass the Phoenixes on their way to the checkpoint. Everyone looks at each other. Only Katherine and Ethan understand what they are seeing. It’s a magic moment.
When the Phoenixes arrive at the checkpoint, they find Katherine’s handiwork. Percy is in a Ghouls mask. Ethan is a bit shaken up.
Lyla leads Bash through the woods as she tells him about the decades long owl war, full of battles over mice. At first the battles were tiny, but then they became large. At the end of the war, Owl General Otto Olberman united all of the owls by reminding them that they were all owls and then bringing them mice to feast on.
While Lyla tells her story, Joel hides behind a tree and makes bird calls.
Lyla tells Bash that in the dream that became her story, she was the last of the mice. She was hiding under a tree when Otto sent a dove to promise that if she came out of hiding, he’d spare her life. So she left hiding, but despite that, the story didn’t end well.
Then the birds go silent. That’s never a good thing. Often, it means a predator has arrived.
Joel tells Bash that Percy is dead. The Phoenixes, Joel and Bash ride back to the checkpoint in two cars. Bash examines Percy’s body, then takes off for the Ghouls’ bar on his own. When he gets there, he brings a tire iron inside. He kills at least half a dozen men by himself, including Gary, before Joel and the Phoenixes catch up to him.
It’s important to remember that while Joel doesn’t want a war, he’s still Joel the mover. He hasn’t changed much from the man he was when Burt recruited him and he still uses the same recruiting techniques that Burt has always used. This means that everyone in the compound is, at heart, a powder keg waiting to blow, just like Bash, and Joel, and Matty, and Johnson, and Ethan, and Avron.
It’s in the DNA of the Brawlers to be men with a penchant for violence that’s easily flipped on, and but hard to turn back off. Once they start, even if it’s over something small, they can’t stop themselves, from Burt all the way down to Ethan. Either everyone dies or someone else stops them.
Doris knew what would trigger Bash into uncontrollable violence and she flipped that switch. The funny thing is that Bash knew who was responsible for the original massacre that she was mimicking. If he’d slowed down enough to think it through, he would have had to wonder if she’d come back, and I think he will, eventually. But Katherine Harlow knew Bash well enough to know that he viewed fighting with romance and would go for revenge in a big way as his first reaction.
Bash has largely been a background presence until now, but like a snake in the grass, he jumps out at key moments: he was part of the initial massacre that started Burt’s big war; he manhandled the Ghouls’ lieutenant at the confrontation between the gangs in the present day, which kept tensions between the gangs high; and now he’s murdered a bar full of Ghouls. That’s an act which Joel won’t be able to bring the gangs back from.
Lyla’s story was a warning to Bash, and would have been a warning to Meredith and Tina as well. Bash was one of the perpetrators of the violence that started the last war, and he’s in the midst of starting another one. Last time, Lyla was the only only innocent among the Brawlers who survived unscathed. She wanted to send a message to the Pin-Ups to be prepared, so they don’t become mice in the coming war, but she isn’t someone whose language or instincts they’ll respect.
That’s the frustrating part about being a mouse. You see much more than owls give you credit for, to everyone’s detriment. It’s harrowing to watch a slow motion crash and Lyla’s been watching one for her whole life. Her father loves her, but he’ll never take her seriously, anymore than he took her mother seriously or he takes Meredith seriously. The bottom of a tree isn’t really a hiding place from an owl, which indicates that Lyla knows that there’s no place she can hide and be safe.
I have a feeling that the show made such a big deal of the two cars passing each other because those three Phoenixes will eventually be part of Katherine’s crew. Joel has rejected two of the three (Johnson was also passed over when Avron was promoted) and Ethan is already a traitor. Katherine values loyalty in the same way that Matty does. Burt is really a fantasy figure who’s due to be exposed.
Images courtesy of Hulu.