In this episode, the owls go to war and Meredith becomes a mouse. Queenie brings Burt back into the fold, where he does exactly what Joel has always known he’d do. Joel sends Lyla to safety with Rita, but not before she meets Katherine at Bash’s house. Katherine also stages a meeting with the Phoenixes. Mixed messages and miscommunications abound.
We learn once and for all that Reprisal takes place in an alternate universe, in which many of the male characters fought in the Archipelago War and are still suffering from PTSD. Molly was a field nurse in the war and also saw things that left her traumatized. She’s probably not the only woman on the show who was affected by the War. Virtually every character has been affected by some war, whether it’s the Archipelago War or Burt’s gang wars or the unnamed, continuous wars that constitute domestic violence. Growing up surrounded by the Brawlers or the Ghouls equals growing up on the edge of a battlefield.
Episode 6 begins with newsreel footage of the Archipelago War, in honor of the anniversary of the bloody Battle of the 37th Island. The Archipelago was a country that was split in two. Some thought it should remain that way, while others thought it should be reunited into one country. Military from all over the world came to fight for the Archipelago, because it was such a beloved place and they cared so deeply about its future. Or so the newsreel announcer assures us. Whether their side won or lost, the soldiers and support staff should be proud of their efforts on behalf of the Archipelago!!
We aren’t told the outcome of the war or which side our country was on. It feels Orwellian, and not terribly different from the small wars the US is almost continuously involved in.
A younger Percy Montgomery plays cards in a VFW Post and tells his companion that the whole Archipelago should have been blown up. Younger Bash, wearing a Brawlers shirt and jacket, enters. Percy tells his companion to pour another round for his big brother.
Bash wants Percy to join the Brawlers with him. Percy doesn’t think he’s the joining type. Besides, they already belong to a family. Bash insists that this is a bigger, better family. He tells Percy to come build a new car or work on his old one. But even if all Percy wants to do is drink himself to death, Bash wants him to do it nearby.
Burt Harlow wakes up in his rural cabin and lights a cigarette. He works on old clocks and tends to his garden.
He’s apparently run off and joined the Watchmen, maybe on Europa. As long as I don’t have to watch Tom Mison die another thousand times, I’m okay with that.
His peaceful respite is just about over, though, because Queenie has had enough and is driving her hotrod out to see him. All this time we thought Bash and Joel were his two lieutenants, but as it turns out, the aptly named Queenie is the real power behind the throne. She’s known where he was all along. And she does keep the books- both sets. They say, “Follow the money,” for a reason.
At the cabin, Queenie looks over Burt’s current car. She’s unimpressed with it’s vintage black simplicity. Burt says, “I figured I’d give her a second life.” I could be wrong, but I think it’s the car Katherine was driving the night he tried to kill her. The black would be a form of mourning and respect, since he believes she’s dead. This would make sense to a psychopath- in his mind, she forced him to take action. He didn’t want to kill her. It also befits his status as dignified leader, godfather and perpetual semi-victim who needs revenge.
Queenie tells Burt about Percy and that they’ll do his send off, the Brawler funeral, tomorrow night. Burt is concerned about Bash’s reaction, but Queenie is satisfied that he got his revenge. It’s Joel she’s worried about, with Lyla growing up. Then she notices Burt’s garden and laughs at him. Burt is having an existential crisis over the fact that he can’t even grow cucumbers as well as his no account father.
Queenie tells him that she doesn’t care what he’s been doing for the last 2 years. He’s needed by the family he built. It’s time to come home.
Doris tries repeatedly to call Ethan. He doesn’t answer and eventually gets rid of the phone in the woods behind the compound.
Not the smartest place to dispose of incriminating evidence.
Doris get frustrated and shows it, a momentary lapse in her composure. Earl asks why Percy called her Katherine. She walks out. Molly decides that it’s time to remove the buckshot Gregory put in his neck at the checkpoint. (I didn’t mention that he got in a shot at Earl because at that point what happened wasn’t clear to me.)
Molly was a field nurse in the Archipelago War on the 37 Island- the bad one. Earl and Cordell have new respect for her. They both fought in the war for two tours, but neither was on the 37th Island.
Once his wounds have been tended to, Earl finds Katherine in the coffee shop/bar. He tells her that the Monster Ring was originally the idea of their commanding officer in the war, Alvin. She’s surprised, because she thought Earl was also Alvin. They chuckle at how little they know about each other.
When they came back from the war, Alvin saw an opportunity and rounded up the team. Bernice was fine with it then, because she liked the extra income. Bernice and Earl had a son named Raymond and when he was 13, Alvin recruited him into the Monster Ring. Alvin took Raymond out on a job and Raymond was killed.
Katherine tells Earl that Percy was her first husband’s brother and how she was betrayed. Earl asks why she’s come back now. She says that her anniversary is coming up.
Joel brings Lyla to Bash’s house. Bash is listening to a recording of a couple who are discussing running away together. Joel notes that it was strange, the way Percy had the Ghouls mask on his head. He and Bash exchange a knowing look, figuring out what they should have seen before Bash went on a murder spree.
Of course, Bash still had to go on a murder spree, to maintain their cover story.
Lyla tells Bash that when she’s sad, she hugs her stuffed doll, Rufus, until she feels better. Rufus asks what she has to be sad about. She tells him she has plenty.
Good for her. He’s probably not the first and he certainly won’t be the last person to dismiss her feelings and issues as trivial. The things she has to be sad about aren’t too different from his own. She hasn’t seen her mother since she was a baby. She lives in a super misogynist, enclosed cult compound which doubles as a bar and strip club. She’s surrounded by violent, alcoholic, misogynist men and her only female role models are sex workers who don’t particularly care about her.
Her father is teaching her to cope by escaping into a fantasy world, a coping mechanism which she’s smart enough to sense won’t hold up in the real world outside the compound. If she ever escapes. She’s around the Pin-Ups enough to hear them discuss the ways that they are semi-forced to stay. Who knows how many sexual and violent crimes she’s witnessed in her short life. And she has no one else her age to play with. She doesn’t seem to go to school or leave the compound.
In this episode, we’ve been given Meredith, Gertrude and Raymond as examples of what Lyla’s future probably holds. Which should she choose?
So no, Lyla has no problems at all, Bash. And, yes, 10 year old girls do think about all of the things I just listed when they are in abusive environments.
Lyla tells Bash she’ll come back to get Rufus before she goes to bed. Then she asks what happened to make him so sad. He says that there’s trouble between the owls.
Queenie convinces Burt to come back to the Brawlers. The Brawlers prepare Percy’s truck, Thelma, for his send off.
Meredith and Gertrude have a heart to heart about where they stand now that the Brawlers and the Ghouls are going to war. First, Gertrude gives Mer advice on bike repairs. Then she tells Mer that Gary is dead. Mer defends him as a decent guy. Gertrude wants to leave before the war reaches full swing. She remembers how bad it was the last time. Mer wants to wait until she fixes her own bike. She still hopes things won’t get too bad. Gertrude knows better.
Matty is suspicious about the way Percy died. He’s figured out that there’s no way Gary or the Ghouls would have broken the peace and killed Percy that way. Joel tells him not to question the official story and not to go looking for revenge on his own. He orders Matty to protect the river instead of instigating more fights. Joel manhandles Matty, again, in his attempt to get Matty to things his way.
Joel can’t see that the manhandling only makes Matty more resentful. If he wants a different kind of gang, he needs to try treating some of the members differently, starting with Matty, who has enough empathy and intelligence to see things Joel’s way, then to help influence others. But Joel is so controlling that he never wants to explain his reasoning to anyone he views as beneath him.
Burt returns to the compound and grabs a beer. Then he asks to see Bash. He tells Bash that he loved Percy as if he was one of them. Bash reminds him that Percy was one of them. Burt says they’re going to make it right. Bash says he already did. Burt says he needs to make it even righter. The Ghouls will hit back, so he needs to hit back harder, first.
Burt has one move- attack and hit so hard that you annihilate the enemy. No matter how small or large the infraction, that’s his response.
Joel meets Jukes in an isolated spot to discuss options, except there are none and they both know it. They quickly come down to hoping their friendship won’t be ruined by the war and part with the understanding that whatever happens next is just business. If they both come out of it alive, they’ll regroup.
Percy’s send off begins with a trumpet player playing Chicago’s 25 or 6 to 4. As the brawlers and Pin-Ups file out to their places, Burt shakes their hands in greeting. He stops to say hi to the Phoenixes. Matty is in awe. Johnson just looks at Burt with his usual ironically bemused calm. Ethan hangs back a little.
The stripped skeleton of Percy’s beloved truck, Thelma, is set on fire. Burt stands next to it to speak to the Brawlers. He is once again lit only by flames. Joel’s long peace has come to an end.
Burt: “I never cared much for funerals. Something made up by weak men to ease the pain of the lies that they tell themselves, that death has meaning. It does not. Family has meaning. You ever see a pack of wolves? The leader follows from behind. With our family, I’ve never needed to lead or to follow. Because our family has always been one. And when someone threatens the family that we built, we need to protect ourselves, and make them suffer. So make no mistake about it. We are now at war.”
This ritual is for the crowd. Bash is in his room, the prison cell he sentenced himself to after he betrayed Katherine. Katherine is with her new crew. Joel returns midway through it and goes straight home. Meredith sits on the other side of the compound with Tina. She hasn’t seen her father yet and contemplates leaving now, with Gertrude, instead of waiting until Queenie is “done”, as she had planned. Either way, she sees her father as weak, which is extra ironic, given his speech.
When Burt finishes, many of the men yell in agreement. The Phoenixes don’t.
Later, Meredith packs a bag while listening to Gertrude on the phone, telling her that there’s a guy they can buy some scratch from, then use the money from selling that to fund their trip out of town. Meredith packs her gun. Gertrude lost both parents in previous wars and doesn’t want to fight another.
Katherine explains to Earl that she needs to go to the compound tonight while the Brawlers are distracted by Percy’s send off, in order to make sure a seldom used back road still exists. While she’s there, she wants to drop an anniversary gift off with her ex.
Having found the back way open, Katherine makes her way into Bash’s cabin. He’s let his record play to the end and passed out, leaving the needle skipping at the end, which is a terrible, grating crime by itself. Friends don’t let friends scratch their albums and ruin their stereo needles, even when murder is on the table, so Katherine turns off the record player before she points her gun at Bash’s head.
This is undoubtedly the kind of thing that made him fall in love with her.
Bash still has Rufus curled up with him. Lyla shows up to get her toy and asks if Katherine is a friend of Bash’s. She decides they’re all one big happy friend group before trying to pull Rufus out from under her uncle the mass killer. Katherine tries to keep her gun out of sight while helping Lyla with Rufus.
I doubt guns faze Lyla at all.
Lyla notices that Katherine and Bash have matching heart tattoos on their wrists. To distract her, Katherine shows her a small carved bird in her purse and asks for help naming him. Lyla says they should leave the bird as a gift for Bash. Katherine knows that leaving the bird will give away her presence, but she indulges Lyla.
The next day, Joel brings Lyla to the park gazebo where he met Rita. Lyla tells him that she has an idea for Harold Horpus’ story now. She thinks Harold is like an ant who’s lost their queen. He’s lost his purpose in life and needs to find it again. She explains that she thought of this when she “met the lady with the black heart and the yellow canary”- Uncle Bash’s ghost visitor.
Normally, Joel would be all over a story like this coming from his daughter and have figured out the truth of the situation within the hour. But this time, he’s distracted, trying to get her away from Burt’s war as quickly as possible, so he insists she was dreaming, even when she insists she wasn’t.
Rita arrives to take Lyla home with her. Lyla is mature beyond her years, more worried for her father than herself. He says he’ll be searching for his own “why”. Lyla says she’ll find Harold while they’re separated. Rita tells him to call when he’s done with the Brawlers.
Bash wakes up and sees the yellow canary. Katherine Harlow isn’t above a mixed message or two.
The three River Phoenixes eat in a diner, still thinking about Burt’s speech. Matty is excited that he gets to prove himself in a war with Burt. Johnson wants Matty to stop thinking so loud. Ethan is still in his own world, worrying about his own problems. His own problem turns up in the form of Katherine, who complements their jackets and pretends she doesn’t know any of them.
She scoots into the booth beside Ethan and chats them up for a minute, asking if they’re in a band or some other sort of group. Nobody is very friendly, but Johnson tells her they’re in transportation. Johnson definitely recognizes her after a second and notices how strangely Ethan is reacting, but he doesn’t tip his hand or Katherine’s.
As Katherine is leaving, she pretends to find Ethan’s phone on the floor and gives it back to him. The whole thing was a ruse to give him a new phone so he’d have to take her calls again.
Gertrude picks up Meredith from the phone booth and brings her back to the Ghouls compound. Gertrude is silent the whole ride and as they walk back to a hangout spot, where several young Ghouls are waiting. When Meredith walks in, one of the Ghouls acknowledges that she’s Burt’s daughter. Meredith pulls out her gun and points it at the female Ghoul. They all stand up, one pointing her gun at Meredith.
They are at a standoff, with the Ghouls being dismissive of Meredith, until someone else reaches into their jacket and Meredith shoots the main Ghoul in the head. Another yells to shoot Meredith, but the one with the gun says that Jukes told them to keep her alive. While they hesitate, Meredith shoots everyone but Gertrude.
Gertrude and Meredith have a standoff for a minute, Mer with an empty gun and Gertrude with a crossbow. Gertrude says that she was forced to kidnap Meredith.
Meredith leaves, taking Gertrude’s bike, symbol of her independence.
Jukes went straight for someone who he thought would be an innocent, helpless victim and a high value target. He thought kidnapping Meredith would escalate the tension but not the violence. Obviously he underestimated her. Joel understood the way Jukes thinks and was smart to get Lyla out.
This is the first time we’ve seen where the Ghouls live. It looks less fortified and more homey than the Brawlers’ compound, which is probably better for their mental health but makes their chances of surviving Burt’s insanity worse.
In episode 6 we met a few more female gang members, then watched them die at the hands of a lone, white, overly-feminized, oppressed sex worker wielding a gun. Yay for diversity and nontraditional gender presentation. Boo for the other messages this show just sent.
I’m not sure they could have done more to make Meredith physically look like an innocent and pure child who’d been defiled by the evil minorities. While I love some good symbolism, where is the purity symbolism when it comes to Gertrude and Lyla? Or Ethan and Matty? All children are born innocent, not just Meredith.
If there’s a season 2, my number 1 request is for Meredith to stop dressing like an overgrown little girl. Her clothing is beautiful, but it’s meant to put her on a pedestal above the other characters while also still making her look like a hooker. It’s the worst kind of “Lolita” mixed messaging, associated with both the sexualizing of children and infantilizing of grown women.
Earlier in the episode, Meredith and Gertrude spoke on the phone while sitting next to each other. It was only revealed to the audience that they were together at the end of the call. Before they hung up, they were even shown in splitscreen, showing how they were being torn apart while together.
During the call, Gertrude begs Meredith to run away with her now, before things get any worse. Gertrude remembers Bert’s last few wars and has been left bereft by them. She doesn’t want to watch anymore loved ones die. Meredith can’t bring herself to leave yet, saying that her bike isn’t ready. Gertrude’s bike is. She wants them both to leave on her bike, but Meredith won’t budge.
At the end of the episode, after killing several Ghouls, Meredith rides away from the Ghoul’s compound on Gertrude’s bike. Circumstances have forced Meredith to grow up and become ready, like it or not. Gertrude has become ensnared in the war, just as she feared, and she’s watched friends die at the hands of someone she cares about. Like Jukes and Joel, the two are now on opposite sides of a war and their friendship may not survive.
The hot rods represent the heart or soul or best of the person. Did Meredith take Gertrude’s heart for safekeeping or did she take away the best of Gertrude?
We see fire used twice in this episode as part of rituals. Molly uses it medically to sterilize her surgical tweezers so that she can remove the buckshot from Earl’s neck and help him heal. After she’s done, he goes to the bar and tells Katherine about his son, helping to heal that wound as well.
Meanwhile, Percy’s beloved hotrod truck/”beast” Thelma is stripped of all usable parts and then the shell is burned as a symbolic cremation. Burt takes this opportunity to return to his “family” after a two year absence and speak to them as a group. He doesn’t speak about Percy. Even when he talks to Queenie and Bash, he doesn’t say much about Percy. In fact, he refers to Percy, who’s just died in the line of duty, as an outsider to Bash.
Burt tells the assembly they are going to war to avenge the perceived slight, but he doesn’t seem to care much about the affected people. He mainly seems to sense that people are restless, leading to skirmishes, and his solution is to start another bloody war. Keeping everyone else constantly fighting each other helps to maintain his own status, since no one can think straight long enough to plan a coup.
Queenie doesn’t have a 3 River Phoenixes or a 707 tattoo. She is a unique entity in the group. As are all of Burt’s closest allies. He only values conformity in his foot soldiers. But he’s a chaotic, so people tend to make mistakes when he’s around that they wouldn’t normally make.
That’s part of how Burt beats them or keeps them under his control and why he goes straight to war- to keep everyone else off balance, a place where he functions normally, but hardly anyone else does. Katherine learned the technique from Burt and it’s already working- both Bash and Joel are making mistakes.
I think Johnson was over the Brawlers years ago, but is either protecting someone or has nowhere else to go. He certainly sees through the BS that Matty loves so much, but he lets Matty have his fun. Johnson also keeps his mouth shut and lets the chips fall where they may. He seems to have stopped choosing sides and intervening, even when he could. Thus, he doesn’t say anything, even to Matty or Burt, when he recognizes Katherine in the diner. He let’s her give Ethan the phone and continue her battle with whoever she’s come back for.
Queenie, on the other hand, sees much more than she lets on and judiciously interferes behind the scenes much more than we realize, with a well-timed word to the right person. She’s the queen bee, always buzzing around the compound and checking in on people, then leaving them with something to think about.
I don’t think we’re supposed to see Joel and Jukes as lovers, but they do love their secret rendezvous. Some of the friendships in this show are very intense. It can be hard to tell if there are repressed feelings going on.
It’s probably too late now, and maybe it always was, but I wonder what would have happened if Joel had found something else for Burt’s standing army to do to use up testosterone and adrenaline besides fight wars. Personally, I’m fond of supporting the arts beyond burlesque, such as forming rock bands and making public street art. Getting out into nature is also good- let them rebuild the infrastructure of the Archipelago or campgrounds and other infrastructure in National Parks.
Or just encourage these gearheads to restart the races at the racetrack with all of those hotrods. Right now, the gangs’ vehicles serve mainly as an artistic outlet and status symbols. Their value as tools for escape or athleticism could be increased by holding sanctioned public competitions. That’s a business opportunity that’s waiting to be exploited and it doesn’t have to involve much exploitation of women and minorities.
The record Bash listens to in his room is the same radio drama he and Percy listened to at the VFW Post when he recruited Percy into the Brawlers. Bash is feeling some regrets, or at least wondering if he’s always made the best choices.
Katherine’s back way into the compound is both an actual road and a metaphor. The first person Burt asked for when he returned to the compound was Bash. Katherine checked on Bash to make sure killing Percy had the effect she expected it to. By hurting Bash, she’s already hurt Burt and destabilized the entire Brawlers organization. Bash was close to three people: Percy, Katherine and Burt. The night Katherine was left for dead, Bash chose Burt over her. Leaving the canary began the next phase of Katherine’s plan.
Images courtesy of Hulu.