In episode 8 of Reprisal, the characters deal with the aftermath of Katherine’s attack on the Bang-A-Rang and other recent events. Joel tries to go backsies on Konstantinov’s death, but Jukes points out that if there’s anything you can’t take back, it’s a relatively unprovoked murder. Avron discovers that the Monster Ring had an inside man among the Brawlers, but Bru doesn’t want to believe him, since no one likes him anyway. Ethan, the inside man, knows Avron’s right and alerts Katherine.
This is the episode of hitting bottom. Between Burt and Katherine’s messes, most of the characters feel angry, betrayed, helpless and confused, even Katherine herself. They’ve all made mistakes and are letting their emotions get in the way of good judgement, compounding the mistakes. This episode is spent gathering information while also ignoring the obvious. Or mentally escaping and then forming the beginnings of their next terrible plans.
We also learn more about Katherine and Witt’s pasts. Katherine is the queen of personal reinvention that allows one to stay the same deep down and Witt is the king of lying to oneself in order to ignore painful truths forever. Both skill sets allow them to protect their true selves when Burt and the Brawlers try to break them.
Part of becoming a Brawler is being broken and then built back up by the Brawlers. If they can’t break you, you’ll never be as loyal and obedient as they want. Obedience is the key concept here- they want most of the Brawlers to believe that they need their leaders to make decisions for them.
This is why Matty, who’s loyal to the core but thinks for himself, is still a Phoenix and not a Brawler. Avron is slapped down by Bru when he finds the duffle bag and thinks for himself. The other independent thinkers who aren’t close to Burt are either marginalized or have been driven out.
A much younger and happier Witt walks into a small town bar and orders a beer. Then he begins his sales pitch. He tells the bar patrons that good people like themselves deserve a visit to the Bang-A-Rang. They want to know what products he uses to make his hair so smooth.
Eventually they settle into listening to the story of the Bang-A-Rang. Witt has a deck of cards with a card for each Pin Up girl. He tells his audience that the Bang-A-Rang has anything they need, from girls to fights to drinks. They ask him about the card he’s kept in his pocket.
It’s Katherine’s card. He says that she was the original Pin Up, who paved the way for the others, but now she’s not around much. She was special. When someone asks what happened to her, Witt doesn’t answer. He just tells them how to get tickets for the Bang-A-Rang.
Many years later, an older, sadder, lonelier Witt stops to order a steak at Doris’ restaurant. Despite the blonde hair and glasses, it only takes one look for him to recognize Katherine Harlowe. It takes a couple of visits for him to get up the nerve to tell her he recognizes her and show her that he still has her Pin Up card.
She doesn’t take it well, but has a cup of tea with him. She tells him about her husband’s failing health and asks him if he’d bring her the carved bird that we saw her return to Bash in the present. Some period of time later, when Witt brings the bird to her, she decides to discuss plans for the future with him.
In the present, Bash stares at the bird. And stares at the bird. His past has come back to haunt him in a big way.
The Phoenixes get a call from the phone in their glove compartment. Matty says it’s Betty’s phone. She tells them about the robbery.
Joel, Burt and Queenie examine the vault and try to figure out why Katherine would rob the Bang-A-Rang. Queenie notes that there used to be a lot of money in the vault. Joel understands the part where Katherine murdered Brawlers for revenge, but not the attempted robbery.
Joel is motivated by anger, not money.
Queenie looks at Burt and says that he told her Katherine just disappeared. Then she indicates that she knows the truth, and asks why he hurt his sister the way he did, if he liked the idea of what he could make Katherine feel. Burt proves he’s a psychopath with a twisted sense of honor by saying that Katherine deserved better than a gunshot.
Matty tells Bru that the Phoenixes will find Katherine, but Bru says they’ve been called back to lay low instead. He tells Matty not to go looking for trouble. Matty asks Johnson if he can believe what’s happened. Johnson can.
Pretty sure Johnson recognized Katherine in the diner when she gave Ethan the phone, but Johnson keeps his own counsel.
Joel walks by and calls Matty to come with him. He ignores Ethan. Johnson gives Ethan a look that says Ethan should know better by now.
Queenie brings her battle ax back to the Pin Ups dressing room, to replace it in its spot on the wall. She tells the girls that she’s proud of all of them for how they helped protect their home. Meredith follows her out of the room and asks what’s going on. She can tell it’s more than just the robbery. Queenie says, “You know, if you ever do leave this place, I want you to remember something. The past doesn’t ever stop.”
Avron noses around in some of the seldom used back rooms of the Bang-A-Rang and finds the duffle bag the guns were in. The Monster Ring took the guns but left the bag.
Molly listens to the recorded false confession she made to Davie, in which she told him that everything was Doris’ idea and the restaurant was rightfully Big Graham’s.
Cordell wakes up in a tub full of ice and wonders if he’s dying. Molly explains that the ice was the only thing she had to numb the pain from his wounds. She helps him out of the tub so she can take care of his wounds. He says it’s not the first time he’s been stabbed. She’s not surprised, since during the war his unit, the 37th, mostly received stab wounds.
He asks if she was scared during the robbery. She says she was, but more than that, she was wondering where she goes from there. She killed 5 or 6 men. There’s no going home after that, in the sense that she thinks it will change her.
Cordell asks if she’s ever seen the movie Blood of the Heart, that tells the story of the 37th. It doesn’t really capture what being there was like, but it does show that there’s not really any way of coming back from the things that change you sp completely. “You are what you are because, admit it or not, this is who you wanted to become.”
Earl and Katherine are day drinking in the hotel bar. Earl says that Ethan messed up, but Katherine blames herself for assuming the Brawlers would still keep the money where they always had. They agree that there won’t be money in any of the Bang-A-Rang vaults. Katherine has no idea where the Brawlers might keep it now.
Earl thinks it’s time for him and Cordell to leave. They both almost got killed last night and they were only there for the cash. He tells Doris that she doesn’t really need them anyway. She just needs some self-confidence. She knows what she needs to do, she’s just scared to do it on her own. “You don’t need us, Dottie… You just need to work your s**t out. And move on.”
She does need them though. They’re her family now. Dottie and Earl drink their beers in perfect synchronization, proving my point, then Earl leaves.
Avron brings the gun bag to Bru, along with his theory that the robbers had an inside man who helped them by smuggling the guns in first. Bru tells Avron to be careful, because he’s accusing his family of betrayal. Avron questions whether all of the Brawlers really are his family. Bru tells him that if anyone is the outsider, it’s him.
Sounds like Avron only got into the gang because of his tenuous connection to Burt and no one would miss him if he were gone. He just gave them a good reason to get rid of him.
Ethan calls Katherine to yell at her for leaving the bag behind and tell her they can’t be in contact anymore.
Katherine isn’t having a good day.
Joel and Jukes meet in an empty building, but neither comes alone. Jukes brought several Ghouls. Joel brought Matty and a large gun.
He must have made Matty’s day by choosing him for this job.
Also, the trust is gone between Joel and Jukes. They’ve met privately for years to work out gang issues between themselves, and promised not to let the politics of the war come between them. It didn’t take long for Katherine, Burt and their own mistakes to unravel years of cooperation.
Let’s Review Some Gang War History Before Joel Twists It to Fit His Own Purposes
Before we get into their conversation, which leaves a lot unsaid and in which Joel uses some very convoluted reasoning, let’s recall some history. For Ethan’s initiation into the Phoenixes, Matty took him to the Ghouls’ bar and started a fight. The Phoenixes lost, but the Ghouls were angry and demanded reparations. The Brawlers refused, on the grounds that they are bigger and stronger than the Ghouls, so the Ghouls couldn’t make them. The Ghouls didn’t take this well.
Katherine came back to town intent on starting a gang war. Many of the younger members of both gangs also want a war. She murdered Bash’s brother Percy, but staged the body to frame the Ghouls for the murder in the same way they/she’d been framed for Brawlers’ murders the night she was left for dead.
Bash saw Percy’s body and went on a killing rampage at the Ghouls’ bar, murdering half a dozen people, including Gary the Ghoul. It wasn’t until later that Bash processed that Percy’s staged body was a message from Katherine and realized the mistake he’d made. Burt and Joel, the other 2 conspirators who left Katherine for dead, came to the same realization. But Katherine knew Bash and got the initial reaction she expected from him, which she knew would provoke a new cycle of violence with the Ghouls. She also knew Joel wouldn’t stop Bash from going on a rampage and he didn’t.
With her friend Gertrude’s help, a group of young Ghouls kidnapped Burt’s daughter Meredith in retaliation for the attack on the bar. They said Jukes told them not to hurt Meredith, but it’s not clear whether they meant to abide by his order, since they held Meredith at gunpoint. She pulled out her own gun and proved to be a crack shot, killing all of them, but letting Gertrude live.
Then Joel ambushed Konstantinov alone and murdered him.
The Bang-A-Rang was robbed by Katherine. The Brawlers, or at least Joel, now realize she has big plans for revenge that involve manipulating them into turning on themselves.
Back to the conversation at hand. Joel the Mover is hoping to mend some fences with Jukes, now that he realizes he’s been an idiot.
Note that Katherine was only responsible for one small piece of this escalation into war, the murder of Percy. Otherwise, the Ghouls and Brawlers have done most of the work themselves, with an occasional tweak by Katherine.
Joel and Jukes discuss the Ghouls’ move on Meredith and Joel’s murder of Konstantinov. At first Joel tries to make it sound like those two acts cancel each other out, but the move on Meredith was retaliation for Bash’s unprovoked attack on the Ghouls’ bar (unprovoked by the Ghouls- provoked by Katherine).
Jukes reminds Joel that they had an agreement and it wasn’t the Ghouls who broke it. Joel admits that Jukes is right, but tells him that the Brawlers were set up by someone from their past who’s out to get them. They both show some of their old vulnerability and closeness here.
But then Joel the Mover looms over Jukes and tells him they could end things now. Jukes says that Joel asked him to get “him” under control. Not sure who that is- I don’t think we’ve met the head of the Ghouls, so maybe it’s Burt’s counterpart. Jukes says that Joel didn’t give him a chance to get the problem person under control, then he killed Konstantinov.
Jukes: “So now it’s starting to feel like there’s only one way this can go. Imagine if it were one of yours. That I just… Well, you know what you did. And you know why. (He puts a hand on Joel’s shoulder. Joel looks like his heart is shattering.) Embrace the war, old friend. It’ll all be over soon enough.”
Jukes is clearly the father figure and mentor to Joel that Burt should have been. As he walks away, Joel nods slightly to himself, accepting that this is the way things are now. Matty asks what their next move is. Joel says that he hasn’t been drunk in a long time.
That says so much about his character. He’s maintained iron control over himself for years, but everything he’s fought for is over, so he might as well indulge in some escapism.
Witt shows up and Ethan meets him at the door with a disappointed glare. He tells Witt the news. Witt tells him it’s time for both of them to get out while they can, before this turns into a full on, bloody war and the Brawlers realize the two of them helped Katherine.
Witt has spent his life running from conflict and commitment. This is just the next leg of his lifelong road trip.
Turns out Ethan’s not the running type. I don’t think he fully grasps what the Brawlers are, just Matty’s vision of them. It’s Matty, Johnson and Meredith he’s staying for.
Witt leaves. Ethan goes back into the Bang-A-Rang.
Tina finds Meredith sitting on her bike. She thinks the bike is ugly, but Meredith likes ugly.
Despite Meredith’s dream of leaving for something better, she’s not really a runner either. It’s herself she’s trying to find.
Tina asks if Meredith knew Katherine. Meredith remembers her aunt from when she was a young girl. Tina offers Meredith whatever help she can. Meredith appreciates it, but she intends to leave the family politics to her father and aunt.
Tina sees Ethan approaching: “You’re boyfriend’s back.” She leaves so they can speak privately. Ethan asks Meredith if she wants to get out of the compound tonight and go somewhere fun. Meredith thinks that sounds like fun.
That sounds like a date. And Meredith didn’t tell Tina that Ethan isn’t her boyfriend.
Matty and Joel go to the old racetrack, where Joel drinks irresponsibly and Matty is the responsible one for once. Joel remembers the good old days, when they’d all rig up their own cars, then race them every week. They’d end the night in a drunken fist fight. “Don’t do what we used to.”
Which part? He continues with the obvious, that they’re all stuck in the Bang-A-Rang now, protecting, supporting and managing the business. They’ve become a corporation and lost the wild freedom they had in their youth. The wild freedom the Phoenixes still have out on the River.
Matty, ever the idealistic dreamer, argues that the wild passion Joel found in the Brawlers when he was young isn’t gone. He tells Joel that his parents were good people who raised him right and gave him a good education. But his childhood lacked vision and he failed to develop a direction in life. There was nothing greater than himself in his life for him to devote his passion toward. Then he heard about the Brawlers and he knew where he belonged. He knew he could find the vision he sought with them.
Joel: “Well, being a Brawler, Matty, makes you do horrible things. Right here, at this track, I fell for something that didn’t exist. You might feel okay with it, in the moment. But then, the years go by, and the real consequences… All the f—ing BS you’ve done? Well… There they are. Katherine Harlow, she’s come back for revenge. And I don’t blame her.”
Matty: “For revenge?”
You can see the wheels spinning in Matty’s head. The Ballad of Katherine Harlow is one of his most cherished legends. It’s foundational. If that story is flipped, with her as a wronged princess instead of the evil villain, what does that do to the rest of his legendary Brawlers house of cards? And how can he rewrite the story so that it still makes sense to him?
Burt is the mythical leader of the Brawlers, but Joel is its rock. Matty trusts his word implicitly.
Betty’s glove compartment phone rings, the one that’s only used in the most serious emergencies. But Joel’s off the clock for the first time in years. He tells Matty not to pick up. “No good news is coming this time of night.”
Oh, Joel. You and Matty are the same romantically flawed, all or nothing type of person.
Burt pays a late night visit to Bash, revealing himself out of smoke and shadow, his preferred way to make an entrance. Like many a dictator, Burt is all style and psychopathy, with just enough sense to keep his rank and file troops happy.
Like Joel, Bash isn’t one of the rank and file. Burt has always had to use more than smoke, shadows and a full belly to gain their loyalty. In the past he’s depended on their ambition and romanticism, but both have matured to the point where they are no longer blinded by those drives and their need for violence. (Although they both can still be triggered, if you know the right buttons to push.)
Burt has a lot in common with Witt, but he drives away anyone in his inner circle who dares to change, rather than doing the leaving himself (except for his unprecedented 2 year break). He can’t afford to lose his two most experienced generals on the eve of war on two fronts, so this is new territory for all three men. Burt is counting Joel and Bash staying with the Brawlers due to the habits of a lifetime and their loyalty to the other men who make up the Brawlers. He’s just about overplayed his hand with both men.
Because of Burt, Bash has lost the two most important people in his life, one at the hands of the other, one at his hands. He stares at the bird and seethes with anger as Burt enters the room.
Bash: “She wasn’t a threat to us. She was just looking out for us. But you, you told us that all these others, that all of them wanted to devour us. ‘Devour.’ That’s colorful language. When really, they just wanted their own. They didn’t want trouble. You… You wanted the trouble. And I followed that want. I believed in all the BS you’d spew… Lost souls building a family, redefining ourselves… All of it. But, what’s belief? Because, see, the one person I remotely cared about, the one person on this planet- I let you kill her. I let you kill her because I believed.”
Burt: “And yet you still sit here. You still believe, Bash.”
Bash: “No. I don’t actually. She killed Percy. She killed him because she knew what it would do to me. She knew, no matter what, she knew I could never forgive her for it. She knew I’d want to kill her. So yeah, I sit here.”
Aladdin and Ariel fly on their magic carpet… Ethan and Meredith drive in one of the Brawlers’ hotrods to their fun date at a carnival. They buy tickets for a shadow puppet show, The Horse Cabbage Heart. Inside the theatre, Meredith notices that Ethan seems nervous and reminds him of the breathing technique he showed her at the gas station.
He asks if she’s okay, after the robbery. She says that it was different than the attack with the Ghouls. Then she was alone and outnumbered. But last night, with the robbery, she was home, so she felt safer.
Ethan mentions that Katherine is her aunt. She wonders if that’s even true. She says she’s heard a lot of different versions of the story of how Katherine disappeared. He asks if she wants to leave the Brawlers because she never knew her mother. When she reacts with surprise, he says it’s just an instinct he has. He tells her he knew his mother and she put him through a lot. He wasn’t sure at first why he came to the Brawlers, but now he realizes that it feels like the only place he belongs. Meredith says, “Dollface, I knew you belonged here from the minute I laid eyes on you.”
What she means is, he belongs with her. What he means is, she and the Phoenixes feel like the only real home he’s ever known.
They look into each other’s eyes and smile for a minute. But they are a Disney prince and princess, so she has to leave to use the restroom before their romance gets any more real. The shadow puppets fight between them, but they don’t notice. They know shadows can’t touch them.
As soon as Meredith is gone, Earl starts talking. He’s sitting in the shadows behind Ethan and needs to borrow Meredith’s boyfriend for a Monster Ring conference about their next move, since the vault was empty.
Yeah, Dottie may blame herself, but Earl figures that since Ethan’s job is transporting the Brawlers’ money, it really wasn’t asking much for him to pay attention to where it comes from on its way into the car and goes to when it leaves the car.
Meredith spots Earl encouraging Ethan into his car and follows them to the Pillows and Pints.
Once they’re in the motel room, Ethan tells Doris that he’s out. She agrees to let him go. She’ll even make a phone call to Detroit about his case, and then he’s free.
Meredith uses the pay phone outside of the motel office to call Matty, her usual savior, but Joel won’t let him answer the phone, so she’s left to her own devices. She points her gun at the motel desk clerk and demands the key to Room 126, the room Ethan and Earl went into.
Katherine is in the process of asking Ethan why he didn’t do better recon on the vault and Ethan is explaining that he simply didn’t care. Before Earl can explain Ethan’s role in the Monster Ring to him in more detailed terms, Meredith uses the key and points her gun at the room in general, which holds Katherine, Ethan, Earl, Cordell and Molly.
Meredith is stunned that her Aunt Katherine is there. In that moment of hesitation, Molly hits her over the head with a statuette and then asks if she’s dangerous.
Molly’s a little trigger happy these days. Unlike Ethan, she takes her place in the Monster Ring seriously.
Geez, Amarillo by Morning is a sad song. Find a better road trip song than Witt did, kids, or your life might also become a slow slide into depression and mediocrity. Or even deeper mediocrity, in his case. Be Doris or the Monster Ring and reinvent yourself as many times as necessary.
The characters agree that you can’t go home again, but you take home, and your entire past, everyplace you go. In other words, you’ll never regain the innocence of youth and you’ll never again see things with the naivety you did as a child once you’ve gained experience of the world. But your past experiences and the attitudes you were raised with affect your future relationships and color your thoughts forever. Self-awareness helps with maintaining equilibrium between the past and present.
“You are what you are because, admit it or not, this is who you wanted to become.” Cordell shows why he is absolutely the wisest and most well adjusted character on the show. He might be the only one who’s fully processed and accepted his experiences, then made his peace with the options available to him.
Burt believes in loyalty to the end, even through betrayal. His loyalty includes the idea that any other type of violence is more honorable than a bullet. So even if he has to sacrifice your life and reputation to kickstart his holy war, he’ll still give you an honorable death. It’s a twisted code, but a code nonetheless.
We still have no idea why Burt decided to torture and nearly kill Katherine in particular that night, then blame her for murdering Brawlers and to include Bash and Joel in his crime and coverup. Bash makes an obscure reference to that night and Katherine, but all it tells us is that he knows she was innocent of any wrongdoing.
Queenie is as violent and as loyal as Burt but seems to have an actual sense of right and wrong. Joel’s morality is nearly as skewed as Burt’s. Though he has more internal checks than Burt, Joel kills anyone he pleases, then comes up with a justification. He and Queenie mostly base their morality on a highly developed sense of loyalty to their family group and the rules the family upholds. And they’ll defend home and family with their lives, to the bitter end. I’m not sure Burt would actually stick around that long for anyone. The Brawlers are a means to an end for Burt- a way to make him powerful and provide security.
I really want Earl and Katherine to be soulmates, but I’m worried she and Bash will end up together again. Hopefully Bash is just part of what Katherine needs to work out before she becomes Dottie full time. I like Bash, but, like Joel and Burt, he’s kind of a psychopath, and he turned on Katherine, so I’m not sure what the future might hold for him.
Maybe part of Bash and Katherine working things out is his punishment and redemption. Percy died as part of that punishment. Bash said he could never forgive Katherine for Percy’s death, but in reality she took Percy’s life in payment for her own, which Bash helped take. Katherine was a founding member of the Brawlers and they turned on her. If she wants to tear the whole thing down in retaliation, it’s her right as a woman scorned. She knows it’s rotten to the core, and needs to be pulled out by the roots.
Jukes to Joel: “Imagine if it were one of yours. That I just… Well, you know what you did. And you know why.”
These two men have one of the most understated but fascinating relationships on the show. This sounds like Jukes could be saying that Joel confessed to framing the Ghouls for murdering the Brawlers all those years ago. That would explain Joel and Jukes’ close, honest, unbreakable bond. Or maybe Joel has found other ways to be honest in spirit, if not in fact, as he does in this conversation.
Back then, Jukes would have appreciated the honesty, but would have explained to Joel that the deed was done and he had to act on appearances, not Joel’s word or motivations, just as he’s telling Joel now. The ensuing war was understood by both to be just business. Joel was already very publicly a Brawler, so becoming a Ghoul would be unthinkable. But making a private pact with Jukes would benefit both gangs and has enabled the long, prosperous peace they’ve enjoyed.
Though it’s been left mostly unsaid since episode 1, there’s a distinct undertone of racism, homophobia and white supremacy to Avron’s brand of dislike and disloyalty toward the other Brawlers, with his disrespect for Joel’s leadership and particular harassment of the Phoenixes.
Avron really doesn’t understand the legacy of the Brawlers, since, though Burt is white, his two main lieutenants, Bash and Joel, are not and his true life partner, Queenie, presents as a butch lesbian. The first person Burt asked for when he returned from his 2 year absence was Bash. The person he took the most care with was Joel. And the person he returned for was Queenie. Burt is many terrible things, but he accepts people as they are and the Brawlers have the same policy.
But thinking about this does make me wonder if Matty is gay or bi, and that’s part of Joel’s reluctance to promote him. Joel and Jukes are awfully close- Joel could want to spare Matty what he’s been through. Or Joel might also just recognize his own intensity and sincerity in Matty and want to protect Matty from the level of corruption he’s been through.
Joel certainly sees himself in Matty- his emotional intensity; need to believe in something; his idealism; how easily violence is triggered in him; his common sense and his leadership skills.
On the other hand, Joel is never going to notice Ethan and Johnson. I have a feeling they’re the kind of guys who choose love for a woman and close friends over ambition and the Brawlers, but it’s just a guess. They also have the ability to observe everything and stay quiet, which is valuable on the river.
Unlike Matty, Joel and Bash, they don’t necessarily fly off the handle and react violently when provoked. Ethan hasn’t realized yet that he has this talent. He’s articulate, gives detailed descriptions and is great at interpreting what’s going on with others. Up until now, his life just hasn’t given him much reason to develop those skills or care about what he observes.
For the first time, we hear Meredith question her identity out loud. She does it by questioning whether Katherine is really her aunt, assuming the outsider must be the imposter.
One of the themes of Reprisal which is building as we reach the end of the season is that of knowing who your family is. The other is making your decision about how much loyalty you owe your home and family. The entire concept of the Brawlers is based on the gang being a family instead of just a gang, but it’s really a cult of personality built around Burt’s narcissistic need to fill to holes his abusive childhood and mental illness have left inside.
In recent years, especially since Katherine has been gone, Bash has retreated into his own inner world, Joel has had his own child, and the gang has become a large and successful, but soulless business, Burt has realized that the Brawlers and their way aren’t filling those holes anymore. That’s why he left. He can’t bring himself to let the Brawlers move on as an organization without him, but he also doesn’t actually care about them anymore.
Like Joel and Bash, he’s going through the motions. That’s where Bash’s speech about Burt’s tendency to devour comes in. He’s a parent whose ambition and greed have been never ending and he has even eaten his young. He’s returned to sew discord from within the Brawlers and discredit Joel’s leadership, because it was always about domination with him, not money. If he doesn’t want this family anymore, it won’t be allowed to exist.
Images courtesy of Hulu.