In episode 9 the characters brush off their failures and recreate themselves, weaving new legends that fit the past and future as they prefer to see it. Meredith wakes up in Katherine’s motel room, but her loyalty is still to Burt, so first she tries his latest version of events on for size, in trade for Katherine’s location. Katherine has other plans for the evening, since it’s her and Bash’s anniversary. They remember the past and take care of unfinished business.
Burt chooses to believe Avron’s version of the duffel bag story, which implicates Matty. This is probably because he perceives Matty as a Joel loyalist, having been gone for the last 2 years of Matty’s Burt worship. This is not a wise decision on Burt’s part, especially combined with the easily dismissed lies he tells to Meredith.
The old man is slipping. Or self-destructing. Either way, the romances are over in this episode.
The episode opens with a flashback to young Bash and Katherine in a diner booth. They are obviously in love. He begins to sing Brad and Janet’s proposal duet from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, “Dammit Janet“, to her. She joins in, but corrects him when he messes up the lines. When she skips lines, same as him, she says, “Eye for an eye, right?”
He’s finally ready to show her a surprise that she’s been waiting and is anxious for. He takes her to a run down house in the country with the carved bird sitting on the front stoop. He says, “It’s a work in progress, but it’s ours.” He’s already begun working on it.
Katherine is surprised all right. Bash says she can think of it as an anniversary gift. She says the Bang-A-Rang is their home. He can see that she’s getting tired of the Bang-A-Rang and he can feel it getting dangerous and unpredictable. He’s worried about their future. She picks up the bird and leads him inside, saying, “The future is ours.”
Rita has her own little white house where she and Lyla now live. She serves Lyla and herself TV dinners, as Lyla tells her about Harold Horpus. Rita isn’t as steeped in Lyla’s mythology as Joel is, so Lyla has to repeat Harold’s story. Lyla still hasn’t figured out the ending to Harold’s story, something that’s taking her longer than usual to figure out.
Lyla: “Harold goes looking for his why in the forest of orange dreams. And although it’s a long long journey it still seems easy enough at first. But what he finds surprises him.”
Rita: “What does he find?”
Lyla: “Obstacles, a lot of them. The whole forest filled with an army meant to teach him one lesson.”
Rita: “Which is?”
Lyla: “That’s where I keep getting stuck, because I haven’t gotten that far yet. But I will.”
On the television, the top of the Earth is still burning. The TV announcer says we aren’t being shown or told the truth. It’s all a hoax.
I think it’s just that Lyla can’t find the truth yet because
Daddy Joel Harold still can’t face it. While the symptoms are all around him and Lyla, the truth of what they mean is buried so deep he won’t fully face it until episode 10.
My guess- the message is take your loved ones and get out while you can. Run as far and as fast you can, to a place where no one will find you. Or else it’s turn around and kill the devourer at the first opportunity, before it sets the world on fire and corrupts the innocent with its lies. Tough call. We haven’t seen either plan work yet. The only other option is to become the devourer yourself.
As Burt sits outside enjoying a morning smoke, Avron greets him as Uncle Burt. Burt asks why Avron calls him that. Avron reminds Burt that he was married to Avron’s Aunt Veronica. Burt nods in acknowledgement, remembering that the marriage didn’t last long.
Avron sits next to Burt, not one to waste an opportunity. He tells Burt how much it means to him to be part of the Brawlers. Then he asks if Burt heard about what he found- the duffel bag.
Joel wakes up in the back of the car, still at the track. Matty is still sitting on the hood of the car. He says he always stays up for the sunrise.
That’s Matty, the scrappy kid who’s always going for the symbol of hope. The sun’ll come out tomorrow.
He’s decided that Joel was trying to scare him off with his stories the night before, but he can handle the truth. Joel is disgusted. He tells Matty that they are both violent people. He brought Matty with him because he knew Matty could handle the violence. But Joel hates himself everyday for the way his life has turned out. They are going to war, but they can win without Matty.
No matter what Joel says, Matty is still desperate to be called up into the main gang. Joel finally tells him he’ll never be a full Brawler.
Joel: “If you let Burt in, if you let him lead you down his road, of family and so-called greater things, you’ll give up more than you ever thought. And I’m not going to watch you mourn the man you used to be. You’ll always have a home with us, Matty. Until you’re ready to leave.”
Meredith wakes up in the morning alone with Katherine in the motel room. Katherine apologizes that Molly hit her so hard. She says that Molly is still learning her own strength. And that it’s okay if Meredith doesn’t remember her.
Meredith tells her that she doesn’t remember her, but she knew her aunt was around.
Katherine tells Meredith that she remembers when Burt brought Meredith home and gave her the heart tattoo. Katherine thought it would hurt too much, but Burt did it anyway. Meredith took the pain quietly, with strength, and that’s when Katherine knew that she really is a Harlow. Meredith is confused, since Katherine made it sound like Meredith showed up out of nowhere- which she did.
Katherine asks if Meredith has ever felt like she belonged at the compound. Meredith throws it back at her. Katherine says that no matter what stories Meredith has been told, the Bang-A-Rang was her home.
katherine doesn’t even try to tell her side of the story. She just leaves Meredith with the implication that she was forced out and lied about, and lets Meredith chew on that one, too.
Katherine wonders aloud what she should do with Meredith, since if she turns her niece loose, Meredith could give away their location and turn Ethan in to the Brawlers. Katherine especially warns Meredith against doing anything that would hurt Ethan, because he means so much to her. She suspects that if Meredith has gotten to know him, he’s become important to her niece as well. Meredith makes the case that people would notice and come looking if both she and Ethan go missing.
Let’s note that Katherine’s reasoning in this scene is incredibly different from anything Meredith has ever heard or been shown at the Bang-A-Rang, where affection is rarely shown and loyalty is shown as fealty to the Brawlers organization and its members, not as deep love.
Katherine says she doesn’t want to lose Ethan because she cares about him, finds him objectively lovable and it would cause her pain to lose him. She seems more worried about him than herself, since she can leave, but Ethan’s on the inside. Katherine’s concern is also motherly, something that hits home with Meredith. This is a potential mother figure who was driven away.
Meredith isn’t allowed to leave the Bang-A-Rang and no one is allowed to hurt her because she is one of its prized possessions and it would hurt their cred to allow a possession to be stolen or damaged. If she, or any other member, leaves, they leave for good, because then it means the gang didn’t want them anyway.
Katherine wisely just lets her bombshells drop and waits for them to explode.
Joel drives Matty home. Matty wanders off with a small storm cloud over his head. Joel gets a beer and runs into Burt, who is still with Avron and says that they need to talk about Matty.
It’s a wonder the Brawlers don’t die of liver disease before gang wars have a chance to get them.
They lead Joel back to the spot where Ethan hid the duffel full of guns for the Monster Ring before the robbery. Avron has told Burt all about it and made a case for Matty being the inside man, based on the fact that Avron was promoted ahead of Matty.
Before anything else happens, Joel is angry because Avron has done an end run around his authority in the gang. Bru has already told him about the situation and they were handling it in whatever subtle way they’d decided on.
But Avron is both stupid and ambitious, so he thought he could get Joel and Matty out of the way with this single move. Since Burt has been away and Avron picked this morning to move, when Joel and Matty were out all night together after meeting with the Ghouls, it looks to Burt like Matty is one of Joel’s loyalists. Like maybe Joel is consolidating power behind his back.
And Burt also just likes to keep close bonds from forming within the Brawlers. He’s the cult leader and no relationship is allowed to come before that one. Except maybe now he’s decided to self-destruct the cult. But if that’s what’s happening, it will still be on his terms.
Joel suggests that Avron could be the inside man. Burt insists on testing Matty.
Katherine lets Ethan and Meredith go. She confirms the new plan with Ethan before he leaves. It involves the Phoenixes route. Katherine gives Ethan Meredith’s gun and says he’ll give it back to her when he feels comfortable.
Meredith drives the two of them back to the Bang-A-Rang. Once they’re on the road, Meredith asks how he met Katherine. He tells her, and says that Katherine never explains anything to him or makes any sense. Meredith slams the car off the road and demands her gun back.
Ethan isn’t ready to return it, since he’s afraid she’ll shoot him. Meredith explains that the gun is special to her. He gives it back. She points it at his head and asks if he was part of the robbery. He reminds her that the Phoenixes weren’t at the Bang-A-Rang that night.
Meredith says that a lot of people she’s known her whole life died that night. And even though she’s talked a lot about leaving, she’s realized that the Bang-A-Rang is her home. She doesn’t know or care about what happened in the past or will happen in the future between Burt and Katherine. But she won’t allow him to return to the Bang-A-Rang if he had anything to do with the robbery.
Ethan swears that he didn’t, that the Bang-A-Rang is his home too, especially since he’s fallen for her. Meredith can’t believe he went for the cheesy love confession, but she puts the gun down and continues driving. And says she won’t tell anyone.
Back at the compound, Matty and Ethan compare a few notes about their rough nights- Ethan says he went to a puppet show- then Joel finds them. He takes them back to the bathrooms, where Burt is waiting.
Burt tells Matty why they’ve brought him there. Then he says that every time he’s killed someone, starting with his father, he’s noticed that there’s a moment, right before they “slip”, when “there’s nothing but honesty in their eyes, because a dying man can’t lie.” As he says this, he grabs Matty by the windpipe and chokes him. He won’t let Matty touch him. It’s not really about honesty. It’s about total psychopathic domination of everyone in that room.
Over and over, he asks Matty if he’s helping Katherine and Matty denies it while Joel holds Ethan back. When Burt decides to accept Matty’s answer, he drops Matty on the floor like trash, then gets up and walks away like nothing happened. Joel lets Ethan go to Matty.
Joel stands and watches the two younger men, looking disturbed, but I don’t know what he’s thinking. There’s just so much for Joel to be disturbed about right now. Honestly, his best move might be to kill Burt in his sleep or even in broad daylight in front of everyone, before things get any worse.
That night, Meredith asks Burt why Katherine “did what she did.” He says he’s not sure. She asks how he met her mother. He deflects and asks what she really wants to know. She asks if she’s always been a Harlow. He tells her, “Family isn’t always about blood, Meredith. You can’t always choose it.” Then he spins her a tale, complete with multimedia presentation.
Burt: “I feel like I spent my whole life trying to find it, that family.”
Meredith: “Is that why you built it?”
Burt: “Sure. You build a family, but does it fill the void? I mean does any of it?”
Title card: A Lie
Burt: “So that’s where you lived before you could remember. [It’s not.] And from what I heard, your father was a decent man, wasn’t rich but he did well. [He wasn’t any of those things.] Perfect house, perfect street. Only problem was that he wasn’t perfect. Not that any of us are. They’d find him down at the 707, frequently getting drunker than a long owl. And back then Katherine had a little side scheme, kinda like what you got going on, selling stuff from the outside. So one night, he couldn’t pay. He got aggressive, laid some hands he shouldn’t have laid. Then he ran off. And that sister of mine, she has a wicked temper. She wanted to make an example out of an unruly patron. Now I don’t know when Katherine went wrong. All I know is, I should have know a long time ago what she was capable of.”
On screen, Katherine beats Meredith’s mother to death the way Queenie did in reality, then she and Irma decide on Meredith’s new name the way Burt and Irma actually did. Burt’s story is woven through with kernels of truth, to make it difficult to untangle the lies.
Burt convinces Meredith that Katherine killed her parents and he just didn’t know how to tell her. But he took her in and made her his own. She’ll always be a Harlow.
Burt’s reasoning makes a twisted sort of sense for him. He’s always looking for something or someone to fill the void inside him. He kills the things that fail him. His parents failed and he killed them. Katherine grew up and grew away from him, forming her own adult attachment to Bash, also stealing Bash from him in the process. That was when and how she went wrong, in Burt’s mind.
Meredith gave Burt another opportunity to form a family bond that would fill his void, so he no longer needed Katherine. He still needed Bash as a lieutenant, so he separated Bash and Katherine and left her for dead. In his mind, he’s reworked the story of Meredith’s parents’ death so they died as sacrifices to his need to replace Katherine in his life- thus Katherine killed them by growing up/turning bad.
Burt makes references that Meredith is also growing up and going bad in the same way that Katherine did in his story, by selling drugs on the side. In reality, that had nothing to do with her parents’ death. He added that detail to caution Meredith against dividing her loyalties or seeking independence the way Katherine did. He replaced Katherine and he can replace her. Meredith already leaves him empty, so it wouldn’t matter much for him to get rid of her if she slipped up, just like he’s doing with her bestie, Matty.
Just like the Brawlers as a whole now leave him empty, so it’s time for another war.
Let’s listen to Katherine’s leadership style for a minute:
“I know I’ve let you down and believe me when I say that the 3 of you are the last 3 people that I would ever want to let down. I know I haven’t been all that up front. But what we’ve been able to accomplish together, failed mission and all, I just know we’re going to figure this out. I know that the 4 of us are going to be able to get what we came down here for. Because we’re the Monster Ring. Right? For now.”
Earl, Cordell and Molly are feeling let down after the vault and probably after Meredith followed Earl and Ethan as well. They don’t give Katherine a positive response to this speech. She’s used sheer determination, manipulation and half truths along with positive reinforcement to get them this far. But they are also 4 people and a reluctant inside man against a giant killing machine, so the fact that they’re still working as a team and they haven’t been found and killed says that they’re doing something right.
Burt’s paternal brand of harsh narcissistic leadership is wearing thin on the Brawlers, while Katherine is a beginner, trying to figure what her message as a leader should be. She’s settling somewhere around caring mother figure who’s open to suggestions but gets tough when she needs to, which is actually about where she started with the ways she recruited Ethan, Earl and Cordell. The velvet glove over the iron fist, if you will.
After the rest of the Monster Ring stares at her for a second, Katherine says that the Phoenixes travel with cash, so they’ll steal that and get Ethan out, then they’ll be done. Also, this is her anniversary, so she’ll be going out alone tonight. Almost.
Queenie finds Meredith in the dressing room and says she thought Meredith might have actually left for good. Meredith says that she borrowed one of Queenie’s cars and took a break.
She asks if Queenie knew that Burt wasn’t her father. Queenie says she did. Meredith accuses Queenie of lying to her for her whole life.
Queenie says that’s one way of looking at it, then reminds Meredith that Burt found her working in The Traveling Shorn Brothers Circus. She says she traveled all over with the circus and saw a lot. She’s seen even more at the Bang-A-Rang. But the Bang-A-Rang has given her one thing that the circus never did and Meredith knows what it is.
Meredith asks if it’s true that Katherine killed her parents. Queenie is taken aback (since she killed Meredith’s mother and Burt killed her father), then says that if Burt said it, then that’s what happened. Meredith tells Queenie that she knows where Katherine is.
Burt’s greatest gift is as a separator, placing the lies and seeds of chaos that will drive people apart so that they only trust him. With one lie, he’s pushed Meredith away from Queenie, Katherine and Ethan.
Ethan grabs a gun from the armory taped to the roof of the Phoenix’s car. He finds Avron in the bar and tells him that Bru is asking for him, in the spot where Avron found the bag.
Ethan has figured out the score here, since he knows that Avron wouldn’t bother to follow him right now if he said Joel wanted to talk, even though Joel outranks Bru. Avron figures he’s getting Joel fired any time now.
But Avron really is dumb. Ethan, having waited until the Bang-A-Rang’s business is in full swing and nothing he does will be heard, takes Avron back into the room he first chose because it’s so far off the beaten path. He beats Avron to a bloody pulp, the way he’s wanted to since his first night as a Phoenix, and asks why Avron would accuse Matty.
Then he pulls out a gun. Avron taunts him and calls him a racial slur, again. When he guesses that Ethan is the inside man, Ethan calmly shoots him in the forehead.
Avron got into the Brawlers based on family connections, rather than because he killed someone (the usual entrance criteria). After months as a Phoenix, he wasn’t able to effectively fight back against Ethan, even though he was physically bigger. He was actually a coward about violence and didn’t believe Ethan would kill him. He thought his connection to Burt would protect him, even though he was a snitch and Bru flat out told him no one liked him.
Katherine chose Ethan because, like Joel and Matty, he is both loyal to the core and not afraid to use violence, especially as a means of protection. She knew the Brawlers would help him learn control, of a sort. Or maybe just that there’s a time and a place to use violence as a solution. Unlike the time in Detroit, this time he waited, and chose his time and place. Lesson learned.
If Ethan gets rid of the body, I’m not sure anyone will even notice that Avron’s gone missing or care enough to look for him.
He makes his way outside to where Matty is drinking alone and says he messed up.
Bash waits for Katherine at their house, which is even more ramshackle now. He puts the carved bird on the stoop and sits down on the porch.
Burt, Joel and Queenie question Meredith about Katherine’s whereabouts. She tells them that she was kidnapped by someone she didn’t know, a man with scars on his neck, and taken to Katherine’s motel room, #126. Afterwards, Meredith needed some time to herself before she was ready to talk about the ordeal.
She walks out of the dressing room. Queenie confronts Burt about changing Meredith’s fake origin story. He notes that Queenie is a liar too and says that Meredith would have grown up in a sewer if left with her parents.
This show is doing an exemplary job of showing the hypocrisy of many men and patriarchy in general. The man raised his stolen daughter in a violent biker gang/burlesque club/bar/brothel after murdering her parents in front of her, and put her to work dancing in said club as soon as he could. But he thinks she should be grateful that he did her a favor and he’ll do or say whatever it takes to make her stay. Now that’s an entitled attitude.
Katherine has dressed up for her anniversary and brought a big gun, but she and Bash have both come alone. She asks if he’s going to put up a fight, then tells him to go inside. He walks toward her instead. After a couple of warnings, she shoots him in the leg. She tells him again to go inside. Now he has to crawl.
I admit, Katherine’s revenge on Bash is very hard to watch, especially right now, in the summer of 2020. It helps to remember what he, Burt and Joel did to her and that when they dragged her behind their truck for miles, she and Bash were a committed couple. He was supposed to help her escape Burt’s atrocities and instead he helped Burt perpetrate torture on her. Then he left her lying in the dirt, dying.
For years Bash went on with his life like she’d never existed, never expecting what he did to her to have any consequences. The first time we met him, at the meeting with the Ghouls about the fight between the Phoenixes and the Ghouls at the bar, he reveled in Burt’s reputation for violence and the perceived strength it gave the Brawlers.
Bash only started to question his belief in Burt after Katherine killed Percy, not after what happened to Katherine. It was Percy’s death that made it personal and made the effects of violence real to him. What he did to Katherine was just expected collateral damage. The price of doing business.
They don’t live together in that house because of Bash’s choices, not Katherine’s, despite the amount of time he spends wallowing in self-pity.
They aren’t living out Bash’s romantic fantasies of Katherine as the Janet to his Brad because Katherine has never expressed any interest, to anyone, in living in a house in the country and playing housewife to a man. Bash tried to push that onto her. She quietly refused. All these years later, he still wants to push that dream onto her and blames her for not being willing to go from one exploitative stereotype (stripper) to another (housewife).
When she left town, she reinvented herself as a chef and caterer, who was also married. She was her husband’s equal who helped save his business, not a woman who married a man for his money. Just as she helped make the Bang-A-Rang’s business what it is today. She may still be learning how to run a crew, but she has a good head for business, unlike many of the men on the show.
The Brawlers round up some guys and head to the motel. Room #126 is empty and the desk clerk tells Joel that there aren’t any women staying there. Earl is at the bar. He asks if Joel and his many friends are mechanics.
Queenie takes a closer look around the motel room, then says she has an idea where Katherine might be. Cordell and Molly are in the closet, but no one opens it.
Joel asks if Earl has friends. Earl says no, he’s a solo drifter. Joel notices that Earl has a wound on his neck. Earl says it’s an old war wound. Joel says it looks new. Earl says, “Some battles don’t age.” Then he cocks the gun that he’s hiding under a magazine. Joel asks what he’s hiding. Earl says that’s a lot of questions for a stranger.
One of the Brawlers pops in to tell Joel that they’re leaving. Joel has been staring into Earl’s eyes for the entire conversation and doesn’t stop until he’s out the door. He was really in the mood for a senseless fight with another alpha male and thought he might have found one. Earl is itching to hand out some justice to the men who dragged Katherine behind the truck, and one just walked in the door.
Katherine gets Bash
ziptied settled in a chair in the living room. She notices that he’s kept the electricity on. He says that he would never have let the place go. She says, “You let me go.”
Bash: “You let go long before.”
Katherine: “Is that right.”
Bash: “I tried to tell you. I tried to tell you that things were getting dark.”
Katherine: “You let them. You stood by and you let them. You fell for all of his nonsense.”
bash: “And you killed Percy.”
And we’re done. She killed Percy 10 years later. His best defense for her torture and attempted murder is that she wasn’t paying enough attention to him, so he had to do what her brother said.
He continues to try to guilt her about Percy and her quest for revenge in general, as if the Brawlers haven’t been going back and forth with the Ghouls on a revenge spree all season, since before she made any move other than placing Ethan. As if he didn’t kill half a dozen random Ghouls as soon as he got a look at Percy’s body.
According to the rules of their world, the world Bash stayed in after Katherine was gone, she has every right to do what she’s doing. Burt would do worse and would be respected for it.
She puts their song, “Dammit, Janet”, on the stereo, and follows his trail of blood back to him. As he mouths the words to the song, she pulls out a sharp tool- maybe an awl? and stabs him repeatedly all over his body. He doesn’t fight her.
The Brawlers pull up while the song is still playing, but Katherine has already disappeared into the dark.
This is the episode of broken dreams and lost innocence. Characters lie, but they are called on their lies for once. Even when they get away with the lies, someone knows or suspects the truth and isn’t happy about the situation.
I can’t resist assigning Rocky Horror characters to each of the Reprisal characters. Katherine and Bash have already cast themselves as Brad and Janet, the beleaguered couple whose relationship is tested. Burt is obviously Frank, the out of control narcissistic cult leader. The Brawlers compound is the castle, with the gang as the voyeuristic, amoral Transylvanians.
We are in an alternate universe sequel where Frank won the night at the end of the show and kept Brad as his prize. Janet has come back for her revenge. Meredith and Matty are totally Columbia and Eddy, the duo of innocent kids who Frank corrupts. Queenie and Joel are definitely Magenta and Riff Raff, the adults in the room who enjoyed the party for a while, but are starting to realize that Frank needs to be stopped. Unfortunately, they don’t have the authority to put an end to things.
Ethan is poor, confused, torn in two Rocky, who doesn’t know which way to turn, sometimes literally. Witt is Dr Scott, the kindly adult who tries to help Janet. The Monster Ring are the wedding guests, who join Janet’s cause in this version, because she needs more than a middle-aged science teacher to help her win her fight.
Meredith specifically wants a mother. Ethan doesn’t think he wants want a mother, but he enjoys a bit of mothering here and there, which is why Doris teases him with the pet names like she would a churlish grown son. What Ethan wants most is stability and a home, the underlying need for most of the Brawlers.
The Phoenixes have given Ethan brothers and a home on the road, which is enough for him. Matty also wants a family, home, stability, but he needs more. He needs someone he can believe in. Katherine might not be that person, but Earl and Cordell might be. The Monster Ring as a group might be. Earl lost his son and Matt needs a father figure. Unlike Joel, Earl and Cordell are good with taking people under their wing and mentoring them into maturity, since Earl is mostly at peace with who he is and Cordell is totally zen.
Johnson is hard to read, but I’m pretty sure he has a hidden family and that he was the first person that Joel told to stay a Phoenix and not a Brawler for his own sanity. Now that Burt has threatened his family, by asking to visit them, Johnson might not be feeling so great about his position, just like Ethan and Matty. With Katherine’s help, Joel has slowly stacked the deck of Phoenixes against Burt.
Where has Johnson been for the last couple of episodes, while Ethan been with Katherine and then taking care of Avron and Matty’s been with Joel then learning the truth about Burt? Maybe both Matty and Ethan had to take these steps alone- Johnson already has a clear idea of how things really are. The realization that you’re a Phoenix but not a Brawler maybe isn’t a group activity.
Hopefully Johnson is out moving Alice and whoever she lives with to a new safehouse where Burt and the Ghouls can’t find them.
Burt: “Sure. You build a family, but does it fill the void? I mean does any of it?” There it is. The justification for nihilism.
While the Brawlers slowly self-destruct, we’re watching the Monster Ring slowly grow through self selection and make decisions through consensus. There isn’t complete honesty, because it’s still a band of
rebels criminals, but they’re working on it. Katherine is learning to put aside Burt’s exploitative methods and try a new way.
Joel is symbolic of men who mourn the loss of the view of the patriarchy as good. Lyla can’t find the truth and ending that she wants for Harold/Joel because he wants opposing things and he hasn’t faced the opposition within himself yet, though he started to in this episode. He told Matty that he mourns the man he used to be. He just hasn’t accepted how far from that man he is.
Joel wants to be able to see himself as a good man and he wants to maintain his power and dominance in the gang. He wants to be both a loving family man to Lyla and Rita and he wants to be the violent leader of an organized crime outfit that focuses mainly on business but uses shows of force, domination and violence when necessary and exploits women sexually for profit.
Joel loves the power he has in the organization. He just doesn’t like the uncertainty that Burt brings to it. He wants to run that exploitative business, then go home to his wife and kids, treat them right, and tell himself he’s still a good man, because he treats his own people right. The rest of what he does is just business and maintaining the balance of power, the mantra of exploiters, oppressors and polluters everywhere..
Joel is fine with maintaining this power structure that oppresses and exploits so many, as long as he can find a way to feel good about himself and to foresee a future for Lyla within it. So if he opens up the path to running the business side to more women, the way Queenie is already involved, for example, and makes the violence more predictable and codified, as punishment and retribution, then he’ll feel he’s made the Brawlers a reasonable, more equitable organization.
To Joel, the oppression and exploitation will be fine, as long as women can take part in the power structure the way that men of color already do.
Joel knows that in reality, the system hurts everyone, from top to bottom, including himself and even Lyla. Meredith and Matty and Ethan are exploited through violence and sex, the way he and Bash and Katherine were. Allowing people of color and women to rise to the level of exploiter in an exploitative system is not actually progress. It’s a mirage that slaps a temporary band aid on the problem by appeasing a chosen few, in the hope that they’ll serve to make others think equality is attainable through this method, when it isn’t.
The only way for Joel/Harold to be at peace with himself is to stop the violence and exploitation, but it’s unlikely that he’s capable of that. He’s Burt’s most enduring protege for a reason.
Unlike the other women, Lyla was born directly into this system and has rarely left it. Even more than Meredith, she speaks its language fluently. With Joel as her father, she has an inside track to become a chosen one. Burt is a terrible parent who eats his own young unless they are as terrible as him, so Meredith and Avron don’t stand a chance. But Joel is a caring, attentive parent who brings his baby birds along slowly, then makes sure they’re in the environment they can handle- either the real world or the Brawlers.
Image courtesy of Hulu.