Animal Kingdom - Season 5 Episode 1 Review: Red Handed


TNT's grittiest vice-riden drama had a long awaited delay returning to original episodes following the pandemic.  And the energy and adrenaline didn't lapse or fade.  For newer viewers, please read with caution as this article contains spoilers to bring everyone back to page following a 2-year pause.  Season 4 jolted viewers as it's delicious lead, Janine "Smurf" Cody (Ellen Barkin) met her ending with a bullet to the head.  A bold move indeed, as Barkin's vicious, loving matriarch held the dysfunctional clan together with a unorthodox and seductive quality.  Where writers eased the blow of losing Barkin was upgrading Leila George to contract status as she portrays the younger Smurf, etching in the backstory how a grifting single mother became the head of a a disorganized crime family.

Red Handed dealt with the aftermath of Smurf's death, as well as her sabotaging acts of murdering Andrew "Pope" Cody's (Shawn Hatosy) uncle and his vengeful relatives descending on the Cody clan as they are reeling and attempting to hold the sinking household together.  "The cousins" as the group has labeled them, are seeking $1M in gold Smurf had stashed.  Pope's fragile guilt takes the better of him as he attempts to extend an olive branch and right one of Smurf's wrongs and return what was looted.  Pope's actions failed to end the bitter feud, leading of course to a bloodbath.  Throughout to welcome mayhem and crime, the 1980's flashbacks to a young Smurf (George) grifting from town to town with young twins Pope and Julia offset the grim tone and showcased her first steps to her impressive and vile empire.  George's delivery of Smurf exhibits her dichotomy of morals, instilling poor parenting teaching her children to pickpocket and roll joints while also lovingly embracing their flaws.  Cracks in the Cody family seem to be the exploration for the final season as a young Julia told Smurf "Pope needs more" as she was pleading for her mother to quit moving with the wind.  The sad irony was Smurf eventually did so, tragically after her family became the damaged and dysfunctional members viewers have known since 2016.

Most seasons of Animal Kingdom focused on Smurf's clan, a welcome touch viewers appreciated as a consistent umbrella to hold the season's theme together.  Season 1 spotlighted grandson Josh "J" Cody (Finn Cole) as he became acquainted with his family and their criminal lifestyle.  Season 2 profiled Barry "Baz" Cody (Scott Speedman) as his quest for controlling the Cody heists clashed directly with Smurf, and Season 3 focused on Deran (Jake Weary) as he attempted to move forward with legitimate ventures as well as being comfortable with his sexuality.  And of course, Smurf's ailment helmed Season 4.  And now, it appears Pope has taken the spotlight as the Cody clan now lacks a leader for its 4 surviving members.

Red Handed managed to successfully keep the momentum going following the long break as well as foreshadow a potential disintegration and downfall for the Cody clan.  Showrunners geniusly cast Nick Stahl as one of "the cousins."  Erratic and heartfelt, he created a welcome dynamic as being a kindred connection to Pope as the two connected regarding their murdered fathers.  This vulnerable connection between the two made Stahl a standout among the boiler plate of "cousins," whom familiar viewers likely recognized were hired for target practice at the later end of the episode.  His survival and capture at the end left viewers conflicted over should he live or die as he channeled emotions through the eyes, something many incapable actors cannot establish a connection to effectively act.

Stahl's performance prevailed without dialogue, one of his strengths he exhibited in early 2000's flicks Bully, Terminator: Rise Against the Machines and Sin City.  His facial expressions and roughened demeanor could have made Stahl a welcome contender as a series regular.  The greatest flaws showrunners committed was they failed to give Nick Stahl the one piece to make a memorable character: A NAME.  Somehow, the other 3 forgettable cousins wound up with one of these simple novelties, and Stahl was left without one like a random goon to shoot at in a typical episode.

Red Handed managed to instill terror in the last half of the episode with two riveting developments that left even half-interested viewers jarred.  An anticipated shootout which struck similar horrors like the ending of Poltergeist when the cast thinks the conflict is over, only to be shaken as the house is under siege.  And a conflicting execution at the very end left viewers wondering should Stahl's no-named cousin should live or die played second by second anticipation.  And between these aggressive violent moments, simpler beauty came from the opening episode of the final season.  The remaining Cody's enjoying Smurf's last signature lasagna signified a harsh reality they were looking at major changes following her death.  

A simple discussion over her final resting place left the family discussing with some stating a cemetery seems dull in contrast to the life she lead, while Pope eerily whisked away the morbid cardboard box holding her cremains.  In a mildly jolting moment of the episode, Pope opened the box, giving the bag of ashes an emotional hug and placing inside the family's safe.  The final season seems to be working to wrap the story in a stylish way, paying ode to touches like Pope's fixation with drowning twice in the episode, as well as J getting down to business by handing his uncles copies of Smurf's will, which makes it appear as though they stand poised for financial ruin.  

Where viewers may enjoy proper attention is completing Craig's (Ben Robson) character development.  Besides his initial fleshing of being the riskier family member with vice contrasted with occasional moral checks, Craig has little to no character development.  12 episodes remain as an opportunity to wrap this missing portion of the series' legacy, so let's hope showrunners handle this and let the series go out in style.

Grade: A-

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