Wednesday, April 13, 2016

In Which I Review Game of Silence (1x1)

There are lies we tell to make ourselves feel better. Well, ain't that some heavy truth-telling? And coming from a broadcast TV show no less. This isn't to say that broadcast TV doesn't do introspective storytelling, but this sort of quiet (or skull cracking loud) navel gazing is all too rare lately on network TV when showrunners and network head honchos are trying to earn every bit of money they can through the use of shocking twists, guest stars, and tweetable storylines. A tense, taut, edge of your seat but ultimately powerful story is more apt for cable television, so bravo to NBC for taking a risk with Game of Silence and their opening episode, "Pilot." It also doesn't hurt that Michael Raymond-James is in it (and yes, that's mainly the reason for this review. He'll always be my Nealfire, and I'll go where he does.) But nostalgia over dead characters on another show aside, Game of Silence has a lot of promise in its first hour. There's mystery and tension and love lost and friendship and revenge and trauma and a really great soundtrack. At the heart of this episode lies the question about how far you're willing to go to heal the wounds from your past and how far you're willing to go for your friends. The answer might not be as simple as one would expect. 

Let's be upfront and honest here at the proper start: a lot of this is hard to watch. Childhood trauma comes in all forms. Our little lives are shaped by so much; our friends, our families, our early loves and our early loses follow us like ghosts. However, those sorts of traumas are of the mundane variety. This isn't to say that they aren't effective in damaging our souls or that your (or mine) traumas are any less important to the make up of our psyche. But very few of us went through what Jackson, Gil, Shawn, and Boots went through at Quitman Juvenile Detention. The acts that happened to them are of the true evil variety, not the learning-to-live-in-the-real-world type. They are the type that fundamentally alter your very being; that make and shape you into something and someone you likely would not have become otherwise. Sweet, tender, small Gil becomes a scrappy fighter when pushed too far. Watching children--and they are actually children, not teenagers, not young adults, but children--be beaten, whipped, intimidated, forced to fight for the entertainment of adults, and, yes, probably raped is incredibly hard. Stomach turning, rage inducing, close your eyes and watch from behind your fingers, hard. That might mean that this TV series isn't for everyone and I wouldn't even blame you. My own TV inclinations lean toward the mythical and the otherworldly, things heavily couched in fantasy and a somewhat safe distance from these all too real circumstances. The mythical traumas of Westeros is a far cry from the urban horrors of Quitman. But, these disquieting events aside, the heart of the episode--the bond between the four (now, sadly, three) kids turned into traumatized, trying to survive adults--is well worth the watch. It's something that speaks to us on a human level, even if you've never been the same position as Jackson, Gil and Shawn.

The true highlight of this pilot number is the connection between the three friends. It's been twenty-plus years but when Jackson is reunited with Gil and Shawn for the first time since they left their hell on earth behind, you feel the weight of the friendship. Don't we all have a group like that? It can be years, decades even, but it seems like no time has passed since we last saw them. You click; you fall back into old patterns with people who know you better than anyone else--time and space and distance be damned. Jackson goes back to being the protector almost instantly. A lot of that connection isn't just because their pre-teenage years were spent in hell, but also because they spent the first part of their lives in an idealized and idyllic paradise. Look at the way the pre-car crash scenes are shot. These slices of life are all sunshine and joy and childhood wonder. The sort that, when we encounter the other side of life (the bad side), instantly become a dreamscape where we can flee when it all gets to be too much. It's very little-suburb of America with its water holes and rock cliffs and Def Leopard (really, the soundtrack for this show is amazing). It doesn't even matter that the dreamscape can be compromised by drunken mothers; in that land, in that reality, you're the hero and your friends are true and strong and the only demons you have to fear are the kind you can flee from by driving a car, peddle to the meddle, fast. And that is what we are all trying to get back to; we are trying to get back to a place where our troubles were not so very heavy and soul-crushing. The only way Jackson, Gil, and Shawn can get there is with each other. At the end of the episode, lawyer Jackson who is lying to himself about having moved past the past gives a rousing closing argument about letting go and yet...and yet, we know he hasn't. None of them have, but they haven't moved past each other either. One of the repeated lines from this pilot episode is that Jackson, Gil and Shawn are brothers. Not just friends, not just fellow inmates, not just comrades in arms...but brothers. Bonded by something that is stronger than blood. Bound by a connection that none of us likely understand nor have experienced but that still feels familiar. "We all want to be able to move on with our lives, but the past is never the past. If it were...there'd be no tragedy." The ending sequence, showing the length and breadth the gang will go to now to avenge (yes, that's the right word. Avenge their lost innocence, to reclaim that which was taken) what happened to them, sets up the narrative for the rest of the series. How far will the three go? Have they crossed a line already with the murder in the rain? Well, maybe that's the wrong question; maybe the right one is: wasn't the line already crossed when they were but tiny tots in the big house? More like the kids were shoved over the line, weeping, clawing at the ether for protection and only finding it only in each other. Maybe there is no line anymore. Maybe there is only the deafening silence of your past, rearing its head, daring you to forget.

Miscellaneous Notes on Pilot 

--Obviously, a bit of a rave from me, but there are a few critiques. The explanation Jackson gives Gil for what he discovered, based on the day of the riots, and various newspaper clippings was done in a such a handwav-y, exposition way that I didn't really catch the crux of it. Hopefully it gets readdressed in upcoming episodes.

--Jessie is the character who gets the least amount of coloring and depth here. But that's okay; one, it's a pilot episode, and two, this is really the boys' story.

--Speaking of Jessie, please don't make me sit through a torturous love triangle. Michael Raymond-James or not, I don't know if I have the strength to sit through another show in which his character fights over a girl.

--The dynamic between Jackson and Gil is by far the meatiest and interesting in this first showing. David Lyons and MRJ play off each other like absolute pros.

--"So this is what making it feels like." You'll forgive me if I read a bit of meta commentary into this Gil (MRJ) line.

1 comment:

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