Already in episode two of The Red Road’s season, we see the show try to reiterate certain character traits that were shown in the first season. For anyone who watched the first season, the points that the show is making have already been made: Harold is a cop trying to do the right thing, while being overtaken by bad choices, and Phillip has been dealt a hand in life that almost forced him into the villain role, regardless of how hard he tries to shake that. While the first season got to a potentially interesting position for Harold and Phillip, the first episode of this second season seemed to revert our characters back to the old situation as usual. Now, the most interesting character on the show has become Jean Jensen, Harold’s wife, but the show doesn’t quite seem to know that just yet.
The problem with “Graves” (and The Red Road in general) is that it just keeps circulating the same idea over and over. We get it, Harold and Phillip are both having a hard time being the good guys, digging themselves out from both ends of the spectrum. In “Graves,” Harold tries to be the good cop by bringing Junior in for the FBI to question him, which does make him a bit of the bad guy. But once the FBI gets a bit too tough with Junior, Harold intervenes, trying to salvage some of the goodness he still has.
At the other end is Phillip, who is now trying to be good by simply not fighting back. Instead of being the hothead he has been in the past, he’s now passive to a fault. So when Junior gets a posse together to go get Phillip for supposedly killing the Chief, Phillip denies responsibility to the point where he’s being beaten with a bat, tazed and covered with tar. Yet, his only response remains that he didn’t murder the Chief, as he takes the beating.
The Red Road’s main new plot this season is this issue over the fact that some member of the tribe want a casino to be built on their land, while the people fighting for their land want nothing built on it. Of course it seems like the mob has actually killed the Chief in order to get the casino going, which they want to build on burial ground, and with Phillip’s mother Marie taking over the tribe for now, it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen anytime soon. The problem here is, this story is so incredibly boring and uninteresting, but this season seems completely centered on it.
After last season focused so much on the tragedy of Jean’s brother dying when she was young, I think The Red Road writers think this season should focus on a tragedy from the tribe side. This makes sense, but so far it’s easily the blandest part of this second season. However Jean remains the most intriguing character, as she keeps hearing voices and seeing visions.
Jean is the confused heart of The Red Road, which thankfully “Graves” focuses on more than usual. We learn that she has heard of a new treatment where she lets the voices and visions in for an hour a day, in order to quit fighting them off for at least a small part of the day. While this terrifies her at first, it seems to work out. This is tested once Aunt Dorothy dies and she’s asked to watch Dorothy’s husband. He’s not making it much easier for her, as he admits that he killed her, then as Jean is driving away, we hear the gunshot faintly from the bedroom. This whole story feels like it was just tacked on to Jean’s part of the episode, and to test her mental prowess as of now.
The scene where Phillip finally catches up with his father should be touching, but when his father states that Phillip was conceived between a church and a graveyard, it just feels like another re-statement of the message. At this point, after setting up an entire season of what this show is supposed to be about, The Red Road needs to trust its audience with understanding its central core idea, without slamming it into our heads.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.