It only took almost the entire first season to get here, but The Red Road is about ready to turn the corner into the show it should become. The only problem is that with only one episode and no renewal yet, it may be too late for The Red Road to reach its potential of two gripping sides clashing against each other.
“The Great Snake Battle” gives us the obvious truth about its two main characters Harold and Phillip: there isn’t really a good or bad, but a grey middle where they both reside. The Red Road is now in earnest turning cop and family man Harold into a unknowing villain and ex-convict, drug-dealing Phillip into a misunderstood product of his environment. Of course, it’s far more interesting to have two morally ambiguous characters face off rather than good and bad, but slowly revealing them to be this is just dragging out information we already sort of knew.
We’ve learned a lot about the Jensen family in recent episodes, but here we get more depth into what we know about Phillip. His life, filled with crime and violence, has come together almost by accident. Phillip’s murder of Jean’s brother when he was eight actually turns into the accident caused by childish fighting. Not helping Phillip’s childhood surely was his father, Jack, who now wants his son to deliver drugs, then never see him again. This shouldn’t be much of a problem after Phillip frames his father for the murder of the missing student, Dennis Bradley. When the police go to arrest Jack, he shoots the two cops and bails. Goodbye and good riddance, daddy.
But “The Great Snake Battle” ups the evilness of Harold most of all, as he lies to his wife about a meeting with Phillip, only causing the fragile Jean to question her sanity even more. Harold’s treatment of his wife has been terrible, deceiving her even though he knows that she sees and believes things to be happening when they really aren’t. Yet Harold still believes himself to be a good guy, even setting up a settlement agreement over the boy Jean hit. Harold has told Jean that she did nothing at all, yet when the agreement begs for her signature, she is told the truth. This causes Harold to go on a spree of anger, yelling at his wife and calling out to their kids for their mother to come clean with the truth to what happened.
Yet The Red Road becomes far more exciting when it focuses on the confrontations between Harold and Phillip. Harold believes that his wife has signed the settlement, so he confronts Phillip to let him know the blackmail will come to an end. Of course, since we haven’t seen the agreement signed, Phillip may have plenty more power than Harold realizes.
For the first time, The Red Road is light on the younger characters of Rachel and Junior, instead focusing on Harold, Phillip and Jean, which makes this episode especially strong. The destruction of the relationship between Rachel and Junior makes both of these characters far more interesting anyways, instead of turning them into angst-ridden teens who want nothing to do with the parental figures in their lives.
But with only one more episode, quite possibly The Red Road’s final episode, we only have one more hour of the Harold and Phillip rivalry. If this is the last episode, this will be a pretty big disappointment in where the show could’ve gone, but if it’s just the beginning of where the second season goes, we’re in for a much improved follow-up season.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.