We’re only two episodes into The Red Road—which is also a third through this season—and Sundance’s new series already feels too full. There’s already a missing person, a hit-and-run, forbidden love, possible schizophrenia, corrupt pharmacists … and that’s just what I can come with off the top of my head. Several of these stories do have promise, but unfortunately The Red Road is so crammed with ideas that they all get spread too thin.
“The Wolf and the Dog” focuses mostly on the Jensen family, who have a lot going on. Jean Jensen not only is dealing with her alcoholism, but also thinks she might have hit a kid in her car. On top of that, she’s now hearing voices, and they’re telling her to do things. Showing herself to be the strongest performer so far, Julianne Nicholson is doing a fine job with Jean, downplaying her mental breakdown as if everything she’s doing makes complete sense. It’s almost as if Nicholson is doing her best to make this character a calmer version of Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence, and so far it is working.
That being said, her losing her mind is interesting enough without also having her involved in a hit-and-run. Her husband, Harold, spends most of the episode trying to cover any evidence from the front of the damaged car. The heads of the department want to work with Harold, yet he still is wary about giving them all of the information. In addition to all of this, he’s still searching for the missing person that Phillip Kopus has killed, which he doesn’t know yet.
Phillip is working on another way to get money and appease his drug-dealing father. This involves bribing shady pharmacists and threatening people who are keeping an eye on him. Phillip’s story is much simpler so far, and Jason Momoa’s portrayal of Phillip is much better than I personally expected. All of his movements are so deliberate and well considered that when he moves too quickly, it can be almost terrifying. Phillip has plenty going on underneath the surface, as he clearly is still dealing with issues of being an unwanted child and going into the drug-dealing business as a way to finally make his father proud of him. There’s much more to Phillip than we have seen so far, which makes for potentially interesting future episodes.
For some reason though, The Red Road keeps throwing in ways that the Jensen family and Phillip are connected. Not only is Harold searching for a missing person that Phillip helped kill, but Phillip might have also been responsible for Jean’s brother’s death and Phillip’s step-brother is now dating Rachel Jensen, much to the chagrin of the family. Phillip is also one of the few people who seems to know the truth about whether Jean did actually hit and run or not. The missing person story so far is completely unnecessary to connect these two groups, and the Junior and Rachel storyline borders far too close to Homeland’s frustrating daughter storyline.
The Red Road needs to simplify all the various directions it is going in. Phillip trying to make his family proud of him and Jean losing her mind are all very strong, but with those just being two of many stories that The Red Road is following, it just can’t do them justice.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.