Monday, February 6, 2017

MTVP Binges Out: "Good Behavior" Season One

I decided to try watching “Good Behavior” thanks to an excellent article Willa Paskin wrote for Slate (I called her out in a negative way several years ago, so it’s only fair I give praise when it’s due, too) following the tragedy of a Presidential election. In her article, she profiled two television shows that were helping her temporarily escape from the bleakness of the post-election world: “Lovesick” (a British show available here on Netflix) and “Good Behavior,” which airs on TNT. Here’s a link to Paskin’s article if you’re so inclined. Ignore the commenters accusing us liberals of being soft if we need escape television. We all need a little self-care now and then if we’re going to keep up this Resistance for the next four years. It’s only been two weeks and it’s already exhausting (which to be honest, is probably kind of the idea). Anyway, Paskin found that the chemistry between lead characters Letty and Javier made for a great escape, and I have to say I agree, even if they are, respectively, a kleptomaniac thief and a hit man. Interested yet?

“Good Behavior” stars Michelle Dockery is a role very different from Lady Mary on “Downton Abbey,” the role for which she is most known. Letty Raines is a meth-addicted, alcoholic, kleptomaniac thief who has been in and out of jail and desperately wants her son back. She comes across Javier, a mysterious hit man played by Juan Diego Botto (a rather ridiculously beautiful man, for the record), while she is on a stealing spree at a fancy hotel. She tries to steal from him, he finds out, and their lives begin to be intertwined. A crucial moment happens near the end of the pilot. Letty spends the money she stole on drugs and booze, and she is pretty much about to kill herself with an overdose in a cheap motel room when Javier barges in and demands that she sober up and work for him to pay back the money she stole. I kind of have a problem with the blackmail/rapey elements of Letty and Javier’s early interactions, but at the end of the third episode, Javier forgives Letty her debt, and everything that happens from there on out is consensual. There’s a moment that happens in the uncensored version of the finale that also kind of made me uneasy, but there’s an element of consent to that moment too.

While Javier tries to insist in the later episodes of the season that he and Letty are actually bad for each other (in my mind, I kept hearing the song “It Was a Shit Show” from “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend playing), I have to agree with Paskin that they are actually perfect for each other in their own, kind of twisted way. Letty doesn’t like killing. When she’s “working” for Javier, she tries to get him to resolve things without murder (although he usually doesn’t listen), and later, she tries to encourage him to use his cooking skills to be a professional chef instead of a hit man (he hasn’t listened to her yet on that one, either). Javier, for his part, is pretty much a teetotaler, and he really tries to keep Letty clean (or at least limit her to drinking only wine). He also tries to discourage her stealing, sometimes insisting on buying her things that she was going to steal. They’re both trying to bring out each other’s better natures most of the time, but when you have a pair of criminals, there’s going to be outside forces upping the tension on their relationship. They’re for the most part very supportive of each other when the chips are down. Letty’s reaction to Javier’s family basically disowning him was one of my favorite moments of the season.

What I thing is especially genius about “Good Behavior” is that it really humanizes two characters who don’t, on the surface, seem like they could possibly be likeable. Javier may be a killer for hire, but he also has his own moral code. Other than the whole killing people thing, he’s actually a nice, caring guy. In the episode “The Ballad of Little Santino,” we get to meet his family, and they’re kind of horrifying. We learn Javier’s darkest secret and the reason why his father kicked him out and disowned him at the age of sixteen. Javier’s father is basically a manipulative, evil bastard who was behind a lot of the killings in the Dirty War, and his whole family basically does whatever he says. He also makes Javier feel an inordinate amount of guilt (to this day) over an unfortunate series of events that led to the death of Javier’s little brother, Santino. Because of what happened to Santino, Javier was called a killer by his father, and he’s been living up to that expectation ever since.

On Letty’s side, we get to meet quite a few people who are important to her. We meet her mom, Estelle, who is raising Letty’s son, Jacob. Jacob’s father, Sean, is a violent asshole former drug dealer and porn producer who got Letty hooked on meth. We also meet Letty’s childhood best friend Tiffany (a successful Realtor) and her bi-curious, also meth-addicted husband Kyle. Of all these relationships, I enjoy the relationship between Letty and Estelle the most. Being mother and daughter, they know exactly how to hurt the other. But they are also there for each other when the chips are down. There’s a scene in the season finale where Estelle explains to Letty exactly how to care for Jacob that is just so heartbreaking and perfectly acted.

I’m a fan of the Southern Gothic tradition (one of my favorite writing professors in college was really into Faulkner and O’Connor), so my favorite episode of the first season is the very creepy third episode, “From Terrible Me.” In that episode, Letty and Javier are desperately trying to drive to Charleston to dispose of a body while driving a Tesla that is rapidly losing charge. Best not to be relying on a Tesla getting you someplace quickly on small rural roads. The threat of losing charge provided a ticking clock throughout the episode that really upped the dramatic tension. There’s also a scene where Letty explains to a guy who is supposed to be driving her to someplace where she can get a tow truck exactly what would happen to him if he tried to rape her. Letty doesn’t play, and it was cool to see her save herself in that situation. The growing sense of dread that built throughout the episode as the Tesla gradually ran out of charge on a deserted rural road was most definitely in the Southern Gothic tradition.

The events of the season finale left me a little nervous about where the creative team is going with season two. Regardless of that, however, I’m all in. As long as I have my Letty and Javier chemistry and Juan Diego Botto is on my television screen, I’ll keep watching. I can forgive much plot-wise because Letty and Javier just draw you in. I really want to see them have more crazy adventures and bring out each other’s better natures. I hope that, now we have a good base understanding of Letty and Javier’s backgrounds, the next season will be less focused on their families and more focused on how they are going to live their lives going forward. Who would have thought a romance between a thief and a hit man would be so addictive and have so much depth?

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