‘Black Bird’ Miniseries Episode 4 Recap: WhatsHerName
“Quiet riot…” So says the singing voice of Larry Hall, possibly a serial killer, heard by his new friend Jimmy Keene. It’s easy for him to hear precisely because Larry’s statement is accurate. It’s become quiet, too quiet, in the prison they share, and that kind of calm is often a precursor to violence; hence the sobriquet “quiet riot”.
When it occurs, the riot is sudden, chaotic and widespread. The guards are beaten, possibly to death. Snitches and other unpopular inmates are stabbed with forks and have their throats slit with knives. The dining room, in particular, is home to what can be described as a cross between the food struggle of animal house and the works of Hieronymus Bosch. The whole thing is reminiscent of Oliver Stone’s equally horrific if far more spooky prison riot. born killers, who has aged terribly well.
Jimmy and Larry make it out unscathed and are assigned to help clean the cafeteria, a task Larry is tasked with thanks to his extensive experience as a janitor in the past. And that’s when the riot becomes a blessing in disguise for Jimmy. So far, his interactions with Larry have been either brief and frustrating or just plain frustrating, like earlier in the episode when Larry gets paranoid about Jimmy for no apparent reason. (Jimmy has was snooping around Larry’s cell and did find a cache of drawings of mutilated women straight out of Patrick Bateman’s diary, but of course Larry has no way of knowing.)
Now, with nothing but a hard day of work ahead of them and a few conversations to pass the time, Jimmy can finally really get to know his career and open up to it in a way that builds confidence, even if they’re painful for Jimmy in dealing with it. It turns out that the two men come from very different abusive homes.
Larry’s gravedigger father would force him to get up in the middle of the night and dig up the recently buried dead to loot them for valuables, even ordering him to cut off his fingers to get at wedding rings that wouldn’t slip. . (The finger that Larry cuts off is his first experience with keeping a grim memory from a corpse.) Larry talks about it like it’s no big deal, but in flashbacks we see him sobbing for much of the work, distributed as punishment for bedwetting. .
Jimmy’s story is less bizarre but no less painful. He idealized his father, Big Jim, and cherished their time playing catch — truly happy memories for Jimmy. But Big Jim was largely an absent father, absent for days at a time; he resented his bar-owning wife for her flirtatious nature and general inability to be a devoted housewife. In time they separated and she met a guy who beat her and her two sons. Jimmy tells Larry how one night he tried to challenge his stepfather after punching his mother’s face. the guy broke three of Jimmy’s ribs, then had sex with his mother within earshot of the beaten teenager.
Sometimes the rambling conversation between Jimmy and Larry takes on a kind of gallows humor, such as when Larry suggests that if he had a pet he wouldn’t mind eating it, since meat is meat. “Have you? ate your dogJimmy asks with genuine, if morbid, curiosity. (The answer, for the record, is no, but mostly because Larry’s creepy dad wouldn’t let him have pets.)
Moments of pathos, too, extend beyond their mutual background of abuse. At one point, Jimmy impresses Larry with the story of how he was a star football player. “Sometimes you remind me so much of Gary that my gums hurt,” Larry says of his handsome, confident brother. “You both talk so loudly.” (Gary cuts in at the end of the episode to let Larry know that the local cops suspect he will be released soon.)
But football glory stories are all bullshit, and Jimmy quickly manages to be a bench warmer. “Guys try to impress other guys with stories that make them look bigger than they are,” Jimmy says of his lie — an obvious, if unnoticed, attempt to introduce the idea. that Larry may have made up some of his crimes.
But when Larry pivots after discussing Jimmy’s sometimes murderous rage at his mother for her failure to protect him, his familiarity with what happens to someone with a broken neck, and his admission to the ethereal girls he meets, it’s reminiscent to Jimmy that he’s probably not dealing with just a serial confessor. Even more disturbing, Jimmy directly links Larry’s depredations to his own mirthless womanizer, usually aided by alcohol and pharmaceuticals.
“Today was really fun,” Larry tells Jimmy after it’s all said and done. Jimmy agrees and immediately resumes doing push-ups compulsively. It’s clear from the story of trying to build muscle to fight off her attacker that her divine body is no accident and a sign of deep damage.
It’s worth comparing Jimmy and Larry’s budding (so bizarre and ultimately deceitful) friendship with the forced bonhomie that exists between Jimmy and Carter, the guard who threatens to make him look like a snitch. Of course, the power dynamics are very different and Jimmy is forced to interact with the guy as much as he was forced to interact with Larry. But in a different world, it’s easy to see a version of Jimmy who grew up to be a cop or correctional officer instead of a drug dealer and arms dealer. He idealized his old self enough to make that career choice, didn’t he? In this world, it would be Jimmy standing there as a smiling, malevolent presence in uniform, forcing a poor crook to be polite to the point where tension shows on his face, like Carter does for Jimmy in this world.
None of this would work half as well if it weren’t for fine, carefully contrasting performances from Taron Egerton as Jimmy and Paul Walter Hauser as Larry. Hauser’s showier, if you can call Larry the reed-voiced seer; his distinctive manner of speaking and quirky physique undoubtedly reflect the careful study of these men. But Egerton is impressive in his own right, always walking in a way that emphasizes his muscle mass – as if to impress women and scare off muggers who are no longer there.
Will his act of being a vulnerable big brother have a similar transformative effect on Larry, gaining enough information to earn Jimmy his get out of jail card? Only time, and the remaining two episodes of this excellent mini-series, will tell. If these two episodes continue the thoughtful and painful work done here by writer-creator Dennis Lehane and actors Hauser and Egerton, it will add to something dark and special.