by Decky Donohoe
So, who cares about the effects the Vietnam War had on the American GIs? America does. They can’t get enough of their own, short history and who better than HBO to bring it alive. Another view on the effects of the war in a slightly flabby misstep akin to Deadwood, Quarry tells of Mac Conway who returns from his second tour in Vietnam to face derision from the public and his own family. From here, his choices are few and bleak prospects push him into dark territory.
His friend, The Wire’s Jamie Hector, contrasts Mac’s sensibilities quite nicely and he does the best with what he is given. Yet he simply exists as an expository character and the story leaves it ambiguous whether or not we trust him or care for him as much as Mac (supposedly) does. His place in this world feels manufactured and the story suffers for it.
Disorientating sound design complimented with off kilter camera work give us nothing new but sets the tone. Don’t worry about falling behind, the characters will be happy to explain the plot and their motivations along the way. Maybe this is not such a bad thing. Remember that the opening episode to Cinemax’s other property The Knick started (and continued) much the same way but had so much to offer that it could be forgiven its short comings.
This opening episode suffers where a balance should be struck. The violence is well executed and coldly clinical. Yet the conflict between Mac and the rest of the world is hard to fathom if he is so detached from things. If he doesn’t care, then what has he lost? Even the Dude went out of his way to right the wrongs when his rug got peed on, when the rest of us would have just gone to Harry Corry. This is like watching the Dude pee on his own rug, ignore his best friend’s advice and not even go bowling!
It’s true that the hard time the GI’s got from this unpopular war has been explored before, yet it is an amoral character who will be leading us on this trail. It feels as though we will have little doubt about our opinion of Mac as the show progresses. However, it is the shaky performance of Logan Marshall-Green that needs attention, if we are to take the journey with him. The sets are not over dressed and there is enough to give us a good sense of space in the 1970s. HBO never falters with production design, yet some scenes would have benefitted from tighter editing. Leaving them earlier would improve the pace and snipping the sub-par dialogue wouldn’t go amiss.
The cast gives this show a budget-feel, though Damon Herriman is an unlikely saving grace. There is no chemistry between the best friends or them and their wives, which is a shame since the emotional underpinning is so crucial to the opening act. With such a bleak production spread over thin narrative; the audience may struggle to connect as the producers struggle to gel the parts.
Things tighten up in the last act, which is doubtless the main reason the pilot was successful in kick-starting the show. It paints a better composed picture and leaves you with just enough interest to want to continue the story. Or maybe you won’t. Taste is subjective, and maybe you were turned off enough at the start to have lost faith in Mac’s journey.
Time will tell as Quarry rolls out over the coming weeks. We have had a sneaky look at episode two and can say (spoiler free) that there are plenty more stories to tell over the course of this season.
Quarry is coming to Sky Atlantic this October.
Thanks for reading and comment below!