Escape at Dannemora
Man, Benicio del Toro’s good. That’s no disrespect to Patricia Arquette, whose performance is committed, if somewhat affected. Or Paul Dano, whose take on David Sweat is reminiscent of a more melancholic Jesse Pinkman. But del Toro is something else in this series, and especially this episode, letting silent expressions and mannerisms do half the work. Except, that is, when Ricky Matt suddenly channels his inner Aphex Twin “Come to Daddy” monster and demands Tilly’s silent complicity in their escape plan.
Tilly is in deep now, having regular workshop sex with Matt while pining for — and sending love notes and dirty pictures to — inmate Sweat. (For what it’s worth, she would later insist that she and Sweat never had a physical relationship, though other supposed inside sources begged to differ.) Plus, she’s shaking things up by running errands at the local hardware store so that her boys can have night-vision glasses and hacksaw blades and other tools of the trade. Sure, at the time, she’s laboring under the stated impression that Matt just needs supplies to make more pretty framed pictures, but she’s no dummy. (Perhaps that’s why she ultimately never played herself off as such to get off scot-free.) She has a feeling that something’s amiss, and she seems to enjoy the not-knowing and the suspense. It’s her private fantasy world now, her version of privileged ladies from the city getting to have it all by renting a winter retreat in Saranac Lake and getting mani-pedis in the salon that Tilly frequents year-round, on the grounds her family helped populate three centuries ago.
She’s also getting careless, as first-time criminals tend to be, particularly when flouting their conduct under the noses of colleagues at a highly patrolled state prison. After hiding hacksaw blades in ground chuck, she asks Gene Palmer to get them over to Matt. He abides, but confronts Tilly by the jukebox at their local watering hole, and all she can do is tacitly confirm his hunch that something’s fishy and double down on her intentions to carry on. Meanwhile, poor Lyle’s back at their table downing fried apps with Ruth (played, incidentally, by two-time Tony nominee Johanna Day), giddy from the rush of doting on Tilly with a $5.50 margarita.
Let’s talk about Lyle for a moment. For starters, Eric Lange — à la Patricia Arquette — gives a performance that’s two-thirds toothiness and one-third fine-tuned regional accent. And à la Arquette’s Tilly, Lange’s Lyle is a dead ringer for the real thing. Unfortunately, the actual Lyle was indeed a gullible guy, having publicly denounced any notion that his wife slept with Matt or Sweat right up until the days before she confessed otherwise. It’s not hard to see how Matt, as portrayed in “Part 3,” could have Lyle turned around, careening from near-certainty that Tilly was cheating (he found the telltale oil canvas of the dogs!) to sheepish contrition (ahhhh, it was simply an anniversary gift from one inmate to his supervisor’s husband). As Matt confides in Tilly that the two of them and Sweat can make haste for Mexico as a trio, it’s pretty apparent that Lyle — who, in a bit of unsubtle foreshadowing, Tilly wishes aloud would drop dead — is a loose end.
What, then, of Mr. Sweat? What is his role, exactly? This was Matt’s idea, but David’s the one doing all the hard labor. He’s hacking and hammering away at one underground obstacle after another through the night, foregoing rest while Matt messes around with Tilly and occasionally checks in with David’s progress, kvetching about the wretched, humid conditions. Matt has the big picture in mind, but it’s apparent that Sweat’s spent the majority of his 12 years behind bars fine-tuning the skills needed for a moment like this, and the resolve to make a run for it on the other side. Matt, for all his guile and experience at busting loose, is a bit bloated and more than a tad reliant on being liquored up, qualities that make him charming and intimidating by turns, but are a real liability when it comes to keeping pace with an inmate so many years his junior.
For the moment, however, the two plotters are basically thick as thieves, cracking jokes about how much Tilly relishes Sweat’s perspiration and parting ways in the yard with confident fist bumps. Matt even got rid of Scary Gary and his night terrors, thanks to an assist from eager fish Angel, who lights the commissary clerk’s cell ablaze, freeing it up for Sweat to return where he belongs. (It’s unclear if Gary was assumed to have ignited the fire and hence cast away, but que será.) Everyone plays their part in a plan like this, witting or not. Hopefully, Matt will at least have put in a good word with the other Honor Block lifers on Angel’s behalf before leaving him in the dust.
Dannemora is finally inching toward the real action, and at times it can feel interminable, prolonged for prolonging’s sake. Crackerjack stretches in “Part 3” telegraph the tension that awaits, and despite Sweat’s estimates of a five-year wait, we know it goes down way sooner than that. The show’s dedication to realism and an attendant ’70s-thriller aesthetic (how about that slow-freeze into the title card this week, eh?) is both a strength and weakness, and frankly a curious stubbornness for a show that does take some liberties with documented timeline and fact. If Tilly can have her fancy margarita, maybe we can get a bit more weirdness, too.
Apart From All That:
• Who can’t relate to wishing no one knew where you were?
• Matt’s inner psychopath is dying to come out.
• ZZ Top. Always ZZ Top.
• There’s something to be said, sometimes, for hiring less recognizable actors to inhabit everyday American lives.