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Escape at Dannemora Review: Tilly and the Wall

Escape at Dannemora

Part 4
Season 1 Episode 4
Editor’s Rating *****

Escape at Dannemora

Part 4
Season 1 Episode 4
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Wilson Webb/SHOWTIME

Tilly isn’t very good at crime. She blows her cover with Lyle, forgetting about inmate Matt’s whole “I made this creepy dog painting as an anniversary gift” hail Mary; continues more or less sneering at Lambert or anyone else who knows what she’s up to; keeps peddling hacksaw-stuffed meat to Matt, a man who’s known nom de plume is Hacksaw; and loses her composure around Matt, her bosses, Lyle, and just about anyone who breathes the same air at a moment’s notice.

She is, however, remarkably calm around Annie, the bartender in Plattsburgh, even after Annie confides that she’s a lesbian. Maybe that’s why Annie picked up some bi-curious vibes from Tilly, but really, Tilly’s just relieved to be across town lines and far away from Lyle or Matt or anyone else. Plus, as she makes clear, she very much likes dick. So long as it’s not Lyle’s. Ever. This, naturally, arouses her spouse’s suspicion that something’s amiss, even if it’s his own failure to romance. His son’s not a whole lot of help, assuring him over backyard target practice that — at minimum, and maybe at most — mom knows he’s a righteously loyal dude. (And, as the scene is no doubt meant to suggest, it’s a good thing Matt and Sweat didn’t try to kill Lyle, because he’s full of rage and at the ready with a sidearm.)

Lyle continues to be portrayed as the saddest of sacks, to the point where he’s far more pathetic than sympathetic, discounting his climactic outburst after being stood up for anniversary dinner at Sansone’s. Although, given the real Lyle Mitchell’s most recent Facebook post while Tilly’s been imprisoned, it’s fair to suspect that Ben Stiller and co. aren’t exactly overstating his pitiable, pathological commitment to his mischievous wife.

While on the subject of overdue emotion, let’s turn our attention toward inmate Sweat, who finally fumes outwardly at Matt, albeit in his characteristically quiet way (man, there’s lots of quiet-talking on this show). David’s tired of sledgehammering into walls and, of late, cutting through what must be a few miles of heavy-duty steam pipe and dealing with all the attendant exhaustion and claustrophobia. And he certainly isn’t persuaded by Matt’s conviction that his vision quest about a future in Mexico trading cows for houses is written in the stars like some self-help fever dream. When he finally comes out the other end of that endless pipe, staring out from under the grate separating him from freedom, he has to be assessing the risk-reward of going for broke right then and there rather than shimmying back to from whence he first dug.

We know that he ultimately sticks to the plan (for better or worse) and makes a run for it with his cell-block pal. We also know Lyle is still alive and Tilly never drove them to West Virginia, or anywhere (score one again for Sweat’s common sense). And “Chapter 4” puts forth the notion that Sweat never abandoned Matt to effectively save his life. Murder and his buddy Kilo are none too pleased about how Matt snitched on Murder (for what, exactly, who knows) and set him up for a beating from new tailor-shop patrolman CO Frank. Once Murder gets out of solitary or the infirmary or wherever he is in a week, Matt is a dead man, and Sweat knows it. In his own way, he is, like Lyle, loyal to a fault. (And Matt, seizing on the fact that CO Frank is an obvious bigot, further demonstrates his cunning psychosis.)

The funny thing about Tilly, who is by far the show’s most developed (though not always likable) character, is she’s arguably Dannemora’s most self-absorbed central player. All the favors for her boys, the sudden tilt toward self-care and exercise — it’s all accessory to her dangerous delusion of a better life by any means necessary. There is absolutely a case to be made (and has been in court and through the press) that Tilly was exploited and even victimized by Matt in particular, but in this adaptation of the show, she has a reasonable amount of agency and — depending on your point of view — is either completely relatable or more helpless and hopeless than we take Lyle to be.

Maybe we’ll get some more insight into what she was thinking via future bookend scenes with Bonnie Hunt’s long-absent Inspector General Scott. But with roughly four hours and plenty of plotting behind us, let’s hope a fair share of the remaining three episodes is earmarked for the sweet release of escape and eventual capture that made this such a captivating real-time manhunt not too long ago.

Apart From All That

• Am I the only one who’s been left a bit cold by the series’ soundtrack?

• Sadly, Sansone’s Restaurant closed shortly before the series premiered.

• Although, maybe Tilly would have remained more loyal to Lyle had he been a home cook like Phil Sansone.

• Can’t say Ben Stiller forgets his friends. Lambert’s replacement, CO Frank, is played by Harry O’Reilly, who appeared in Stiller’s eponymous Fox sketch show and in his films Reality Bites and Cable Guy, among others.

• That bigoted CO Frank exalts Jewish former Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis is a nice dig into a loathsome character.

Escape at Dannemora Review: Tilly and the Wall