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Escape at Dannemora Recap: Pipe Splitters

Escape at Dannemora

Part 5
Season 1 Episode 5
Editor’s Rating *****

Escape at Dannemora

Part 5
Season 1 Episode 5
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Wilson Webb/SHOWTIME

“Be a person,” Sweat implores of his buddy Hacksaw (a.k.a. Richard Matt a.k.a. Ricky Matt a.k.a. Inmate Matt), who’s having a hard time getting his bearings outside the prison walls. Looks like Matt, not Lyle, might be the glitch. And since we know how this story ends — with Matt shot dead after unraveling in the woods of Western New York — that’s not entirely far from the truth. Actually, Lyle acquits himself as a bit of a mensch by the end of “Part 5,” a guy who’s not only loyal to his wife but genuinely curious about nuances of the Chinese alphabet and nostalgic for antiquated pet-adoption protocols, and wants someone who stands with him in his little corner of the world, beguiled.

Alas, that woman is not his wife. Tilly does, however, tell him to his face that he’s a good man. She’d just experienced a panic attack while out to dinner at King’s Wok and made a split-second decision not to abet his murder, but Lyle’s none the wiser and he’ll take the compliment before heading home to feed the dogs.

Meanwhile, Matt and Sweat (a great name for a ’90s R&B duo if there ever was one) are realizing fast that Tilly’s a no-show for their ride to West Virginia. They’ve no idea she’s laid up in a hospital bed and having her come-to-Jesus epiphany while saying “night-night, thanks” to a tranquilizer drip, nor does it really matter. The two escapees are on their own with Canada — now a markedly more realistic alternative to Mexico — merely 20 miles away. This doesn’t exactly sync up with Matt’s vision quest of riding horses through the fields and bartering livestock for housing. And we assume it’s not what Sweat would have preferred (though who can be sure, since we’ve been given little sense of what makes him tick), but he’s emerged as the practical compass guiding them on this mission, and due north it is.

But wait? How did we get here? How did our pair of ostensible protagonists (though, really, is there anyone to root for here?) even get out of Clinton Correctional at midnight the morning of June 6 as planned without Murder assassinating Matt or related shenanigans shutting down the operation? As ever, Matt had a silent strategy, essentially offering himself up in the yard as a red herring before the Aryan prisoners set off a war with Murder and his accomplices. Matt and Sweat slipped out unscathed, hit the deck as ordered, and breathed easy once it was determined there’d be no lockdown, on account of all the overtime Albany would have to fork over to unionized corrections officers. Because how can one stage a riveting escape drama without some eleventh-hour bureaucratic hand-wringing and implicit commentary about cutting administrative corners. Oh, how they would all rue the day!

As it happens, the most pulse-pounding moments of “Part 5,” and maybe the season, came not as Matt and Sweat broke out but in director Ben Stiller’s lengthy real-time depiction of Sweat’s dry run the night before. Switching perspectives from ours to Sweat’s and playing out like both a first-person RPG and night-vision ghost-hunting show, the nine-minute bird’s-eye gives the best glimpse yet into an aging prison’s maze of man-made machinery. In effect, Dannemora illustrates how sophisticated prison escapes like this one are only possible because so many prisons are byzantine but not necessarily that sophisticated.

That could work as a metaphor for the way Dannemora’s characters’ lives are intertwined, and probably does. In its thirst for urgency and verisimilitude, the show hasn’t exactly given its main players too much depth, despite there being so much room for these episodes to breathe. And short of doing the homework of ancillary research about the actual case, it’s unclear what we’re supposed to feel — the rush of freedom and rebellion? — when convicted murder and arguable psychopath Matt leaves a triumphant note behind reading, “You left me no choice but to go old and die here. I had to do something.”

Thankfully, he and Sweat did. Dannemora has been revived, and the remaining two chapters needn’t do more than allow us to suspend disbelief as they wend their way around the mountains, growing ever more desperate and overcome. And anticipate Bonnie Hunt’s reappearance as Inspector General Scott, whose interrogation of Tilly might move us beyond Patricia Arquette’s relentlessly unsympathetic portrayal (IMHO) and toward a nuanced portrait of a woman at her wit’s end. One that not even inmate Matt could paint.

Apart From All That:

• Who’s the better “good man”: Lyle or Gene? Go!

• Re: Gene eyeing Seattle’s “good music scene,” he’s definitely been in that prison too long.

• Chow Mein and a Blizzard = dream date.

• Not only is new CO Kevin from Auburn, NY, but so is one half of power-metal gods Manowar.

• Sweat’s eventual boasts about the escape (“Shawshank ain’t got shit on me”) were objectively pretty amazing.

King’s Wok opens by 11 a.m., if you’re hungry.

Escape at Dannemora Recap: Pipe Splitters