Escape at Dannemora
First rule of telegraphing that an officer is going to die in the line of duty: stage a phone call with his wife, maybe even a cuddly scene between the two of them in bed. Better yet, have the officer tease intercourse, only to leave and go back on patrol, leaving her wanting — and never getting — more.
After five episodes of pulling punches and, frankly, failing to captivate, Dannemora goes all-in and makes us eyewitnesses to Matt and Sweat’s signature crimes, theoretically forcing us to question who it was we were kinda-sorta rooting for to escape this whole time. And maybe sigh with relief that Tilly didn’t kill her husband and sign on for a road trip with these two lunatics. Or not. After all, that wicked little grin Tilly flashes in the final moments suggests … what, exactly? That she, like Matt and Sweat, is the kind of person who would do whatever it takes to get what she thinks she’s owed?
The ultimate effect of flashing back to the three principals’ lives long before they became entangled at Clinton Correctional is to yet again forestall what we all came to Dannemora for: the Escape. But in the interest of fulfilling my recapping duty, let’s review: First, we’re transported to July 4, 2002. Sweat, his cousin, and a friend — fresh from a robbery in Great Bend, PA — are confronted just over the New York border by Kirkwood Deputy Sheriff Kevin Tarsia. The end result is, as depicted, Tarsia’s horrific death. The last words he hears are Sweat meekly muttering “I’m sorry” before his cousin fires the final two bullets.
That, however, is merely an appetizer for Ricky Matt’s holiday season sadism, unleashed on a combative adversary, his 76-year-old former boss William Rickerson, who he thinks is lording over a bunch of embezzled cash. The subsequent events — Matt and his pal Lee Bates cruising around with Rickerson tied up in the trunk, until Matt eventually ends his life, dismembers him (shades of his hero Tony Soprano completing that decapitation), and discards him in the river — mostly jibe with assembled fact. (Matt knew Bates via a strip-club connection, and did gloat about killing Rickerson to a stripper friend, but whether he actually popped said trunk and showed a pair of dancers Rickerson’s writhing body is another matter.) Del Toro is at his most demented here, and continues delivering a performance that he may find cringeworthy after observing how it was all stitched together.
Perversely, none of the aforementioned is as hard to watch as Tilly’s section. We see a youngish Joyce in 1993, married to and working with her then-husband Tobey (Kenny in this series, likely because real-life Tobey Jr. preferred to be left out), sewing together footwear at an upstate factory. She’s having an affair with youngish, clean-shaven Lyle, as the two have torrid doggy-style sex (and in Matt’s segment, he was reading Doggystyle mag — continuity!) in the woods by the parking lot. She takes slings and arrows from her colleagues, including Annie, who was serving drinks at a bar in Plattsburgh a couple episodes back. Tobey calls her a whore, but she gets the last laugh by manipulating Lyle (whoulda thunk?) into taking a vindictive punch from her ex so he looks unfit for custody. It’s unclear whether we’re supposed to admire her defiance and self-empowerment (we get it, she loves dick) or see the makings of a criminal mind. Mostly, Tilly’s tantrums and meltdowns — in past, present, or any other tense — have grown wearisome, their relentlessness (and the relentlessness of Patricia Arquette’s mannerisms) counterproductive.
What we’re really left with after this 53 minutes is the nagging feeling that Dannemora could have dispensed with so much of its procedural prefacing and been more democratic in doling out bits about each character’s past. And then these last two installments could have coalesced into a thrilling descent. It’d be fair to call “Part 6” a momentum-killer if the series had really been on a roll. It’s accurate to call it a stunt, one that calls into question whether the whole intention behind revisiting such fresh circumstances in this kind of depth was to explore an exceptional story of two killers’ attempted survival, or to exploit the desperation of inmates and people trapped in small-town lives. Either way, the funny thing is, we still don’t really know anything about what made anyone tick. Here’s hoping Bonnie Hunt returns next week as Inspector General Leahy Scott to help us out.
Apart From All That:
• Would Wu-Tang’s “Protect Ya Neck,” released in December 1992, really be playing on FM radio in December ’97?
• Nothing suggests domestic volatility like a shaky cam!
• I want a spin-off pairing their “summer people” with the ones in Montauk from The Affair.