This is the second week of recapping Nicolas Winding Refn and Ed Brubaker's miniseries, Too Old to Die Young (2019). Catch Week #1 here. Content warning for discussion of intense and gendered violence.
Slogging through the middle section of Refn’s bloated series, I am haunted by the missed opportunities. The neon is keeping at least half of my attention hooked, but otherwise it is profoundly hard to care about the fate of really anyone involved. Whenever I sense my feelings about to change, I am left with disappointment or a longing for a show this strange Danish man did not set out to create.
The three episodes I watched over the last week, “The Tower,” “The Fool,” and “The High Priestess,” do push the characters of the first three into interesting new directions, but they take an egregious amount of unearned time getting there. Martin is attempting some kind of reformation, though hardly a genuine one, while Jesus, now married to Yaritza, returns to Los Angeles to claim the bloody throne of his late mother.
Perhaps this would have been an easier story to get into and accept if it didn’t try so hard to moralize the journeys of its unforgivably terrible characters. I meant to mention last week that this is, in part, a show about “bad” cops, but not in an ACAB way––more in a fatalistic, the world-is-very-bad kind of way. There’s a bizarre scene in which a pep talk by Martin’s boss to the rest of the station spirals into a chant where the cops yell nothing but the literal word “fascism,” but other than that this story doesn’t seem much interested in actually examining the violence every cop, by virtue of their foul job, is complicit in.
Most mainstream shows about cops are, of course, guilty of this, but there is one particular scene that was bonkers to film in 2019 and even more atrocious to watch in 2021. In “The Tower,” Martin and Viggo head to a support group for cops who’ve murdered people on the job. We sit with them as they listen to a man recalling the horrifying account of how, upon stopping a man’s car, he unloaded his gun when the driver simply reached for something he could not see, only to discover that the man’s teenage daughter, now dead, was in the backseat. We shortly learn afterwards that this same guy is Viggo’s next target, since he’d been assaulting his own daughter for years. Viggo slits his throat swiftly in the parking lot and this is meant to be a kind of justice. Later, he rants to Martin about how it is their job to protect what innocence is left in the world. Never mind that, much like the cops they pretend to be different than, these men are only interested in reacting to existing violence––not preventing it.
Inspired (?) by his new mentor’s approach to killing, Martin decides that he too will strive to exclusively take the lives of people who deserve to be buried. After refusing to kill a man for owing money to Damian, he demands to be only assigned the worst people on Damian’s hitlist from hereon after. He is so determined to do this that he even refuses payment for it. Damian almost seems to admire how his hitman “only wants the blood.” In “The Fool,” Martin is sent to New Mexico where he tracks down a pair of twisted brothers who specialize in trafficking and making violent pornographic films.
Martin kills the first one on the premises of their business before being chased across the southwestern desert by the second one along with a goon of theirs. The overnight, often surreal, chase concludes with the “bad guys’” electric car giving out. Martin kills the goon, but before he can take out the second brother as well he is told that “the girl” is alive. Turns out the bastards were also keeping a poor girl hostage in a chest in the desert and assumed that that’s why Martin was coming after them. After Martin frees her and kills the man, the girl stabs him and runs off into the horizon. If the timeline wasn’t wrong, one might’ve assumed that this was none other than Yaritza, running off towards the Don who would then take her under his wing.
We don’t see Martin in “The High Priestess,” but we learn that he is okay from an off-hand comment by Janey, who randomly encounters Yaritza at a house party hosted by one of Jesus’ old buddies. Magdalena’s famous son is back in the States on orders of his cousin, the recently coronated Don Miguel. His task is to reclaim the territory taken by other gangs in the wake of his mother’s murder. This means the impending execution of Damian, the attempt of which is by far the funniest sequence in the entire show so far.
It begins with Alfonso (Manuel Uriza), a weapons dealer who used to work for Magdalena, approaching a hitman to carry out Damian’s assassination. He gives the man a picture of the target, which happens to also feature Celestino (Celestino Cornielle), Damian’s right-hand man. Terrified of the crew that always surrounds Damian, that hitman subcontracts the job to a second hitman, giving him a third of what he got from Alfonso. That hitman then sub-subcontracts the hit to a third man who, in a meth-induced haze, accidentally cuts up the picture he’d been given of Damian and ends up killing Celestino instead.
It’s not as funny when Alfonso reports back to Jesus the mistake that occurred and is swiftly abused and demeaned by his new boss. Though we hadn’t actually had much of a chance to explore Jesus’ character before this episode, the soft-spoken acting of Augusto Aguilera had thus far implied a young man who was at the very least gentler than his deeply disturbed and bloodthirsty cousin. His tirade against Alfonso, however, in which he goes so far as to use anti-Mexican slurs, reveals a man with no interest in doing things any differently than those who came before. Yaritza has a few tricks up her sleeve, for sure, but it is unclear at this point if she means to continue her vigilante work from earlier against the cartel, or if she genuinely means to be Jesus’ partner. I need to know what she does next! Next week, we wrap up the show by looking at episodes 7-10.
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