Somewhat unsurprisingly at this late-ish stage of the third season, Shooter elected to narrow its focus in “The Red Badge”, paying particular attention to the generational rivalry between the Swaggers and the Bamas. Of course, it all ties into the overarching Atlas plot in typically convoluted ways, but where it counted, “The Red Badge” was an hour devoted to sons and their fathers – and the sins of both.
After Red Bama Junior’s attack on Sam Vincent (David Andrews) in last week’s episode, Bob Lee decided to pay him a visit in order to kick off “The Red Badge” with some thorough emasculation. And now that the police force are aware of the long-standing conspiracies surrounding Earl Swagger’s death, and that the Bamas targeted one of their own, even Sherriff Brown (John Marshall Jones) got himself involved. The alliance basically gives Bob Lee authorisation to do whatever he likes, which is always good fun.
The MacGuffin in this episode was some evidence hidden by Earl thirty years ago that lays out all Atlas’s schemes, which prompted some gumshoeing from all involved as they dug around in Earl’s old case notes and put the pieces together. Bob Lee and Sherriff Brown teamed up for another under-lit action sequence after cracking the case, which wasn’t all that easy to see but was some fun all the same. To recap: Bob Lee is working with his father figure to avenge the deaths of both his other father figure and his actual father, who he still has mixed feelings about. Talk about drama.
Oh, yeah – Sam died. Luckily it wasn’t thanks to Julie Swagger (Shantel VanSanten), who remained by his bedside the whole time, thwarted an assassination attempt, and even got involved in the evidence search. I love what Shooter is doing with Julie’s character since the end of Season 2, when she decided she’d had enough of being the whiny spouse and just cut loose. On balance she’s probably one of the best female characters on television right now.
Sam’s death, sad as it was, did prompt perhaps the most emotional scene in Shooter history, as Bob Lee broke down by his bedside. Ryan Phillippe isn’t a great actor, but he’s reliably good in this, and in “The Red Badge” he really crossed the threshold into “sometimes pretty great” territory. He’s still better suited to being an unfeasibly handsome tough guy, but it is about time he really turned on the waterworks. Fair play, Mr. Reese Witherspoon.
He wasn’t the only character having trouble with his father figure in “The Red Badge” either. Now that Atlas has finally cottoned on to the fact that Junior is a useless waste of space, the higher-ups have decided that Red should get rid of him for the cause. But Red, for all his flagrant villainy, is still a father – and Junior is still his son. Their pivotal scene, in which Junior earnestly celebrated his imagined success and Red was visibly distraught at his failure, was a surprisingly good one. You can’t like the Bamas; they’re despicable, after all. But you can feel for them as lousy fathers and lousy sons, which most of us have been or known at one stage or another.
It turns out Carlita (Felisha Terrell) is a traitor, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, and that Harris (Jesse Bradford) isn’t very good at blackmail, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise either. The latter was still pretty funny though, I must admit. “The Red Badge” had to deepen the Atlas shenanigans somehow, and they did it by tying them to a white supremacist political wing known as, I shit you not, the Alpha Boys. I guess that explains why all Atlas’s heavy-hitters are old white dudes. Harris’s attempts to blackmail the group’s founder were appalling, but he did have a pearl of wisdom to share: “Social media makes it a lot easier to be a racist these days.” Trust Shooter to supply brilliantly astute social commentary like that.