“High on the Looming Gallows Tree” brings the actual crime under investigation into focus and makes City on a Hill‘s storytelling more coherent and impactful.
This City on a Hill Season 1, Episode 8 recap for the episode titled “High on the Looming Gallows Tree” contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
After having an off week in “There Are No F**king Sides,” City on a Hill comes back with a tighter episode that doesn’t diverge into a million fractured pieces. And I’m so relieved! It begins to hit the fan in the best possible way–in the way that I’d hoped the last episode would. City on a Hill Episode 8, “High on the Looming Gallows Tree,” is perfectly titled (we’ve always had great titles in City on a Hill). The noose hangs ominously over the Ryans, over Jackie, over Clay Roach, over the entire investigation, over Boston. It overtakes some, while the fate of others remains undecided.
When last we left our heroes, Jimmy Ryan (Mark O’Brien) had told Jackie Rohr (Kevin Bacon) where to find the bodies. Jackie is out on his ear after his mistress showed up pregnant, and Benny, his daughter, is recovering from her assault at the hands of Clay Roach’s (Kieran Culkin) gang. Now, we’ve got a more focused story: on the slow drawing of the noose around Frankie Ryan’s gang, as well as Jackie Rohr.
One of my favorite scenes of “High on the Looming Gallows Tree”: Jackie tries to visit Benny in rehab, but Jenny didn’t put him on the visitation list. So he tries to convince the duty nurse that he’s “one of the good guys.” That’s called dramatic irony, folks! Plus, even this stranger doesn’t buy it.
Moreover, to emphasize his asshattery, Rohr is on TV in City on a Hill Episode 8, taking credit for finding the bodies, pissing off the team, making Rachel Benham (Sarah Shahi) even more intent on picking up the sidelined reporter’s crusade against Rohr. She tries to play Jenny to get information on Rohr, but Jenny sees right through the act. Instead of this being a dead end, it leads to an excellent bit of dramatic irony (have I mentioned before that the writing has always been great on City on a Hill, even if the structure isn’t?). Jenny goes to Jackie’s hotel tell him that his mistress has shown up, once again, at her house and that she’s sick of it. First, she walks in on him watching ****, his hotel room strewn about with liquor bottles and takeout boxes–if we ever doubted Jackie Rohr was a pig, look no further. Then, when she starts to mention that Rachel was sniffing around, a prostitute Jackie ordered arrives. Jenny walks out without warning him that his own people are investigating him. I love it!
Decourcy Ward begins putting the screws to Sheik Sheehan in “High on the Looming Gallows Tree”, one of Frankie’s boys: “I can make your life miserable, and all you can do is tell me to go f–k myself.” Sheik does, so Ward brings him before the grand jury. This is to continue to put pressure on Frankie’s gang. It works. Cathy begins freaking out while Frankie insists he’ll take care of things as he always has.
I’ve mentioned before that I love Frankie’s family. It’s a great bit of layered, mirrored characterization that we continue to see in this show. Jackie Rohr, the FBI agent, is a “good guy” and a horrific husband and an absent father. Frankie, the criminal, is a fantastic father and a good husband. This is a dark show, both tonally and cinematically–it’s literally very dark. Lots of night or indoor or shadowed scenes. In City on a Hill Episode 8, Frankie takes his family to the beach and talks to his kids about his dreams for them, that they go out and see the world, make something of themselves, though they’ll always have a home in Boston. It’s beautiful and moving.
But back to the crimefighting. By putting pressure on Sheehan’s wife, the team gets the name Ryan, and Jimmy’s picture. So they tail him to a meet with Rohr. Jimmy’s at the end of his rope, his ex is engaged to someone else and his family is in shambles, panicking about the grand jury and money. He confesses to Rohr that he did it. But Jackie doesn’t believe him, wondering who he’s protecting. That’s a good question, Jackie boy. But just as he asks that question, Rachel and Hank do the math: “Jackie Rohr and James Ryan. One plus one is two piles of s–t.”
Decourcey and Siobhan continue making political connections, setting him up for a race (which, seeing as City on a Hill has been renewed for a second season, maybe in the series’ future). Have I said recently that I love their relationship? There are tensions because of their ambitious pursuits, but they continue to be another foil to Jackie Rohr’s swamp of a marriage.
Finally, “High on the Looming Gallows Tree” provides the most cathartic final moments in an episode of City on a Hill: Jenny lets Clay’s name slip to Jackie as someone who is connected to Benny’s assault. So, he goes to Clay’s apartment, looms over him–coked out–and blows Clay’s head off. He’s a cop-killer and the orchestrator of the sexual assault of a young woman. If there’s one person in this show more deserving of a bloody comeuppance than Jackie Rohr, it’s Clay.
I’m so happy to again sing the praises of City on a Hill. It’s so often frustratingly convoluted, but when the writers hit their stride and actually focus, rather than giving fifty different unconnected, disparate scenes, we get something really good. I’m just hoping that, as we move into the end of the season, we stay with these strong episodes.
Tyler is a teacher, librarian and the Co-host of The Geek Card Check Podcast. He has been a Film Critic for Ready Steady Cut since 2018.