“Severely Weatherbeaten” finds its crime drama and character study elements jockeying for pole position, and the underlying mystery remains slightly unengaging.
This recap of Hightown season 1, episode 2, “Severely Weatherbeaten”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
The success of Starz’ stylish murder-mystery will depend, I think, on the extent to which you value that mystery or Jackie’s on-going battle with sobriety. The show’s both a crime drama and a character study and has to decide which of the two it wants to prioritize at any given moment; Hightown episode 2, “Severely Weatherbeaten”, sees its character focus threaten to overwhelm a mystery that, thus far at least, isn’t particularly interesting.
That isn’t to say, though, that Hightown isn’t amassing a sizeable list of suspects in Sherry’s murder or people with a vested interest in solving it, just that it’s difficult to empathize with any of them and thus care about the ins and outs. Jackie (Monica Raymund) as a character is defined by resistance; to her sobriety, since despite being in rehab she doesn’t necessarily accept she has a problem, to her sexuality, since she can’t help but seduce or attempt to seduce almost every woman she meets, and to her responsibility in fighting crime in general and solving Sherry’s murder specifically despite having almost killed someone while drunk-driving.
That last one manifests as a focus on Krista (Crystal Lake Evans) in “Severely Weatherbeaten”; Jackie acquires her discharge notes and emergency contact details and asks another of Sherry’s friends about her whereabouts. Her investigation leads her to the docks and to Junior (Shane Harper), and there’s still evidently a lot more to learn. But Jackie’s weaponizing of her minority status in Hightown episode 2 – insisting she can’t be fired because she’s the only gay woman of color on the force – is a more interesting quirk than anything she gets up to involving the murder.
The morality of the show’s characters continues to be fluid, even – perhaps especially – among those who might be considered the uncomplicated heroes in other, more traditional crime shows. Ray (James Badge Dale) pressuring Renee (Riley Voelkel) into going undercover and then continuing to mix business with pleasure positions him as an antihero, not entirely dissimilar from someone like Frankie (Amaury Nolasco), who is shameless about pulling strings even from within prison. Hightown is in large part about power and whose hands it’s concentrated in; the characters all exercise that power – Jackie through her minority status, Ray through blackmail, Frankie through fear, etc. – in whatever ways they can to meet whichever ends most benefit them.
What is intended to be moral complexity threatens to be something else entirely, though, as these characters take self-destructiveness to extremes that are off-putting for an audience in the market for a procedural. While the requisite mystery elements are there, they’re overshadowed by a focus on characters who you wouldn’t choose to spend time with in any other circumstances. Since having likable, relatable characters isn’t mandatory, Hightown can live without them if its mystery becomes more engaging – until then, though, this remains a crime drama with potential that it may or may not live up to as the season progresses.
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