“First of the Gang to Die” doesn’t add much clarity, but it’s another pacey installment with an effective tense climax.
This recap of The Mosquito Coast season 1, episode 2, “First of the Gang to Die”, contains spoilers.
The opening shot of The Mosquito Coast episode 2, “First of the Gang to Die”, is a butterfly alighting on a crumpled Coke can, which isn’t a particularly subtle metaphor for the awkward overlap between the natural world and the capitalist one rapidly encroaching upon it, but then again this doesn’t seem to be a particularly subtle show. We track that butterfly along a nighttime street until it’s wafted quite violently out of the way by Allie’s truck, still being driven by Dina at high speed following on directly from the previous episode.
Allie cleverly lifts a manhole cover and leaves his tools beside it as a red herring, escaping with Dina into an expansive homeless community in an abandoned, decrepit mall (see what I was saying about subtlely?). It’s a good setting to crack a window into Allie’s ideology. As Dina cuts up that Coke can from the opening shot to fashion a way for Allie to break out of his handcuffs, he lays out that the people here are “broken consumers”, tossed away by a system that sees no value in them if they’re unable to participate in it. He’s not entirely wrong, at least not in his obvious disgust for reducing human beings down to their capacity for consumption, but he won’t accept any idea of nuance. The way he sees it, every problem has a solution, and all it takes is the desire to find it. Any problem unsolved, therefore, however complicated, becomes in his mind a problem that nobody has any interest in. It’s a cynical worldview.
“We’re not your family, Dad. We’re your audience.” That’s what Dina says to Allie when he explains that they’re fleeing to Mexico, and it’s a cutting remark entirely because it seems so accurate. Allie claims to have friends there who can build Dina a whole new identity, and with it, apparently, she can build a whole new life, but the dark undercurrent here is that it’s highly probable he’s lying just to make her leave with him. Dina asks again what he did to merit such an enthusiastic police response, but he once again doesn’t elucidate.
Elsewhere in The Mosquito Coast season 1, episode 2, Kimberly Elise and James LeGros’s NSA agents visit the home of Dina’s long-distance boyfriend, Josh, pictures of whom they found when they tossed the house in Stockton. Dina, pretending to Allie that she’s calling her grandmother to tell her she isn’t coming, actually calls the house while the agents are sat there, prompting Jones (Elise) to pick up and try to talk her down. Dina takes the opportunity to ask once again what Allie did, and she once again doesn’t get a straight answer. Annoyed, she starts monologuing about how everyone in America eats when they’re not hungry, drinks when they’re not thirsty, and so on, and so forth, just parroting her dad’s regurgitated ideology. To what extent she believes it is anyone’s guess.
For someone so opposed to technology, Allie has a surprising facility for accessing the Dark Web, which he uses to contact an associate in Mexico, Calaca, to let him know they’re “finally coming”. These are the people who he claims are a) not dangerous and b) can build Dina a new identity, but the truth in those statements remains to be seen. While Dina and Charlie privately discuss what Allie might have done, Margot suggests to him — while robbing the farm where Allie was working, leaving behind the ice machine as “the bargain of a lifetime” — that they should tell the kids the truth since they have the right to make their own decision about whether to go with them or not. Once again, Allie is able to talk her around, painting the trip as “an education” and “a school without walls”. She buys it. But does anyone else?
With the stolen money, Allie attempts to buy passage across the U.S.-Mexico border with the help of Juan, a “coyote” recommended to him by his associate, Hector, who is at that moment also being interrogated by Jones — he gives up the identity of the coyote just as quickly to her, too. Allie’s ingenuity comes up again here since he’s able to convince Juan to risk vengeance from whatever Mexican kingpin he has annoyed by offering to remove his electronic ankle tag, which he pulls off in a car shielded by aluminum foil. In the meanwhile, Margot rather bizarrely has a dance-off with Juan’s associate, Chuy (Scotty Tovar), to Morrissey’s “First of the Gang to Die“. It’s where the episode takes its title but doesn’t feel of a piece with a single thing that we’ve seen thus far. Is there sexual tension here? Is it a brief moment of carefree normality in the midst of a breathless escape? Who knows, frankly.
By the time the NSA arrive at the junkyard, Allie’s trick with the ankle monitor has left them with no idea of the route the family is taking, and an overworked, understaffed border patrol can’t help them either. Maybe, though, the local militias who patrol the border on a volunteer basis can. It’s a truck full of those guys who head off the Fox’s during the trip, causing Allie to speak to them personally (Chuy: “Hey white guy, go out-white them.”). This scene is very effectively tense. You can imagine the kind of people who voluntarily patrol the border hunting immigrants, so they’re especially curious about the “two Latino-looking” fellas in the front seat, but they’re so amused by Allie’s story of them being a birding family that they’re willing to let him go. Until that is, they return to their truck and get a description of the fugitives on the radio. Immediately, guns are drawn on both sides, and a standoff precedes a shootout which Chuy survives but Juan doesn’t. The geography of this scene doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, since it’s extremely unlikely that Chuy could have killed all of the militia from the position he was in, though it seems that’s what happened — it’s hard to tell since The Mosquito Coast season 1, episode 2 cuts away from the action. Either way, with several bodies to their credit and the NSA hot on their tails, the Fox family continues their journey as the butterfly from the top of the episode alights on the dehydrated corpse of an animal, and a fly crawls happily across Juan’s dead, open eye.