“Pretty Baby” loses some of the pilot’s style, but doubles down on a mystery that is beginning to take more shape. Bernthal remains the primary reason to keep watching.
This recap of American Gigolo season 1, episode 2, “Pretty Baby”, contains spoilers.
The messy premiere of Showtime’s American Gigolo remake was about flirting with the style of the beloved 1980 original but focusing on the least interesting aspect of it. The second episode, “Pretty Baby”, is about doubling down on that approach but providing even less style, instead plodding through Julian Kaye’s post-prison existence as he tries to find a job and some lodgings and figure out if he’s being followed by more than the cute stray dog who tails him from the beach and will probably become a plot point later.
American Gigolo season 1, episode 2 recap
Full disclosure: I’m enough of a Jon Bernthal mark that I mostly didn’t mind any of this. The confusing structure, which remains dense with flashbacks to multiple time periods, gives his Julian an excuse to cycle through modes so expertly that you can see why he and his fine head of hair were chosen for this role, despite him typically playing morally questionable tough guys. Julian, despite a decade and a half of prison time and the tattoos and 3% body fat to show for it, never seems tough to me. He’s a man haunted by his own past, the failure of the only relationship that ever felt genuine to him, and the loss of so much of his life as a patsy for the woman who groomed him in the first place.
As per the cliffhanger ending of the premiere, we’re supposed to assume that Julian’s madame, Olga, organized the hit on his client that doubled as him being framed for her murder. But Olga is way past her prime. In fact, she’s barely alive, and her niece Isabelle, whom we see as a darling child in a flashback before whipping back to her essentially raping Julian in the present day, is now in charge of the old operation. Lorenzo, Julian’s supposed best friend, is deferent to Isabelle, which is why he neglected to mention the state of Olga’s health. Julian still wants answers, but it looks very much like he isn’t going to get any.
So, he does what anyone fresh out of prison would do – he tries to secure a job and a place to live. The former comes from an old prison associate whom he hooks up with on Venice Beach, where a seemingly stray dog starts following him around. It’s low-paid, menial work in a restaurant kitchen, but it’s honest, and with that, he’s able to finesse a downstairs room from his new landlady, Lizzy (Yolonda Ross). He helps her to clear out the belongings of the previous tenant, an elderly lady who died in the bathroom and whom Lizzy was obviously fond of. Julian and Lizzy eat and smoke together, and he’s up-front about his time in prison and his former occupation. His idealized description of child grooming and sexual exploitation sounds like the excuses he must have told himself to get through it, but flashbacks to him as a younger man expertly making lonely women feel seen suggest the show buys into this idea of his past to a worrying degree.
His past also includes Michelle, obviously, but aside from a brief flashback of them together, Michelle is mostly sidelined here. Her son, Colin – Colin! — has still absconded with his teacher, and her wealthy husband Richard Stratton (Leland Orser) has dispatched his best man, McGregor (Mark Mahoney), to retrieve the pair of them. But Michelle knows what McGregor really does, which we’re to assume is kill people, or at least rough them up. She’s worried that he’ll hurt Colin, and potentially his lady friend, Elizabeth (Laura Liguori), so she goes to see Elizabeth’s husband Chris (Shaun J. Brown) to try and find them before McGregor does.
Meanwhile, an increasingly obsessive Detective Sunday, who can’t get anything out of Julian or Finnegan, since the former doesn’t seem to be interested and the latter has died, turns her attention to the only lead she has — “Keen”, or “the Queen”, or simply Olga. But when she visits Olga’s residence, she’s stymied by a Frenchman named Guy (Lothaire Bluteau) and then must go out of her way to secure a warrant from a judge she knows named Wettick (S. Zylan Brooks). By the time she gets into the building, both Guy and Olga are dead from gunshot wounds. The only sign of life in the house is Olga’s ringing phone, which Julian is calling repeatedly.
Why? Well, earlier, Guy procured a file from a religious school of a student named Lisa Beck, which he later deposited in Julian’s car. Flicking through it, Julian recognized Lisa as one of his former dates. What’s her relevance? Why did Guy, and presumably Olga, want Julian to see her file? How does this all connect back to Isabelle and the assassination of Janet Holmes? Questions, questions. You’ll know as soon as we do.