‘Reprisal’ Season 1 Review: Thank You, Abigail Spencer

“I come from bad blood. Bad blood and dark days.” Doris.

Reprisal is a slow burn, and it should be enjoyed as such. You must watch this show like you are savoring a good wine or bourbon. I binged it, but I think it’s best enjoyed as a four course meal. You must watch, digest, and watch again, discuss all the flavors and nuances, then sit back for dessert at the end. Because even though so much of the storyline is about the revenge of a woman scorned and her quest to take down those who wronged her, it’s equally important to pay close attention to everyone’s backstory.

Josh Corbin and Justin Boyd have woven together this intricate world of wannabe gangsters, biker gangs, and Bang-a-Rangs.  You’re never sure if the characters are living in the past or present or both. They all dress like it’s the 1950’s, drive vintage cars with no air conditioners, and watch television on sets from the 1980’s.  They use cell phones that flip, which is very 90’s but the house phones are rotary lines, very 60’s.

I DUG IT!

Personally, I like when directors mix with genre’s and highly stylized settings, it was very Cohen Brothers meets Quentin Tarantino meets Wes Anderson.  Abigail Spencer, stars as Doris/Katherine, and she embodies both light and dark, vulnerability and strength, perfection and poise. All of the characters the writers have created are fully realized and complicated, and they come through because of her, she is the beating heart of the show, the driving force and the show’s compass.

In one word, Abigail Spencer is brilliant.

Listen, I will be the first to admit that I was on the fence about how good this show would be and about Abigail being able to fight, or hold a gun or kick anyone’s ass. I was skeptical she could appear as tough (she’s so damn pretty). But Abigail proved me wrong, and I am happy about it! There is one scene in particular where she/Doris kills someone, with what looks like an AR-15, while sitting down in a chair having a perfectly lovely and calm conversation.  My jaw hit the floor and I choked on my wine, I wasn’t expecting that, and neither was the guy she shot.

Well done Abigail, well done!

Not everyone or everything is exceptional on Reprisal, I do have some criticisms. Like for example, it is at times gratuitously violent, but the violence drives the plot so I went with it. Also, Katherine/Doris needed more of a back-story to me, I grew tired of learning about the character Joel and what made him tick; honestly I didn’t care as much about him as the writers wanted me to.

I wanted to know Katherines/Doris’s entire backstory, not just the snippets the writers wanted to show me. How did Katherine and Bash fall in love? I wanted to see Katherine’s interactions in the Bang-a-rang club, was she always a spit fire or did almost being murdered turn her into one? I have a lot of unanswered questions about Katherine. Also what was she doing for 10 years?  How did Katherine become Doris? Why did she chose the name Doris? Why did she became a caterer? How did she and Tommy meet? When did she dye her hair blonde?

Clearly, all of this needs to be explored in season 2.

Joel, who is like the oldest Brawler in the world, has a seven year old daughter, named Lyla, and she was intriguing at first, because she kept speaking prophetically about owls, and finding your purpose and your why in life. Then by the end of the series, she really made no sense as a character at all, and the plot would have still been driven forward without her. It would have made more sense for Katherine/Doris to narrate her own story or use Sam Shepard or Morgan Freeman to narrate her story, both would have been fantastic and both would have added to the lore that Reprisal was pushing to convey.

The breakout stars for me were Molly, played beautifully by Bethany Anne Lind, Meredith, played by Madison Davenport, (she was my personal favorite) Craig Tate as Earl and Wavyy Jonez as Cordell. I could watch the four of them all day. Each time they were on the screen, I was still and quiet, trying to take in everything they said and did. What was the most hilarious to me, was the chemistry between Cordell and Katherine/Doris. I feel like Abigail Spencer and Wavvy Jonez are both comedians at heart, watching their interactions was priceless.

The sweltering heat was also a character in this series. Reprisal was shot in Wilmington, NC which in my opinion, might be the humidity capital of the world. Literally everyone was sweating, all of the time or looked very hot and uncomfortable. Perhaps that was the point. The only character I never saw break a sweat was Katherine/Doris and perhaps that is also the point. Katherine/Doris was always calm, always in control, able to control her own inner turmoil and sweat at will.

I’m breaking down the entire series of Reprisal into 3 Acts.  Like a trinity. A beginning, middle and end. There is so much to unpack and dissect that I fear I may not touch on it all, but I hope to try. Read on for my review bitches, and buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy, HOT, ride.

Act I

The Wolf and The Lamb 

Reprisal goes back and forth from past to present, to give you a glimpse into who these characters were before we met them. It’s helpful to understand their motives and sometimes grief. People are extremely complicated, and these characters are no different. The girl I thought was just a sassy stripper turned out to be Meredith, Burt’s daughter and the Eve to Katherine/Doris’s Margo Channing.

Both women have duality; both have lost people important to them through betrayal and lies, and both are/were being manipulated by a man named Burt. Burt is like the puppet master who sets Katherine’s/Doris’ revenge quest in motion. Her brother by birth, Burt kept her in a gilded cage that he built and threw her into the life he wanted for her, so that he could control her. Meredith is also being manipulated by Burt, her father and he is grooming her, in the same way he did Katherine. If Meredith ever aligns with Katherine all hell will break loose and that is what Burt is afraid of: two powerful women coming together to take him down.

Burt is a real mother fucker, a sociopath who believes what he is doing is for the greater good of everyone involved. Burt’s entire world is built on lies. He gives orders, and manipulates those he loves, and shows no mercy to those he feels have wronged him or his family. You would think he’d have a soft spot for his sister Katherine, after their mother dies and he kills their abusive father, but nope!  Katherine is a piece of property to him, and a woman to boot. Burt doesn’t see Katherine as a real threat, so when she crosses him, and his gang, the Brawlers, he has her chained to a truck, drug around a race track, and left for dead in a muddy field. Her husband Bash, also a Brawler, does nothing to stop Burt and is actually the driver. It’s very fucked up.

Needless to say, you understand why Katherine’s pissed and why she wants everyone who assisted Burt in almost killing her to die. When we meet Katherine again, about ten years later, she’s changed her name to Doris, is married to Tommy, who seems much older and who is on his deathbed. Doris runs a successful catering company that she and Tommy founded together, and she really does seem to care for him.

Doris wears glasses and is blonde, she looks almost like Janet Leigh, so demure and not at all strong nor complex. Doris is so calm that its eerie, she drinks a helluva lot of tea and her voice is high pitched and soft. However, underneath all of that exterior lies a sleeping dragon that is “woke”, ready and determined. I wanted Katherine/Doris to own her sadness and rage, not bottle it up, because when Doris is pissed, she is one to be reckoned with.

Tommy has some shady friends who are running a side business out of his and Doris’s restaurant. Namly Big Graham, who is a real asshole. He punches Doris in the face and slams her against a metal table, I’m pretty sure he breaks her ribs too. But, Doris doesn’t back down from him and burns the contract he forced her to sign naming Collin, Tommy’s son, as the sole heir to the family’s fortune.

Don’t fuck with Doris.

Just ask Collin, Tommy’s deadbeat derelict son, Collin got a zip tie around his neck and a bullet in his head for crossing her. He really did deserve it though, what an asshole! I was not sorry to see him go. As Doris kills him she purrs softly, “I feel as though something is waking up inside me, this darkness, like a sickness, and you helped me realize it.”

You’re next, Big Graham! I can’t wait until Doris gets ahold of your ass.

I understood Katherine/Doris’s pain and rage.Those men beat her and left her for dead. I wanted her to have her revenge. They deserved to die in my opinion, and she should be the one to do it.

Cue Molly, Doris’s sister in-law and belittled and abused housewife of Collin. Katherine/Doris takes Molly under her wing and she does not disappoint. Molly ends up beating a man to death with an iron, because he was trying to kill her and come for Doris next. ONE OF THE BEST SCENES EVER.

Molly ripped his ass apart and pieces of his body were strewn across the ceiling. Homegirl had a lot of repressed rage, but like it was totally self defense.

Once Katherine/Doris assembles her dream team, AK.A. The Monster Squad the plot starts to come together and she can really work on her plan to take down the Brawlers. With Molly serving as the gang’s getaway driver and nurse, Doris,Cordell and Earl can concentrate on robbing the Bang-a-rang with Doris’s inside man Ethan now a part of The 3 Rivers.  I’m not gonna lie, Earl was not a likeable character at first, he was an asshole and kept calling Doris, Dottie, which pissed me off. I guess it was a running joke, because he literally still called her Dottie in episode 10, but by that time they were friends, so I guess I’ll allow it.

Also, I kept wondering if Katherine/Doris and Earl were attracted to one another, or if it was just the natural chemistry between actors Abigail and Craig? They are both physically attractive and were naturally drawn to one another because of shared pain, so I didn’t mind it.  Hopefully there is a season two of Reprisal so their relationship can be explored more. I’d really like for Katherine/Doris to find some happiness again, she deserves it and honestly so does Earl, his wife/baby mama Bernice is not at all happy with Earl, for going on this quest with Katherine/Doris. I don’t blame her, past all of Earl and Katherine/Doris bickering there is a spark.

I could have spent more time in Burt’s Bang-a-Rang, mostly because I wanted to see what all the girls go through in one day, I know they have to put up with all kinds of shit. They put on this burlesque show and it was very cabaret, all that was truly missing was Sally Bowls, some Bob Fosse choreography and a straight back chair for the girls to glide down on, while snapping and wearing bowler hats.

Yes, I LOVED IT.

I could have used less of the Brawlers and their rival gang the Ghouls. BIG YAWN. I didn’t even understand why they were fighting? It was so dumb. Honestly, if someone had done a even the tiniest bit of digging or used their fucking brains they could have figured out that Burt was the cause of all of their issues and delusions of some epic battle that took place, many years ago.

However, I did like the 3 River Phoenix’s, a.k.a. The 3 Rivers, Matty, Ethan and Johnson, played by Rhys Wakefield, Mena Massoud and David Dastmalchian.

Matty’s character is hilarious and breaks down what they do v. what the Brawlers do, which was extremely helpful. The 3 Rivers assist the Brawlers in any way they can, but are not true Brawlers. The 3 Rivers, are much younger, dress better, but they also drink day and night. How are any of them driving, let alone shooting folks?

The Brawlers who are all older men, in wife beaters and mechanic tees are constantly working on old cars and older motorcycles. They all live in trailers, that appear to have no air conditioning and everyone’s in everyone else’s business. Uh, hard pass for this gal. Literally no one is fit, except for Joel and like I said he was always fucking sweating and he’s much older!

Side note: I just could not deal with all the sweat on these dirty men. It drove me crazy! Sue me. I wanted everyone to take a hot shower with lots of soap and a nail brush. I hated it,and I could not stand to watch sweat dripping of someone who was covered in motor oil, drinking a beer and who constantly had dirty fingernails.

Ewwwww, so not sexy. Next Please!

Act II

‘Pop! Six! Squish! Uh-Oh! Cicero! Lipschitz!’

Several characters besides Katherine/Doris are on a journey in this series. Meredith, Katherine’s niece, thinks she wants a different life besides being a stripper at her father’s Bang-a-Rang, and I rooted for her until she bought into all of the bullshit lies her father told her.

Then I was like, Meredith honey, you seemed like a badass bitch, but now your being a dumbass bitch. I wasn’t cool with how she was being manipulated and I assumed Meredith was smarter than how she was behaving. Okay yes, she didn’t know she was adopted, so I’ll give her a pass for that realization, but um, hello!  Meredith, put the fucking pieces together girl!  Burt literally has no pictures of your  mother lying around anywhere and no one can remember her.

Get a clue.

The two people Meredith trusted the most, Burt and Queenie (the brothel madam) betrayed her, because both of them killed her parents in a rage 18 years ago. Queenie bludgeoned Meredith’s mother (her former lover) to death with a cast iron skillet and Burt strangled her father. If that wasn’t bad enough, they kidnapped Meredith and raised her as their own. What’s even more fucked up, is Burt lies again, and tells Meredith that it was Katherine who killed her mother and father!

Ensue Meredith’s rage and death wish for Katherine. It’s all very Shakesperian, and is equally as dark and cunning.

Ethan, who is also on a journey, though not because he really wants to be, is a chicken shit and always acting like a scared little boy. He looked completely about to piss his pants in all 10 episodes. Grow a set, Ethan! I had no idea why Katherine/Doris was so fond of him. Ethan is weak and Katherine is kinda using him in order to get to Burt, but Ethan also needs her protection so it’s a win/win for both of them if they help each other.

I liked, Earl and Cordell, who were like Robin and Little John, they robbed the wicked and gave it back to the poor. The only problem is, years earlier Earl was more of the wicked kind of criminal, and then his only son died at the hands of a gangster. Bernice was devastated and never forgave Earl, and Earl’s perspective shifted. Now, he takes vengeance against any and all gangsters or individuals who are evil in his eyes, and who rob people of their hard earned money.

The second half is also about the purpose and the self realizations for the Monster Squad and Katherine/Doris. For Katherine/Doris, its to make things right, and kill those who wronged her. For Earl and Cordell it’s all the money in the Bang-a-Rang vault, in return for helping Katherine/Doris take out several Brawlers along the way.

With everyone double crossing everyone and the ever growing lies of Burt is it a wonder both Katherine/Doris and Meredith want a different life than what they were brought up in? Who can blame Katherine/Doris for wanting to take down Burt once and for all? Certainly not me.

With all of the drama and action between Katherine/Doris, Meredith and Ethan I found it really hard to care or keep up with all the Brawlers nonsense. Word to the wise Reprisal writers, less of the Brawlers next season please, their story lines were slooooooow and I was not invested in any of them.

Okay, I lied. I was invested in two of the Brawlers, Bash and Burt. Bash because he was once married to Katherine and they were madly, deeply in love, and Burt because he is the mastermind behind all of the Brawlers and Ghouls wars, which he both planned and provoked purposely. Burt is also Meredith’s manipulator and warden, and he almost led to Katherine’s demise by chaining her to a truck and nearly killing her in the process. Dude is crazy, and I wanted to know what made him tick.

Act  III

‘Doris and the Beheading of Holofernes’

In the final three episodes of Reprisal, Ethan starts to waiver with his loyalty to Doris, Bash knows Katherine is coming for him, and the Monster Squad gets threatened in an unexpected way.

When Katherine/Doris said she wanted revenge on those who wronged her she was not playing. I think for her it’s about standing up for herself and less about revenge, though it’s mostly about revenge. Ha!

There are so many women who are abused, beaten, and raped by men. Everyday, every minute and every hour a woman is affected. Not many women get to take out the man/men who hurt them. Katherine/Doris does, and it’s very, very satisfying both for her and the audience.

What I think is so hard for Katherine is the fact that these men were people she considered her friends and some family, so it appalling to her, and demoralizing that they would attack her in such a way and leave her for dead on a race track, no less.

So, when Katherine/Doris walks into the barbershop to kill one of her former friends and transgressors, Percy, she does not bat a fucking eye, only tells him, “We were so close, at one time, which is why what I’m about to do to you right now, will make me very, very meloncholy.” Then she shoots him and stabs him, and casually walks out of the barbershop feeling relieved and re-energized.

Katherine/Doris is a badass and I love her.

Time to move on to phase two of Katherine/Doris’s plan. Rob the Bang-a-Rang and kill Bash, seems simple enough, but there is a snare in the plan, even I didn’t see coming. The vaults at the Bang-a-Rang that were supposed to hold all of the cash are now completely empty! I gasped! There is no way that Burt saw this coming, he thought Katherine was dead this entire time, until his friends bodies start popping up everywhere, so there was no way he had the time or the manpower to move all of the money in the vault. So, who moved it and when?

The writers don’t even dwell on that so much as the knock out drag out fight between the Monster Squad and the Brawlers. Katherine comes head to head with Queenie, who recognizes her instantly and neither one harms each other, thank God. It looks like they have a truce or some sort of unspoken agreement because Queenie calls Katherines name softly and with pity when she sees her.

There are not many women who are in charge of anything at Burts Bang-a-Rang, so I hope the few women in charge stick up for one another and look out for one another.  Is that asking for too much? Maybe. It is so easy for these women to believe the worst of Katherine. To believe that she was the downfall of the Brawlers, that it was she who betrayed them and killed the Ghouls so many years ago. Yet, it was a lie. Burt concocted the entire myth/lie around her in order to gain control over his blind followers, the Brawlers. What better way to make someone loyal to you, then to convince them you saved their life and they need you.

Burt convinced everyone that Katherine murdered eight men and started the war between the Brawlers and Ghouls. Seriously? She’s not Beatrix from Kill Bill, she’s not a trained assassin. But, since the writers gave us very little backstory on who Katherine was before she became Doris, I can’t back up or disregard Burts chilling account of what Katherine was like pre Doris. I can only assume Katherine was a badass and no one messed with her, however, she obviously had a weak spot, and that was Bash.

When we first meet Bash, I was not convinced he had anything to do with Katherine’s death. BUT then he almost killed two Ghouls with his bare hands and didn’t lift one of them off of the ground. He’s a total nerd, and he wears glasses, which just looks so out of place on a man like him. He was just odd. Like, gentle but vicious, like he’s a killer with  astigmatism.

I wondered if Katherine and Bash had a child and perhaps the writers would reveal that little detail near the end, but I was wrong. I hate to be wrong.

Bash has the nerve to be mad at Katherine for killing Percy his best friend. Say what now? Are you fucking kidding me Bash! You and Percy attempted to murder Katherine with no remorse because you were acting on Burts orders, yet you have the audacity to be upset with Katherine? Get the fuck outta here with that!  So now, we have two pissed off people, Katherine, and Bash.

When Katherine and Bash finally  confront one another at their former home, the audience knows what is coming next. There is no salvation for Bash, Katherine is not going to forgive him, they are not going to kiss and make up. There are no longing looks of love, only despair, anger and broken hearts.

So it’s only appropriate that Katherine straddles Bash in an armchair after shooting him in the leg. The Rocky Horror Shows “Dammit Janet” plays in the background on an old record player. Katherine looks him in the eyes and tears fall down her cheeks but she does not waver in her decision and at each verse of “Dammit Janet” she stabs Bash relentlessly. Apparently Katherine and Bash used to love this song and sang it all the time to one another. It was an effective scene to watch. Heartbreaking but effective.

All of Katherines loose ends are being tied up. Percy is dead, Bash is dead and Burt is next on her hit list. Cue her getting a good night’s sleep to plot out how she wants to take Burts ass out. We finally get a flashback to the night she was attacked, and the morning after. Queenie is the one who found her lying in a field, clothes hanging off her, face down in the mud, almost as if she had drowned. I think Queenie was surprised and relieved Katherine had lived and takes care of her, but tells Burt she buried the body.

Queenie nurses Katherine for weeks, feeding her, bathing her, giving her I.V. medications, and nursing her wounds. Once Katherine is healthy and can walk again, Queenie puts her on a bus to get as far away from Burt as she can and tells her never look back and never come back. Katherine agrees, but only reluctantly. Before they part, Queenie gives Katherine a gun, one she stole when she was a bank robber, Katherine has used that gun this entire time to take out folks and now we know its origin story.

This entire season has been about Doris/Katherine’s journey back to her home. Doris/Katherine’s need for revenge on those who wronged her and left her for dead. Doris/Katherine has no sympathy for anyone who attacked her and she offers them no forgiveness. When Katherine and Burt meet for one final time, you know we’ve come full circle and Katherine is a fully realized character, she is no longer Doris, but her former self made whole again. Burt seems to think he can get in Katherines head by offering her a plea deal. Burt will let her live and let her rejoin the Brawlers if she agrees to stop killing everyone. No deal and Burt meets his maker.

The power dynamic between Katherine and Burt is crazy, and  the audience realizes that, Katherine has always had the upper hand. Queenie thinks Katherine is unarmed when she and Burt have their family reunion, and I wondered why was it okay for Burt to come to this meeting with a weapon (his cane) and Katherine to show up empty handed?

Rude.

So, when she and Burt have one last family meeting, I was not at all surprised she pulled the trigger first and shot Burt before he could shoot her. Bye Burt!  Then, she  got up, walked away, said goodbye to Queenie, and drove off, just as she had 10 years before.

Katherine thinks she is completely different from Burt. That they are not the same person,or cut from the same cloth. However, that is not entirely true. Katherine’s entire arc this season is built on getting what she wants by any means. Katherine/Doris has manipulated both Ethan and Molly, and forced Earl and Cordell’s hand in order to have allies. Were her actions right? Or justified? I hope there is a second season so that can be explored. Katherine/Doris is a complicated character and she is both the protagonist and the antagonist. The heroine and the villain. Katherine has left a lot of chaos in her wake of revenge and she doesn’t seem too sorry about any of it.

Humans are complicated creatures. Katherine is a broken and complex creature. I rooted for her to get her revenge, but I also cringed as I watched her manipulate people and hurt people in the process. Katherine is capable of truly loving someone and opening her heart to someone, unlike Burt, and maybe next season that part of her will be explored in greater detail.

For Katherine, she did what she set out to do, kill Burt, but there will be repercussions I’m sure. For now, Earl had to go back home because Bernice was being held hostage by Big Graham. The Ghouls kidnap Lyla, which sends Joel into a rampage and gives his life some purpose again, and Ethan rejoins the Phoenixes after he chooses them over Doris.

Katherine stands alone at the end, she doesn’t have a home to go back to and she no longer has a family either. Molly will probably stick by her side, and Cordell will stick by Molly’s side, he kinda low key likes her. But as for everyone else, now what? Will Earl rejoin them? Will Doris need to come to Earl’s rescue and save Bernice from Big Graham? Will Meredith figure out the truth about Katherine’s back story and supposed betrayal? Or will she set out to kill Katherine when she finds out Burt has died?

There is so much to look forward to in season 2 of Reprisal. So many unanswered questions and character stories to explore. I’ve really enjoyed watching the series, and I pray Hulu renews it for a second season. I am invested in these characters and their journeys and the redemption arcs I know are coming. The soundtrack was ahmazing too, and the clothes were so well worn and looked like perfection walking. Everything about this show was refreshing and brightened up what can usually be a dull December, since most cable shows have nothing airing between November-January. I welcomed the energy it brought and I loved having Abigail Spencer back on my television screen.

Reprisal is currently streaming on Hulu.

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1 Comment

  1. Did that really look like an ar15?

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