The Red Road, great as it is, is like any other show in the history of television: it has weak spots. “The Woman Who Fell from the Sky”, the third episode of the opening season, is likely the first time the chinks in the armor are visible. The writing up until this point has been largely commendable, succumbing to the occasional been-there-done-that moment, but mostly avoiding them, hinting at new roads (red ones) instead of relishing the old ones. “Woman” is a bit shakier, but thankfully Jason Momoa’s Philip Kopus, far and away the best character on the show, does what he can to save this particular episode from sliding wholly into those moments of cliché.
These days, “antihero” is like a curse word. We’re living in a post-Breaking Bad world, so the last word on the TV antihero thing has kind of been said. Does that mean antiheroes should be avoided altogether? Of course not. But is that what Kopus is? Hard to say. He has some qualities of an antihero in that he’s definitely a bad guy, robbing medical wholesalers and dealing in guns and drugs and manipulating kids, but he’s simultaneously someone you root for. It’s fun as hell to watch him do his thing, even if that thing isn’t strictly legal.
And the presence of Harold kind of complicates that, too. Harold’s set up to be “the good guy”, and his break into bad is kind of due to Kopus’ manipulations to begin with — but still, like Kopus, Harold’s way more interesting when he’s on a mission. Frequently, his missions are more and more illicit. At the very least, if the antihero formula is somewhere at the heart of The Red Road, the juxtaposition of Kopus and Harold makes it somewhat fresh. Time will tell, though, whether The Red Road is able to go one further with these characters.
A new character introduced in this episode is Lisa Bonet’s Sky Van Der Veen, an activist introduced during a protest outside the police station in Walpole. Her run-in with Kopus does more to introduce us to Sky, but it also does more to introduce us to Kopus. We find out more about his past in “Woman” than in the two opening episodes, delving into both the good and the bad, and some insight on his watchful demeanor is revealed. He and Sky reminisce about waiting at the bus stop together, Sky telling him that even if one of the older schoolboys started shoving him he wouldn’t budge. He’d just watch. We talked about Kopus watching in three separate scenes from the pilot episode “Arise My Love, Shake Off This Dream“, and here we find he’s been the silent observer for nearly his whole life.
…nearly. The nostalgic remembrance of a tiny little Philip Kopus waiting at the bus stop with his lunch pack packed and his shoes tied tight evaporates when Junior and Rachel go to retrieve a gun from Jack Kopus, Philip’s father. Jack’s memory of his young son is slightly less pleasant, as he imparts the revelation that Kopus killed someone when he was only eight years old. “My son is a murderer,” he seethes. Not only does this provide a dichotomous picture of Philip’s past, but it directly pits one memory against the other. It’s devastating to consider that the latter darker version inexorably wins out: Kopus never rose to bus stop taunts because he knew he was capable of killing, and was afraid he’d do it again.
Kopus himself — our Kopus, or Jason Momoa’s, at any rate — also remembers both sides. “I remember you from the bus stop, too,” he tells Sky. It’d almost be cute if he wasn’t such a gigantic and hulking presence. But later, driving in the car with Junior, Kopus nods and advises him that “anything that makes you stronger is good.” He says it with such conviction that his past seems to have set him on this particular course, that he believes the murder he committed when he was only eight years old was truly good because it has strengthened him. The question, then, isn’t which past does Kopus remember but which one does he use – he remembers both, and both can be of use to him as he manipulates his way through his old hometown, through the good people and the bad.
So the supporting characters in “The Woman Who Fell from the Sky” are the main culprits as far as weak writing goes. Junior’s mother deploys the “I have cancer” revelation so suddenly and awkwardly that it’s difficult to tell whether the line itself is poorly placed or the delivery of it was botched, but one might suspect it’s both. Still, as long as these moments don’t become more commonplace in later seasons of The Red Road, characters like Kopus more than make up for the occasional roll of the eyes.