We discussed the significance of the episode titles of the first season of The Red Road in our review of the second episode “The Wolf and the Dog“, one of a handful of Native American legends employed as allusion and metaphor for the events of the series. “The Bad Weapons” is no different, but the episode goes one further in attempting to apply the belief systems of the given tribe (in this case the Blackfoot Nation) to the moral quandaries of Philip Kopus, Harold Jensen, and the other residents of Walpole, NJ.
There’s a Red Road subplot revolving around the years-ago death of Jean’s twin brother that rears its head again in “Bad Weapons”. It’s certainly an important history for the show (or at least the opening season), mainly because of the subtle intimation that Kopus might have been involved in that untimely demise. But as Jean and Harold’s daughter Rachel discovers tape recordings of the twin’s stream of consciousness, that particular storyline slips away from importance and approaches convenience instead.
The reason for that is because the musings of Jean’s twin (Scotty? Is his name Scotty? Let’s call him Scotty) are far too unsubtle, clumsily direct and very obviously meant to be paralleled in the current events of the series. To boot, Scotty’s spontaneous and deep reflections sound rehearsed and recited, eventually seeming not-so-spontaneous (and not-so-deep). Most disappointingly, their discovery by Rachel means that there’s very little room for subtext with a lot of what he’s saying. His yarn about children being born “the way they’re supposed to be” before parents mold them into something else isn’t all bad, but in Rachel’s hands it’s brutally on-the-nose. She’s a minute or two away from holding a boombox over her head with Scotty’s Showtunes blasting across the neighborhood.
Thankfully, we can dig for subtext in the Blackfoot legends (one of which is a Man vs. Bear tale called “The Legend of the Bad Weapons”). Among the proud traditions of the Blackfoot Indians is the belief that nobody is born evil, which might seem simple and straightforward upon first read. Consider, though, that many shun this tabula rasa-esque outlook in favor of a more “man is doomed” ideology, which, admittedly, can still have an optimistic twist if you look at the grand-scheme opportunities for redemption through living. Consider also that The Red Road tends to focus on this idea of nurtured evil quite a bit, especially with regards to the parent-child relationships within the Kopus family. I like that something as simple as an episode title can lead one into all of this legend stuff, and that’s probably why I hate the fact that Scotty makes all of this so explicit in his tapes. It’s unnecessary.
This leads me to Junior (Kiowa Gordon), Philip’s younger brother, a character we’ve hardly discussed at all. He’s usually seen in relation to other people — his on-and-off girlfriend Rachel, his mother, and Philip himself. He’s a prime example of this idea that a young man, if left to his own ways, will be a good man. Philip complicates this by just being there, subtly steering Junior towards a darker path in a way that only Philip can. Some of the best parts of “The Bad Weapons” concern Junior’s involvement with Kopus and Mike Parker, but he’s still not a very complete character. I want Junior to become an actual stand-on-his-own-two-feet character, not just a relation of Kopus or a relation of Harold’s daughter.
Still, on the Kopus front, we’re able to say what we usually say: shit goes down. Kopus explicitly threatens Harold and in doing so kind of exposes his hand, but it doesn’t bode poorly for him (yet). It seems like Harold covers for Kopus an awful lot in “The Bad Weapons”, but then again Kopus is the kind of guy who can wring a surprising amount of leverage out of a few small strings of knowledge. The NYPD shows up (one of them is Mars from season one of Lost!) and puts extra pressure on Harold in their investigation of Mike, as if Harold needed extra pressure.
That investigation isn’t going to go very far, though, because Kopus ends up killing Mike by the close of the hour. They sit for a meal together prior to this violent occurrence, and the foreboding nature of the lobster dinner is beautiful (we talked about these dark thematic overtones of The Red Road in our pilot review of “Arise My Love, Shake Off This Dream“, and the comparison to the feel of True Detective crops up again here). You might have no idea what Kopus is about to do as the pair discuss how great it would be to eat lobster every night, but there’s no doubt that something is about to happen. That feeling is fantastically unsettling, and it’s a large part of what makes The Red Road worth watching despite all of the nitpicky pitfalls we’ve mentioned here.