There was no small degree of uncertainty with regards to the direction The Red Road could take after a successful first season. Jason Momoa’s Phillip Kopus, the heart and soul of the show, seemed headed for prison; Martin Henderson’s Harold Jensen somehow came out in front of both Kopus and the ongoing familial strife that had plagued his wife Jean and their household for the past few months. But with a few major storylines seemingly reaching their conclusions — particularly one about the years-ago death of Jean’s twin brother and one about Kopus’s manipulation of Harold —where would season two go? “Gifts” starts by picking up right where the first season finale “Snaring of the Sun” left off, with Kopus being his usual menacing self and Harold showing he’s learned how to lie pretty damn effectively.
But that first scene is more of a coda to season one than it is a prelude to season two, as we’re soon treated to the ONE YEAR LATER tag that introduces the world of season two. And calling it a “world” is intentional, because although many of the same players are here the second season of The Red Road is already very different than the first (there are some new faces too [Wes Studi!]). We spoke a little about the setting of Road and the way in which it relates to the characters in our review of “Snaring”, so it was nice to see “Gifts” really run with that idea.
The first and most obvious way this occurs is in the granting of federal recognition to the Lenape tribe of the Ramapo mountains. For years the mountain passes and lakes have been utilized by partying teenagers and hunters from Walpole, and only now is it becoming protected Lenape land. Some — like Kopus — would argue that the federal funding doesn’t mean a thing, that the mountain was always theirs and that their tribe was always exactly what it needed to be. That shift in ownership over the land raises interesting questions about the overall setting of the show, chief among them not being is this public land or Lenape land? but more accurately is this really anyone’s land?
As noted previously, the wide shot of Kopus and Jean in “Snaring of the Sun” serves to underscore how insignificant they both may feel by keeping the looming city on the horizon:
And so it’s a fantastic parallel when “Gifts” employs a similar shot as Kopus fulfills his court-ordered community service on the side of a highway:
There’s the vast and modern world in the distance, threatening to encroach on land that previously needed no governmental recognition or protection. Director Randall Einhorn is a natural fit into the series due to deep framing like this, and a later shot that mirrors the opening shot of the first season reinforces the paradisiacal nature of the mountain environment. And the people from that environment? Just as the massive Kopus seems so small in that shot from “Snaring”, the sequence following the above shot in “Gifts” shows Harold driving by in his police cruiser. One might think Harold and Kopus could smell each other a mile off by this point — but he drives by without so much as a glance in Kopus’s direction. Garbed in the same yellow hat and reflective vest as his co-convicts, Kopus is once again just a piece of the larger landscape.
Which isn’t to say that Kopus can’t influence his surroundings (à la Departed‘s Frank Costello — “I want my environment to be a product of me“). A significant portion of the events of season one were initiated or controlled by Kopus, and it’s not difficult to expect to see more of that as new challenges arise in coming episodes. But “Gifts” differed from anything in the first season by focusing on a different side of Kopus. As the camera zooms out of the open roof of the ramshackle hut where Kopus is squatting (which basically looks like Laurence Olivier’s doll-filled mansion from Sleuth), we get an overwhelming sense that Kopus is a really lonely guy. He killed his best friend Mike in last season’s “The Bad Weapons“, and in “Gifts” he’s confronted with the realization that Mike now has a baby son. He leaves and steps in the ever-growing blue goo that pollutes the Ramapos, and it’s a reminder that he threw Mike’s body into a big puddle of the stuff after killing him.
His “mission” for the season might have to do with the death of Mac and the guidance of young Junior, who suddenly doesn’t seem so young anymore. But we’ll have to wait for that, and to see how this lonely side of the brute from the first season might play into his morality. That’s shifting, too — the moralities of Kopus and Harold — along with the ownership of the land around these men, and hopefully that means season two of The Red Road will seem as fresh as the first.