TV Review: ‘Animal Kingdom’ (1×3) “Stay Close, Stick Together”

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Baz is cheating on his girlfriend with his girlfriend, Pope is trying to earn his spot within the family back, Craig survives his gunshot wound by getting high in Mexico, Daren passive aggressively tries to drown J right after denying his attraction to men, Catherine attempts to shield her daughter from Smurf by letting Smurf kidnap her daughter from a grocery store, and J is still just along for the ride.

What a great episode of Animal Kingdom. After a quick start to the first two episodes last week, the third episode, “Stay Close, Stick Together,” slows the pace down a bit so that we get to understand just who these people are and what drives them to do what they do (steal stuff and just generally be horrible people).

Even though last week seemed to set up the main conflict for the rest of the season (the Cody family attempting to cover up their accidental killing of a cop), it’s still business as usual for the Codys as Daren and Pope rope J into helping them steal 10 grand from a guy, Adrian, who was late owing them money. From what I could tell, Adrian was the same guy Daren was fooling around with in the bathroom last week. On their way back from Mexico, Baz and Craig sell drugs for some extra cash. Both jobs, however, are each behind Smurf’s back.

Smurf, meanwhile, is trying everything she can to get Catherine to step in line. Hence, how we get to Smurf kidnapping Lena from the grocery store. The incident causes Catherine to leave the bar she bartends at early. We didn’t really know what Catherine did as a job last week, but this week’s revelation sets up something else — a cop who is a frequent customer at the bar, whose flirtations with Catherine will most likely turn suspicious the more he gets to know her and understands the ties she has to the Cody brothers. For now, bar cop guy remains a distant threat as Catherine deals with an unrelenting Smurf and a noisy Pope.

Ellen Barkin continues to be an engaging presence on-screen as Smurf. Besides her questionable kidnapping of her granddaughter, she also manages to have a very cavalier and blunt discussion of sex with J. Her talk with J is just another reminder that sweet old grandmother she is not, and though she seems affectionate toward her grandson now, it’s a very tenuous relationship. Not to mention new relationship. Another interesting aspect about Smurf we learned this week is that each brother seems to have a different father, which comes after last week’s revelation that Baz is adopted and was taken in by Smurf at a young age.

My problems with J lessened this week, though I’m not really sure why. He still hasn’t done much except go along with everything his uncles are doing, and that’s probably the point. I look forward to the day he finally makes his own decisions. Whether that’s to turn his new family in or fully integrate himself into the business remains to be seen. But right now, J is endearing himself to Pope by helping Pope steal the safe full of money from Adrian. A mishap during the process allows J to be the hero, especially in the eyes of Pope, who praised J by telling Daren J stepped up more than Daren did. I like the way the brothers’ relationships are constantly changing — you never know who’s going to be on who’s side and the tension is captivating.

Things are building on Animal Kingdom, and at this point, I can only think it’s for the better. The mess that Baz finds himself in (though, to be fair, it seems Catherine and Krystal, who we were introduced to down in Mexico, don’t know about each other yet) aggravated me, at first. Baz seems the most level-headed in this family and I didn’t want him to be a cheater for cheater’s sake. But his relationship with both women seems a bit more complicated than just “having one on the side” and I’m interested to see where that goes. There’s also the question of who the man always sitting in front of a television is, whom we have seen Baz hold a gun to twice now. I was thinking it could be Baz’s father. Or maybe someone Baz wronged and feels guilty about. Regardless, it’s someone he keeps bringing money to and can’t seem to kill.

J also feels guilty about being the one to shoot up his mother the day she overdosed, and confides in Baz about it after learning from Smurf that his mother might have been in love with Baz, at some point. Where that ends up going, I don’t know. But I’ll stick around to find out.

Animal Kingdom airs Tuesday night at 8 p.m. CT.

Rating: 9/10

I go to the movies. I watch television. I write about each. Sleep, occasionally. Then I repeat.