TV Review: Animal Kingdom Season 1 Finale “What Have You Done”

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Before I dive deep into the finale of the first season of Animal Kingdom, I need to make a slight correction to some of my past reviews. Detective Yates is not Nicky’s stepmom. Thanks to those who pointed that out to me. Sorry about the confusion! Or rather, I guess I was the only one confused. One of the major problems I’ve had with Animal Kingdom though has been the vast number of characters and the refusal to give up character names, either in the show or on IMDB. In this finale episode, Krystal is name dropped as being Catherine’s best friend, but in a previous review I thought Krystal was the woman Baz was cheating on Catherine with. ‘What Have You Done’ says that woman’s name is actually Lucy. The casual name drops and the way this show just kind of drops characters is indicative of sloppy storytelling when it comes to its side characters. The larger story is much more controlled, though not without its defaults as well. So, I apologize for that mistake. Let’s move on.

“What Have You Done” is an odd finale episode, but I rather enjoyed it for the way it wrapped up its main conflicts, especially J’s part of the story. J, who started the season off as timid, shy, and lost in his own grief, steadily became more involved in the Codys’ business, and, in small increments, started standing up for himself. At first, his small instances of courage seemed to be leading up to a blow out against Smurf, but rather, the person J eventually wholeheartedly stands up to is Detective Yates, fully cementing his place with the Codys. He does this mostly through action, by cleverly taping a confession from Alexa and using it as blackmail against Yates. But we also finally see J make a stand, using words to make his point. I just love what he says to Detective Yates here:

I remember you. Me sitting in the corner playing with some shitty little toy, while you come over and work my mom. She’d beg you to leave. She cried, and oh man, you’d just do anything, even offer to score for her just so you could get what you wanted. But you never got it, did you? See, my mom, she hated them. But she hated you more. In the end, she’s a Cody. And I’m a Cody, too. 

Seems as if J has finally figured out where he stands. His entire dialogue is a nice reveal about Detective Yates, too. These guys have a history together, albeit a small one from a long time ago. Though we don’t know much about Yates, what J says here makes sense with  the way we’ve seen Yates conduct her investigations, and why J would choose his criminal family over the help of the police.

The rest of the episode deals with last week’s job and the consequences of Pope’s actions in killing Catherine. As Baz frantically searches for answers surrounding Catherine’s disappearance, Smurf and Pope manipulate Vic into taking the fall for what Pope did. Baz still doesn’t have answers, but Catherine’s supposed disappearance and Baz’s torture of Vic will no doubt follow him into the second season. Pope’s decision to not kill Vic is weird, especially coming off last week’s murder of Catherine. Regardless, this leaves room for the truth to eventually come out next season.

Paul is back this week to demand an extra 50,000 dollars in his cut for the job, and this obviously sets off Smurf. Paul’s responsible for the delay in the money moving. This gives us some other great scenes with Craig and Deran. As the two youngest brothers, Craig and Deran make a great comedic pair, one filled with childish bickering and even more childish entitlement. I love when those two are paired together and I hope we get more of them together in season two. Them getting stuck in the back of that semi together is one of the better scenes of Animal Kingdom, just in terms of the weird duality this family presents. Each of the brothers are basically grown up children, who all live a life of pretty much getting away with whatever they want. At the same time though, they can get down to business when they need to. For a moment, Craig and Deran are rolling around in an oil-filled semi truck, the next they are dumping the truck driver into a barrel and stealing the cab of the semi. It’s an interesting dynamic, for sure. One I hope is explored more next season.

The episode has multiple endings, and one of those doesn’t hold as much weight for me. Smurf’s story this season, when it wasn’t focused on her boys, was vague and spotty. There wasn’t a lot of focus on it in scene, but the emotional effects of Smurf facing her past was present in episodes, with zero context. So it’s weird to me that we end with Smurf killing the man she sought out a few episodes ago, the man who gave her the name Smurf. The scene just plays as a weird tack-on to a completely different story that’s already going on. If we had gotten this earlier, either in the episode that dealt with Smurf’s past, or directly after that, it would have played better. But placing it here at the end of the finale loses some of its effect.

The second ending is J, and it’s this ending I’m excited about. J may have officially solidified his place with Smurf, but the ending here implies J has some sort of plan going forward. A plan that involves the gun Smurf gave him and Smurf herself. Ending on J’s stare down of his family through the window makes sense narratively as well, as we began the season with J and end it with him as well.

It wasn’t a perfect season. There were some narrative issues in individual episodes and in the overarching plot, but overall, I’d say this first season of Animal Kingdom was a success. Our characters are in interesting places and I can’t wait to see where else they go.

Animal Kingdom season two has a tentative June 2017 première date.

Rating: 9/10

Katey is a writer, now with an official degree to prove it. She hails from the great Midwest in Kansas City, MO where she is hanging out until she gets a paying job. Until then, she writes reviews for film and television and is an advocate for Mad Max: Fury Road winning Best Picture at the Oscars. Who cares if this year's Oscars was months ago. Mad Max and George Miller won in Katey's world. She also loves anything to do with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, except for Thor, and is indifferent about the DC movie verse. But DC television is pretty cool.