Two characters have largely been a mystery during the first three episodes of Animal Kingdom, but in the fourth episode, “Dead to Me,” Pope and J finally feel like real, concrete characters that I can’t wait to psychoanalyze. Disclaimer — not a psychologist. Here we go.
Let’s talk about Pope first. Smurf’s first-born has just been released from prison, and so far in this series, it’s been pretty clear that he feels left out of the family business, of which he was previously in charge. There have been small instances where Baz and Smurf quietly whisper to each other after everyone has left the room about how Pope is doing. I haven’t mentioned these scenes before because there haven’t been many and they’ve always been vague. But while Baz and Smurf talk about Pope, we never really got anything from Pope’s perspective until this episode. He can’t sleep and is often preoccupied with working in the back yard. Almost obsessively working. It’s also his birthday this episode, and since Pope was Alicia’s twin (J’s mom who died in the pilot episode), it was also her birthday.
That brings us to J. I’ve been saying, lately, that I never really got a good sense of who he was because he kept saying yes to everything that was happening around him. To Finn Cole’s credit though, his wide-eyed reactions to some things are priceless, making it somewhat clear that J is a little wary of his family. But “Dead to Me” gives us some real, honest to God sincere moments with J. Everyone has big plans for Pope’s birthday — strip clubs, paintball, and skydiving, not necessarily in that order — but no one mentions Alicia, especially Smurf. There had only been hints of what caused Alicia to stay away from her family, but here we learn why Smurf and the boys didn’t want Alicia around. We learn this from Catherine, who is still avoiding Smurf after last week’s kidnapping (uh, duh), when J heads over to her house to bring her and Lena some mac & cheese because he had heard they were sick (Catherine’s excuse to Smurf for not coming around). J confides in Catherine about how no one is talking about how it’s also his mother’s birthday and Catherine explains how Alicia would steal money from the family business for drugs. It’s a very touching scene between two characters who haven’t really interacted before. But J’s big moment comes a little later when everyone is gathered around a cake and singing happy birthday to Pope. Before Pope blows out the candles, there’s a pause. That’s when J speaks up: “It’s not just Pope’s birthday. It’s my mom’s too.”
Alas, he speaks! This is the first time J has spoken up to Smurf. Sure, he’s lied to Smurf about jobs before but that was only ever because his uncles told him to. By speaking up about his mother, J has finally gone against a family rule. The ice-cold look Smurf gives him and the condescending way she replies “Yes, it is. Pope, blow out your candles” is chilling. It’s a small thing, but I’m hoping it’s a catalyst to J doing more than just reacting to his family. Another interesting note — during his talk with Catherine, J says his mother used to talk about how controlling Smurf used to be. He’s aware. I can’t wait to see where this goes.
Pope and J weren’t just interesting in their individual roles this episode, though. They actually have a nice chat with each other, one that isn’t clouded in manipulation and smoke screens, but an emotional conversation in a graveyard next to Alicia’s headstone where Pope reminisces about his sister.
“Dead to Me” focused a lot on Pope and J, but we also get some Baz yelling at Catherine about apologizing to Smurf (what!) and yelling at J for coming around his house and yelling into a phone about his missing dad. Yeah, that drunk guy Baz has been holding a gun to is his father. Now, his father is missing. I’m not so sure about this whole b-plot, but hey, at least we know who that guy is, I guess.
I haven’t been talking about Deran and Craig all that much, and that’s because they aren’t the most dynamic of characters. However, a weird b-plot of this episode had Craig’s girlfriend, Renn, overdosing. To fix this problem, Craig, thinking she’s dead, steals her money and leaves her only to be blindsided by her calling and telling him she’s in the hospital. This is how we get another b-plot for the series — Renn wants Craig to find whoever left her to die and stole her money and kill him. I’m not a fan of this particular development, as it feels melodramatic in a television series filled with drama.
Also, there seems to be a weird thing going on with J and his teacher, who he smoked pot with at school, she asked him out on a date? I don’t know about this. I want J to be his own person, but not like that.
Another solid episode of Animal Kingdom. I’ll see ya next week.
Animal Kingdom airs Tuesday nights at 8 p.m. CT.