There’s a famous quote attributed to Edmund Burke that says, “all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” It’s a quote that kept popping up in my mind while watching “Black Bird’s” finale, “You Promised,” because we see good men allowing evil to continue for reasons that seem sensible to them. But we also have a formerly bad man trying to do something, and, boy, is Jimmy Keene trying to save the day.
“You Promised” had a high bar to clear, especially after last week’s emotionally devastating episode, “Where I Lie.” The finale might feel a bit lackluster for some, especially if you’ve already Googled where the real-life figures ended up. But, as it plays out, “You Promised” lives up to the show’s own promise of tackling the big questions with regards to misogyny, as opposed to telling an A to B story.
It’s been obvious over the last few episodes that spending time with Larry (Paul Walter Hauser) is affecting Jimmy’s (Taron Egerton) mental health. It’s even more evident during the episode’s opening dream sequence, blending several of Jimmy’s previous stories, interactions with Larry, and interactions with his father.
Even Larry seems to notice it, telling Jimmy, “My stories yesterday might have given you some nightmares.” Yes, stories. Remember, Larry Hall is deemed a serial confessor and he’s playing a similar game with Jimmy. Throughout the series it’s always been about the acting dance between Egerton and Hauser, and Hauser just runs away with the whole game, though Egerton certainly makes a good effort. As Jimmy’s patience starts to wear thin Egerton is required to push the character further. He’s calculating, mean, and brings back shades of the old Jimmy we saw at the beginning of the episode. Egerton and Hauser have done stellar work over the last six weeks, and with both maintaining a false front it was explosive seeing each finally let their character’s true selves peek through.
The big fight sequence between the pair showed why Hauser needs to be in the Emmy conversation next year. We’ve seen him be terrifying, but Hauser also plays up the extreme narcissism of the character, who describes murder as “kindness from a deity.” The series has always critiqued machismo and Jimmy, Carter, even Big Jim all fell into that trap throughout the show. But their temporary attempts as manliness was nothing after hearing why Larry sees himself as a killer.
Having to prove himself to a woman is one thing; Larry’s assault and murder of them is how he proves himself a man. But when Jimmy continues to needle and provoke him to “prove” he’s a killer, Larry can’t handle it. He tells Jimmy that while he lives these women’s lives have “meaning” and it’s language commonly heard in abusive situations. Larry wants to own these women; he takes their lives; and his interest in them is the only reason they exist. The series, coupled with Hauser’s brilliant performance, have done a lot to create something passing for sympathy for Larry. The audience can see him as mentally delayed, abused, traumatized, but regardless he’s a monster.
Hauser said in a previous IndieWire interview that watching the finale made him highly emotional for reasons he couldn’t explain, and no doubt it came from Larry finally snapping. Egerton told IndieWire in a recent interview that much of the sequence was improvised, including Hauser’s virulent invective to Jimmy as he’s dragged out of the room. Hauser showed how a murderer can live amongst people and never be spotted. For the one moment his character loses his mind, there’s a million where he’s just perceived as creepy. Hauser’s played up Larry’s simple social awkwardness, but here he becomes a straight-up, unrepentant psychopath. It’s no surprise the role took a toll on him.
At the beginning of the episode, during Jimmy’s dream Big Jim says, “They don’t tell you that the love of your life could be your child.” Episode 3 set up Jimmy and Larry as cut from the same cloth and their fathers are similar as well. Larry’s father burns the map to protect his son, no different than Big Jim using his badge to protect his. Each man has good intentions, but cover for their children’s real crimes. Gary’s final moment with Larry, where he tells Larry that Larry deserves to be imprisoned, is Larry’s own personal hell. For all Larry’s bluster about being a man, he wants his family’s love at all costs. But, as the text tells us at the end, he must not have wanted it too much since, after confessing to 15 murders at Gary’s urging, the real Larry Hall recanted everything.
If you thought the ending of the series didn’t leave a big enough punch, “Black Bird’s” grander themes are impossible to get away from. This started out as a series about a drug dealer meeting up with a murderer, and built toward an intense discussion about how men perceive women and each other. In a way, this often left the narrative to wave in the breeze, particularly the plot element involving Jimmy, the prison guard, and Gigante. You can tell the script wasn’t interested in those plot devices and just kinda throws them away. So if you went into this for the story …sorry. What fans did get was not only a MastersClass in acting from Hauser, but a searing, tragic tale of how misogyny in this country is allowed to run rampant.
The biggest question at the end of “Black Bird”: Does Jimmy see women differently? He’s still a flirt, chatting up the flight attendant he encounters on a plane. But does he have a new awareness on misogyny? As he looks out the airplane window we’re reminded that the bodies remain unearthed, and the real Larry Hall never disclosed his secrets. Really, the most heartbreaking and terrifying thing the audience is left with is that there are Larry Halls everywhere.
For this critic, “Black Bird” stuck the landing, but it’s easy to see why it might not for others. The television structure is ingrained in audiences: beginning, middle, and end; without those clear markings it can feel like a show is half-baked. “Black Bird” certainly had a beginning, middle, and end but the formula was utilized to present an allegory on what our current society looks like, and how we got here. It’s a tone poem more than a plot-driven television show. It interrogated masculinity in a way that invited people in with a crime story, only to leave them with a call for deeper introspection about how we all move through the world.
“Black Bird” is available to stream on Apple TV+
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