American Gigolo – Season 1 Episode 1 “Pilot” Recap & Review


Episode 1 of American Gigolo starts in 2006 with Julian Kaye being questioned about the murder of a woman called Janet Holmes. His prints are all over the knife, and there are eyewitness accounts of him waving it around with blood over him.

Julian can’t remember what happened, but of course that’s not going to fly in court – or with Detective Sunday – and he’s subsequently put behind bars.

It wasn’t always like this though, and there was a time when Julian had, seemingly, the perfect life. With ripped abs and a charming suave, Julian chooses his pick of women and is living the good life. This is in stark contrast to what’s happening to our protagonist right now, who – 15 years later – is in prison and serving time for murder.

Julian works as one of the cooks, taking his time to get to know every inmate and trading banter with a few. Out in the yard, he’s approached by a kid called Drew that needs help. He’s clearly being sexually abused by his inmate but Julian refuses to help, pointing out that he should do it willingly, that way it’s not being taken from him. What seems like a random scene in the moment actually ends up being pretty instrumental to Julian’s experiences. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here!

Julian is called into the office to see Detective Sunday. She shows him a picture of a particularly nasty man behind bars called Kevin Finnegan. He’s a killer-for-hire and apparently he’s got pancreatic cancer that’s spread to his brain.

Anyway, the reason this ties in with Julian is because, on his deathbed, he’s admitted to killing Janet Holmes. The same Janet Holmes that Julian was accused of killing. According to Finnegan, he showed up and saw Julian asleep and decided to kill Janet anyway. And with all of this, they’ve done the tests and, long story short, Julian is free to go. Sunday showed up personally to release him.

Julian heads back home again to see his mum, who lives in a rundown trailer. This area brings back conflicting memories for Julian though, given he was abused by his neighbour as a kid. Even worse, Julian was paid off by his mum, with a big “career” in Hollywood.

Julian has no say in any of this though, and is taken to a mansion by a woman called Olga, who also has numerous other kids there. Julian is forced to get dressed up, and to adopt this Julian name, given he used to be called Johnny.

Julian is being groomed to be a gigolo, and as we cut forward through time, this recontextualizes the earlier parts of this episode with Julian spending time with all those different women. There’s a really nice rhythm to this part of the episode too, which flits back and forth between the past and present.

Julian meets his old buddy, Lorenzo, who happened to be one of the guys from Olga’s mansion. He’s as eccentric as ever and admits he always had faith that Julian would return. He’s been taking care of J’s car and his finances in the guy’s absence. Julian is definitely not going back to hustling, and Lorenzo offers to let him crash at his place for the time being.

Another part of these flashbacks stems from Julian’s ties with Michelle Stratton. He meets her on the beach by chance and again while in a bar with one of his clients. Around her, Julian can be himself and that’s telling, especially when he introduces himself as Johnny rather than Julian.

Although she’s married to a big tech guy, Richard Stratton, Julian finds himself tumbling further down this slippery slope of love. These flashbacks end with Julian showing up at Michelle’s place in the present. He admits he didn’t hurt Janet.

Michelle retorts back that she has a son, Colin. Now, Colin has actually run off with his teacher, which has caused all sorts of drama in the house. Richard Stratton doesn’t want to go to the police either, deciding to handle all of this quietly to save face.

Michelle’s tough exterior soon shatters though when she locks eyes with Julian and the pair hug for a long time… until Michelle pushes him away. “Stay away. He’ll just do it again. He’ll do it again to all of us.” Quite what this means is anyone’s guess right now.

After this ominous meeting, Julian has another. This time, it’s with Detective Sunday. She’s been to see Finnegan on his death bed and tried to get answers. The only thing she’s managed to squeeze from him is the word “Keen”. Julian thinks it over before muttering Queen. He believes this could well be a reference to Olga, who was colloquially known as The Queen to those inside the mansion.

Julian returns to see Olga, using the guise of getting back to work. However, Olga is actually wheelchair-bound and scared. She whispers to him that “they will kill you” but Julian doesn’t take the warning and follows Isabelle upstairs. Is she the new queen?

Up in her bedroom, Isabelle admits she used to be in love with him and has Julian strip down to his pants. It’s uncomfortable, but eventually Julian concedes.

The Episode Review

What’s particularly interesting with American Gigolo is just how the power dynamics between men and women have been distorted into something wholly uncomfortable and disturbing. Jon Bernthal is a phenomenal actor – a personal favourite of this reviewer’s! – and once again he shows why he’s so talented here. The kaleidoscope of emotions this man goes through across this hour is so well portrayed – and realistic too.

The flashbacks are nicely interspersed across the episode too, and never detract from the present-day timeline. The exposition within this is just enough to understand what’s happening but never too overbearing to slow the pacing down to a crawl.

The blend of romance, thriller and sinister drama elements are nicely woven around a dark side of crime we don’t always see a whole lot of. The abuse that Julian went through as a kid is tough to watch but it’s woven seamlessly through those aforementioned flashbacks. There’s a real desire to try and squeeze as much as possible into this, with barely a scene wasted.

There’s some great character development here and tellingly, David Hollander has crafted a show that doesn’t hold your hand the entire time and spells out every detail – which is refreshing to watch. Ultimately, this could prove to be a real dark horse series this year but we’ll have to wait and see how the rest of the season pans out. Roll on next week’s episode!

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2 thoughts on “American Gigolo – Season 1 Episode 1 “Pilot” Recap & Review”

  1. That’s a great perspective on it. I never thought of that. You’re probably right. I must say I felt sick watching this at first. His own mother sold him into the world of sex trade. Boy/girl what’s the difference? He’s a great actor, you go thru the emotions with him and it’s actually very sad and you become full of sympathy for him. As a mother you want to hold him and tell him everything’s going to be OK. It’s something he lacked as a child. At first I thought maybe his mother truly thought he was doing handyman work for the neighbor only to be revealed later that she knew he was doing more than chores. She was supposed to keep him safe and protect him from pedophiles.
    And I despised her for betraying her child.
    You can tell he’s very empty and very lost from it.
    It will.effect him the rest of his life..
    Almost reminds me of 50 shades and Grey’s mothers best friend.

  2. Hmmm, let me guess,…
    Michelle’s son is the love-child of her & Julian’s affair?!? And odd, that Julian showed no hint of “Maybe it’s my kid too?” when he shows up at Michelle’s gated mansion just at the exact time with suitcase in hand, she’s getting ready to drive off to who knows where?
    And he apparently doesn’t understand the implications when Michelle says to him that he must leave & not be seen or her hubby “will do “It” again!” Thus implying that he’s the one who framed Julian for the murder of a woman that decapitated any chance of the lovers, his wife & Julian, “riding off into the sunset,” in that drop dead gorgeous Vintage ice blue Jaguar!

    And btw, just a gut feeling, I’m putting my $$ on Leon as said “Framer” of Julian.

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