Episode 1 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 2 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 3 -| Review Score – 4.5/5
Episode 4 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 5 –| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 6 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 7 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 8 -| Review Score – 2/5
It is a fact that the number of Westerns made has achingly decreased over the years. When the movie culture started decades ago, it was the go-to structure to tell a story. Most stories were weaved around the familiar sites of mountain ranges and desert-like terrain. They contemplated the good vs. evil narrative by creating alpha males who couldn’t be tamed. Today, only fleeting memories remain. And ‘That Dirty Black Bag’ is certainly not the way to remember them.
The presentation is almost flawless. Against the haunting backdrop of picturesque Spain, the story unfolds several scores ago post the aftermath of the gold rush.
The small town of Greenvale now suffers from an acute lack of rainfall that has pushed its habitants towards desolation. Amidst the heavy migration, peace in town hangs by a thread courtesy of Sherriff McCoy – a man with dubious principles – and his deputies. It disrupts into violence when a bounty arrives looking for a man with a knife having an eye etched into it.
From there, the story spirals into exploring themes such as savagery, Western lawlessness, and the insatiable well of revenge plunging men into violence and self-destruction.
The most attractive feature of the production is undoubtedly the cinematography. There are so many beautiful shots, my gallery is now swelling with screenshots!
Kudos to the DoP who hits it out of the park with his work. But what we see in terms of this particular facet of the storytelling is not matched by the central narration.
‘That Dirty Black Bag’s season one is filled with moments where the expectations are sky-high. The display of craft is genuinely impressive and promises to lead to better things. But the inconsistency kills any momentum the show might have had.
It instead has to rely on acting performances and action set-pieces to ride the storm. Not that they are bad, but become insufficient to handle the burden after a point of time. For instance, after spending so much time building Aidan Gillan’s character and his mysterious rituals, there is no explanation for his connection to Bronson. Even the ritual, its importance, and the intention of those summoning the demon are not disclosed.
Season one also lacks any cohesion in terms of bringing the various storylines together. The expanse seems so restricted that characters just randomly keep bumping into each other.
The most compelling and motivated study is that of Red. Time allocation to his arc does not do justice to the potential it had to elevate the show. The grotesqueness reaches absurd levels of violence that are hard to turn away from because of how aesthetically they’re pulled off.
One sequence in the final episode shows a dead horse and a man, and seven other decapitated bodies lying in pools of blood. The aerial shot that captures it is just an example of how these gruesome images define an era.
An ingrained sense of desperation follows the vice of greed. The purest of men have faltered to its alluring trap and the men in and outside Greenvale are no exception. Besides Steve, who is the moral compass of the show and is carelessly relegated to the sidelines for much of the middle part of the season, none seem to get their grip on reality. The shining gold blinds them all.
As a cultural representation of the times, ‘That Dirty Black Bag’ does a respectful job. It makes sure the details are as authentic as possible.
With respect to social concerns like the position of women and the hierarchy of men within the social structure, creators mark a special place for themselves. The small positives, however, do not hide the fact that this fails to distinguish itself from other television dramas around. This is merely one among a crowd of many.
The mixed bag of results does not tempt me to pursue the second season with the enthusiasm I started the first season. If you are a sucker for the genre itself or want to see beautiful camerawork, catch glimpses of the show. Otherwise, this does not come very highly recommended.
Verdict - 6/10