Episode 1 -| Review Score – 4.5/5
Episode 2 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 3 -| Review Score – 4.5/5
Episode 4 -| Review Score – 5/5
Episode 5 -| Review Score – 5/5
Episode 6 -| Review Score – 4.5/5
Episode 7 -| Review Score – 4.5/5
The Old Man on FX has finished airing its season one. Seven pulsating episodes, each woven with intricate care and perfection, offered us a peek into Dan Chase’s life.
Jeff Bridges starred as Chase, while John Lithgow (Harold), Alia Shawkat (Emily/Angela/Parwana), and Amy Brennaman (Zoe) played supporting roles. But really though, the plot and story are the real heroes here. Creators Robert Levine and Jonathan Steinberg adapt the Thomas Perry novel of the same name with some dramatic and setting changes.
In essence, it is a riveting spy thriller whose tense narrative is not as tightly wound as its genre peers but touches upon fascinating existential questions of identity, human connection, and the absolute truth that is forever deceiving.
For comparison, the spy movie Tinker Tailor Solider Spy is a perfect example. The Old Man is similarly paced and not too condensed to limit itself. Action sequences are few and far between. Whenever they do feature, the direction and composition have military-like precision and effectiveness. It definitely fits the bill given the highly skilled personnel we are dealing with.
Sprawling dialogue, disparate elements of noir, and an intense twisting of the past and the present provide an unmissable identity to the show. There are not many moments that you would even dare to fast forward, like so many shows today. The Old Man stands a coupe of yards ahead of the pack on the back of its cinema-like polish and ambitions. If there ever was a near-perfect manifestation of a layered, slow-burn – it is this show.
There are two timelines that keep the plot going. One is the present, where rogue CIA Agent Dan Chase is on the run as he has been discovered by the FBI. His complex connection to Assistant Director Harold Harper, who is in charge of finding him, makes the subsequent investigation and the cat and mouse game a skewed one.#
Matters are further convoluted when a “ghost” from their shared, troubled past comes back to haunt them. In the middle of it all, Agent Adams and her mysterious identity present a different kind of dynamic to the plot. We see the attention oscillating between these characters, both in the past and the present.
The individual runtime for most episodes is chunkier than usual. You do not get to see hour-long episodes that often, especially with this kind of volume. But Steinberg and Levine leave no stone unturned when it comes to fully developing characters and subplots.
None of the main protagonists are one-dimensional goody-goods. They all have sketchy moral turpitude that torments and defines them. Living their lives in the mirage of the past, they feel emotionally exhausted looking for the right answers and searching for salvation.
The Old Man’s world is not a simple matter of black and white; it is everything in between and more. For most parts, the show’s universe is an uncomfortable place. Dan’s unravelling is an unsavoury sight but an important one for story progression. Most of it is unsavoury though, as Chase and others around him confront the truth.
Its inscrutability stems from the ambition of the creators to write the episodes without staying too true to the structural contours of their narrative. They want to digress and deep dive into the psychological mess of their characters. Intentionally or otherwise, there is a lot of ambiguity left in the little details that make all the difference. It is for you to spot them and understand their nature.
These small things carry the potential to turn tides and change opinions. There might be too many of them at a time to make sense, making you feel overwhelmed. But it is inevitable when something like this is attempted.
Hiding and lying are the most visited allies of the characters. After a certain point in time, they become a very part of their natures, puppeteering them in wayward directions and dead ends. With them, you go as a viewer, expecting to see something else.
The shocking twists concerning Emily’s identity come fast and thick. Shawkat commands a lot of screen time. But even when she doesn’t, there is a reverberation in her scenes, especially with Lithgow. For a show all about the masculine urge to protect and destroy, it is a woman who changes the course of their plans. She is the one after whom both our alphas script their present.
It is an essential way to think about The Old Man because of some of the criticism it has gotten for its female representation. In the end, it is the females who make the show “possible”, like Abby’s monologue in the finale.
Abby haunts Dan as a silhouette talking into his ear and prophesizing his future. Her strong matriarchal leadership is evident in the way she controls men and makes them conduits to her will. How can that be construed as making the female touch absent from the show?
People can come to their own conclusions but The Old Man makes clever use of both genders. It is poignant and at times, flustering, in how it unfolds. There is an evident mutation of genres to avoid resting in labels and classifications. Considering the troubled production involving Jeff Bridges’ health issue, The Old Man comes out well as a refined final product.
Verdict - 9/10