[This is a review of the Animal Kingdom season 2 finale. There will be SPOILERS.]
In the first season of TNT's Animal Kingdom, the family dynamics at play within the Cody crime family served as one of the show's biggest dramatic assets, and it was fascinating to watch each member's strong, emboldened personality push and pull against one another from the perspective of an essentially-neutral outsider in J (Finn Cole). Back then, those dynamics felt more like a dance, as the group (more or less) worked in a somewhat harmonious fashion toward a common goal and against a common external enemy (local police). For the Codys, family and loyalty made it easy to take on the world and take what they believed was theirs.
But if season 1 was all about loyalty, season 2 proved to be all about trust, and by the end of the season 2 finale, 'Betrayal', it became clear that trust within the Cody clan had suffered irreparable damage. The once strong family core had been cracked, the relationships within it nearly severed, and unearthed secrets had ripped the family apart, leaving one Cody in prison and another critically-wounded and possibly dead. From dramatic and narrative standpoints, the story's progression to this destructive point from where season 2 began was not only logical, but seemed entirely inevitable.
Even still, one can't help but wonder if the direction Animal Kingdom appears to be headed in will play to its initial strengths and best serve the series in the long run. Not only have the old family dynamics basically died (possibly along with Baz), but many of the characters could be on their own as we begin season 3. And given that some of these characters have yet to be fully developed and aren't nearly as interesting or easy to root for on their own, the move to split the family apart -- if only for a time -- could be problematic.
First, let's take Craig (Ben Robson), for instance. With Craig headed off with Renn (Christina Ochoa) on a spontaneous getaway, will we really care what they end up getting into? To this point, his debaucherous exploits have added little but eye candy to the series and the show hasn't made much of an attempt to give Craig a real soul or inner motivation. Although he could be poised to go on a journey of self-discovery in season 3 after giving us a glimpse at his insecurities during a conversation with Deran (Jake Weary), that subplot wouldn't be of particular importance or interest at this stage in the series (perhaps it may have been more so earlier on).
Then there's Deran, who, after beginning to accept and respect himself at the end of season 1 and into the early goings of season 2, established himself as one of the most redeemable and likable characters of the lot. So, when the subplot involving him purchasing a local bar as the first step to leaving the life of crime was introduced, we saw a great opportunity to explore his character as a positive force against the darkness that Baz (Scott Speedman) and Smurf (Ellen Barkin) were beginning to represent. Unfortunately, this storyline turned out to be less about character exploration, serving instead as more of a plot device designed to establish a new hangout spot for the boys to scheme and develop new ideas for jobs away from their mother.
Speaking of Smurf, she will also be away from her family at the beginning of season 3, but will likely still be pulling the strings through a surrogate in J from behind steel bars. While we're not so much interested in the life she may lead while in prison, we are certainly intrigued by the prospects of her molding a brand new Baz with young J. Having J ignore Baz's warnings and begin to walk in the footsteps of his dark path continues to be one of the more compelling aspects of the series -- one that should take a much fuller and realized shape in season 3.
And finally, there's Pope (Shawn Hatosy), the lone wolf (or black sheep) of the family whose direction remains unclear following the season 2 finale. Will he align himself with his brothers against Smurf or free himself of the guilt from Catherine's murder and begin a new life? The only thing we do know for now is that he, like most of the other characters, is also on his own path.
With the Cody family now broken apart, the challenge for Animal Kingdom season 3 will be juggling multiple storylines while finding new compelling conflicts to propel the narrative forward. Perhaps this will mean reintroducing some kind of pressure from police (which was noticeably missing in season 2) or introducing a new threat, possibly from south of the border (as the finale seemed to suggest Lucy and Marco could have been behind the hit on Baz). Needless to say, while season 2 managed to answer most of the show's biggest lingering questions, it also opened the door to some new ones in the wake of Baz's shooting. And although the show's sophomore season was often hit-or-miss when it came to actively progressing the narrative and its characters, we're still excited to see where Animal Kingdom takes us in season 3.
What are your thoughts on Animal Kingdom's season 2 finale? Share them in the comments.