Like the ornament hanging from Ray Shoesmith’s rearview mirror in the posters for season 2, Mr. Inbetween is a bit of a unicorn. The FX Australian import shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does, much less breathe new life into the seemingly played-out hitman subgenre. And yet, creator, writer, and star Scott Ryan delivers a captivating contradiction is his all-too human tale set in the seedy antipodean underworld, one that puts him and the series in league with some of the best TV antiheroes of all time.
With his shaved head and Mephistophelian smile, Ryan cuts an intimidating figure, one that vacillates credibly between a man who hurts people (and worse) for money (and a not insignificant amount of personal pleasure) and a guy doing his best to raise his young daughter, Brittany (Chika Yasumura), care for his ailing older brother, Bruce (Nicholas Cassim), and carry on a functional relationship with his girlfriend, Ally (Brooke Satchwell). Season 1 of Mr. Inbetween was funny, violent, and at times surprisingly sincere. It was one of the best new shows of the year and a welcome addition to FX’s lineup, offering an ideal blend of dark humor and drama, with some trenchant observations on violence and aggression (i.e., toxic male behavior) without becoming a reductive, surface-level moralistic diatribe.
Season 2 elevates the series on nearly every level, from Ryan’s writing and acting to the performances of the supporting cast and the directing of Nash Edgerton. The appealing contradictions inherent in both characters and tone are amplified as episodes segue seamlessly from banal conversations wherein characters rank their favorite actors who have played James Bond to moments of quiet domesticity to brutal homicides paid for by Freddy, a mid-level crime lord played by Damon Herriman, the talented Australian character actor who appeared as Charles Manson in both Mindhunter and Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood.
The premiere, ‘Shoulda Tapped,’ finds Ray tasked with eliminating a pair of drug-addled dollar store versions of himself, after they botch a hit on a guy Freddy wanted dead. Ryan and Edgerton display a deft understanding of the essential tension Ray brings to nearly every scene. Here, Ray calmly assess the situation and even engages in polite conversation with his marks, all while driving the unwitting pair to their doom. There’s little question of what’s going to happen when all is said and done, but that only adds to the scene’s already palpable sense of unease, which makes the release all the more satisfying (and unnerving) when it finally occurs.
What’s striking is that Ryan and Edgerton manage to fit all that and more into an episode that runs at a brisk 30 (TV) minutes. The premiere also finds time to see Ray put into a submission hold by a teenage girl at his boxing gym, begin a bullying subplot focused on Brittany's experiences at school, and reveal a little more about Ray’s personal life with Ally. But as the season moves on, Ryan allows the viewer to gain a more comprehensive understanding or Ray’s worldview. This comes partly through a variety of day-to-day interactions — sometimes with friends, like his porn-addicted buddy Gary (Justin Rosniak), or in his anger support group that’s headed up by filmmaker David Michôd (Animal Kingdom, The King) — and partly through Ryan’s own understanding of the deep, unsettling, interior forces at play inside Ray’s head. Mr. Inbetween draws a line between understanding and excusing Ray’s behavior, a distinction that comes in handy when the show necessarily uses its protagonist’s unpleasant profession as a source of entertainment.
And it is entertaining. That’s partly because every episode feels like an ultra-lean version of an hour-long broadcast. Without the bloat, Mr. Inbetween finds clever ways to keep the audience fixated, without laboring over details. As such, season 2 switches effortlessly among a variety of situations and ongoing storylines, often eschewing the need to signal any turns it makes beforehand. This often leaves the viewer guessing as to the intentions of various characters in any given scene. In a later episode, Ray pays a visit to a guy who owes Freddy some money. The encounter become expectedly violent, but the lack of anticipation or introduction is enough to catch the viewers off guard, which, when added to the humorous flourishes throughout, makes what is otherwise a disposable encounter between Ray and some poor schlub another memorable moment from an extraordinary show.
Second seasons have a tendency to get bigger in an attempt to outdo what came before. While Mr. Inbetween season 2 is certainly that (it’s the rare show that has earned an increased episode count from one season to the next), it’s also more deeply felt in nearly every moment, from the darkly comedic to the brutally violent to the unexpectedly sincere.
Mr. Inbetween season 2 premieres Thursday @10pm on FX.