Mustaches. Mustaches and sideburns.
When it comes to dramas, HBO’s triumphs are unimpugnable: The Sorpanos, The Wire, Game of Thrones and more. While those are all well known, HBO’s sister station Cinemax has also benefited from its place under the HBO Home Entertainment umbrella with the likes of Strike Back and Banshee. Its newest endeavor is Quarry, which concluded its first season last October.
Set in Memphis circa 1972, Quarry begins with soldiers Mac Conway (Logan Marshall-Green; Prometheus) and Arthur (Jamie Hector; The Wire) returning from a second tour of Vietnam. The pair is embroiled in controversy over alleged war crimes that took place in Quan Thang and are accosted at the airport by angry protesters.
Their notoriety makes finding work difficult with Arthur taking a job at a factory while Mac remains unemployed. Mac is suddenly paid a visit by a man known as The Broker (Peter Mullen; Top of the Lake), who offers a $30,000 advance to go to work for him as a contract killer. Mac refuses but is pulled back in when Arthur accepts and asks for help on his first job.
Unfortunately, things go sideways and Arthur is killed as Mac serves as spotter, and in the ensuing chaos Mac ends up killing another man. Even worse for Mac is that nobody can locate the $30,000 Arthur was paid, and Mac is forced to assume the debt lest it fall to Arthur’s family with The Broker paying $4,000 per hit.
His first job turns out to be a man that had an affair with his wife, Joni Conway (Jodi Balfour), sewing mistrust between Mac and his wife and easing him into the prospect of killing for money by offering up someone he wants to murder. Now in bad shape both mentally and financially, Mac must find a way out of his current woes.
Quarry does dark, and it does it well. There are no “good guys” here. Mac is a killer who left his wife to do a second tour in Vietnam without even discussing it with her. Jodi is unfaithful and still resents Mac for leaving (and for his own infidelity). The Broker seems calm and businesslike, but there’s more to him than just being a facilitator. It’s a quality job of layering the characters.
Despite a lack of star power — at best there’s plenty of “oh, it’s that one guy from…” — the cast is quite good. Equally important, the cast is allowed to flex its acting chops as the show provides ample time to come down from the gruesome action sequences, displaying the struggle to come to terms with what had happened.
Much of the show’s charm is the events it’s set against, such as the presidential election between Richard Nixon and George McGovern or the ’72 Olympic games that featured the tragedy in Munich. It’s an interesting setting considering so often shows/films set in the 1970s seem to focus on disco, particularly when you factor in the rarely seen city of Memphis.
There is no shortage of action, most of it with a down and dirty feel. Yes, several of the characters are hardened killers and assassins, but don’t expect expertly planned kills. Things go wrong, people fight and claw for their life and the rawness has a definite HBO vibe. It’s intense.
While we enjoy dark and dramatic, relentlessly bleak can become tiring. Mac’s descent, while understandable based on what he has endured, features countless scenes of him drinking, smoking and brooding while not responding to conversations, and wears thin. The series could’ve used more counterbalances to all that heavy subject matter.
He’s not the only character that can be irritating. Jodi has more than a little Lori Grimes from The Walking Dead to her; where even though many of her reactions are justified you just get tired of what she has to say after a while. Josh Randall as Detective Olsen is probably the worst, though. We pretty much cringed every time he showed up on screen.
There are also a few plotlines that fall short. Keeping it as spoiler free as we can, we weren’t big fans of Suggs’ ability to track his target under the circumstances (you’re not watching the house!?!?). The Vietnam sequences also underwhelms, though more from a production standpoint than story.
THE BONUS FEATURES
Quarry offers an expansive set of extras, including deleted scenes sorted by episode and a brief look at each show where key points are given added explanation by the actors or show runners (if you watch HBO Go you should be familiar with the setup).
There is also a number of behind-the-scenes features that provide more depth to characters and lay out how they created the setting. It’s surprisingly deep and well done for a TV series.
There are times over its eight episodes that Quarry feels like a grind, but it’s worth staying the course as it delivers far more than it stumbles.