Animal Kingdom Season 6 Premiere Review: Burning Bridges

Television

Is this the calm before the storm?

We dove right back into life with the Cody boys during Animal Kingdom Season 6 Episode 1 and Animal Kingdom Season 6 Episode 2 for a slow burn two-hour premiere.

Except for some personal woes on Craig’s end, things appeared to be okay with the guys, but  we all know that looks can be deceiving.

It took some time for the guys to find their grounding after Smurf’s death, but now they’re all settling in to who they are without her and as a unit of their own.

They each have their respective roles cemented and seem to be doing relatively well after their last heist. J’s planning for them is working out, and they all trust him with the bookkeeping, estate planning, and more.

Shockingly, Deran is the one who trusts J the most and at least respects J’s vision, and can provide the aid that the youngest Cody needs. Considering how tumultuous their relationship has always been, it’s suprising that we managed to get here with them.

But J gets the lion’s share of their work with covering their bases and managing their multiple fronts well to stay under the radar. In some ways, it seems he’s a bit over his head.

Unsurprisingly, he’s traded in the professional relationship with Pam’s granddaughter, Lark, for a sexual one. However, with J, even when he’s in so-called relationships, it always feels like he’s working an angle.

It’s good to have somebody looking out for us locals again, with your mom gone.

Trey

Set on finding a new lawyer to put on retainer as he finalizes some things, it led him to Penny. It’s hard to say if the latest characters they’ve introduced are supposed to be suspicious, or they’re meant to be future assets or a way of showing that the guys can forge their own beneficial relationships.

J seems impressed by Penny, and he obviously sees her potential and how she wields her power at the firm despite not being a lawyer. But she’s hard to place and feels like trouble.

We know she has a deployed husband, which raises some flags, especially since she doesn’t appear happy with her marriage. And she also perked up when she heard that the ballpark value for the properties J needed assistance with is around $5 million.

She can be either an asset or someone who could pose a threat to them. It’s too early to tell.

J tends to be one of the most mysterious of the bunch. For multiple seasons it felt like he was playing a long game of burning down the whole Cody empire in honor of his mother. But over time, it also feels like his priorities have shifted on occasion.

With Smurf gone, by his hand, it’s easy to assume that he’s on the same page with everyone, that he’s only focused on money, and that he’s working alongside the Cody brothers rather than against them.

You can buy that J is immersed in the family now, which means something to him. But he always looks like he’s contemplating something.

Is his fresh attempt at full transparency with his uncles a sign of how he genuinely wants to be a collective force with them, or is it insincere? You never really know with J, which continues to make him one of the series’ most compelling characters ever.

He wants to split things up equally amongst them. He’s eager to get more jobs under their belts, and while they have plenty of cash, they have a cash flow issue as far as trying to stay ahead with cleaning all of their dirty money through the business ventures and fronts they have.

They leave most of those decisions and all of that up to him, but there’s a sense that he’s a bit tired of trying to carry that whole load alone.

One of the most haunting moments of the premiere was when it juxtaposed J in the present with Julia in the past. It was such a beautifully filmed and directed scene, delicously unsettling and sad. 

The more we get to know Julia via flashbacks, the easier it is to see how much J is like her in some ways. Julia always felt trapped within the family, crushed by the weight of Smurf’s reign and manipulations.

Pope: Your mom would’ve loved what we did tonight. She hated Gia.
J: Really? Why?
Pope: Too much like Smurf.
J: That’s a good reason. That’s a very good reason.

And Julia also had her mother’s card and carried the weight of watching over Pope, protecting him in her way, too. Julia managed him, and we saw that J found himself doing the same throughout the premiere.

He’s the only one who appears to notice Pope’s behavior, the way his OCD tendencies and anxiety have intensified a bit more. J broaching the topic with Deran was an intriguing moment. Deran acknowledged how Smurf always controlled Pope and covered things for him.

J also figured he’d get the ball rolling with the empty lot and try to sell it. But he must be waging an internal battle about how his revenge plans have been deferred. It’s as if it’s hitting him that he got sucked into the Cody vortex.

It makes for some interesting parallels between J and his mother, and they hinted at some of them a few times throughout the premiere. Julia has been on J’s mind quite heavily.

It’ll be interesting to see if the rest of the season plays with those parallels more.

The flashbacks have done a great job at coloring in some of the background, using the past to help us understand the present better.

They’ve mostly served to aid Pope and J’s characters, though. The jump to 1992 was a smart move. It brings us to a crucial period of time and the turning point in the family.

Leila George has settled well into the role of a younger Smurf (that red leather jacket, glasses combo was fire), so the exciting part about the nineties flashbacks is that Smurf has already transformed into the woman we knew and loathed.

It’s our anniversary. Six years ago, you walked through that door, and I knew I had another son.

Smurf [to teen Baz]

We’re watching Smurf in her prime, and George captures the seasoned Smurf traits and therefore delivers an authentic portrayal.

But the hero of the flashbacks is Julia. Sadly, by 16, she’s already becoming a shell of herself and well on the path toward her addiction and escapism. It’s a contrast from the young girl they introduced us to, and it’s evident that she lost her sparkle because of Smurf.

It’s painful to see how brilliant Julia was and to consider what she could’ve been had she been in a better environment with a better parent.

Julia was never cut out for the thieving, criminal lifestyle, but Smurf wouldn’t let her be anything else. The animosity between the mother and daughter was so thick you could cut it with a knife.

And every time you thought Smurf couldn’t get any worse and lower, she’d find a trap door to fall through. Smurf punishing Julia by telling her she was expelled because she saw her happy with Baz was despicable.

Smurf happily ruined her daughter’s life and future because she needed to have all of that control. She also got off on hurting Julia and making her miserable.

Smurf’s jealousy, distaste, and threatened feelings regarding her daughter were surreal. She never held the boys accountable for anything and always laid the blame on Julia. She couldn’t let her be her own person, and she always punished Julia for seeing through her bullcrap and not allowing herself to be manipulated like the others.

Julia never sought Smurf’s approval or attention or was impressed by her, and Smurf hated that. With all of this background and knowing Julia’s fate, your heart broke every second they showed her with a drink or some drugs.

It’s understandable how Julia ended up self-medicating with booze and drugs while under Smurf’s roof. Hell, Smurf used both to manage Julia when she was younger, the teen did it herself as she grew older, yet we know Smurf exiled her for her habit.

Smurf may as well have killed Julia directly. She slowly did for years.

The Julia and Baz parts of the flashbacks show how that relationship developed. It’s not particularly interesting, though. Baz wasn’t the most likable even as a teen, and he had issues with boundaries.

For some reason, there was this impression that they had a serious love affair, but nothing is loving about the bond between Julia and Baz right now. It’s pure attraction and sexual, but that’s about it.

Andrew: I know you hate her, but she takes care of us.
Julia: God, you sound like Baz. You know why I think she doesn’t like you skating? Because it makes you happy. All she cares about is herself and this house, nothing else. There’s nothing wrong with you. Hey, look at me. There’s nothing wrong with you, okay? Nothing. I love you.

Julia’s most fiercely loving relationship was with Andrew. Andrew nearly caught a case because he couldn’t let Julia get in trouble after that computer heist. And Julia always saw him for who he really was, advocated for him most, and wanted to protect him from Smurf.

She was spot on about why Smurf hated his skateboarding. During the premiere, they hit home how Smurf refused to let her kids thrive and be happy in their own thing.

Pope was a fantastic skateboarder, but Smurf’s attitude about them had Pope breaking and burning his skateboard and giving up something he loved and was exceptional at in favor of what she wanted him to be — this enforcer and thief.

Smurf tanked Julia’s bright academic future out of spite and hatred. And we also learned that she literally paid judges at surf competitions not to let Deran win even when he did.

The irony of this for Deran is that he’s always hated Smurf, but he’s willing to step in her shoes for the sake of Oceanside.

The ongoing focus on how Oceanside is changing and the effects of gentrification on the area is one of the aptest and most real portions of the series right now.

And they’ve used that to nicely intersect with the rest of the storylines. Deran and Craig have been the most put out by the changes around them. But Deran took things a step further when he did a favor for Trey by roughing up that pesky social media influencer who rented out the house beside him.

Deran’s halfhearted shutdown of the event didn’t seem like much until Trey thanked him with that surfboard. From then on, it was like Deran was feeling himself and reveling in claiming Smurf’s power and reputation as the problem solver everyone turned to, respected, and even feared.

Business Owner: Sorry, I was scared of her, man.
Deran: Now you can be scared of me.

Deran taking on this role is engrossing because he was the one who historically wanted no parts of any of it before. He wouldn’t have been the person you’d expect to reclaim his mother’s rep and make it his.

Of course, there’s always the fear of that catching up to him somehow. Right now, Deran is giving off the vibe that he feels powerful and invincible, but there’s always something or someone that will challenge that theory.

And there’s also a matter of it getting to his head. Deran roughing up and intimidating the lumber guy felt like overkill, didn’t it?

But Deran becoming the Prince of Oceanside, if you will, is one thing; him being an unsupportive brother is entirely different.

He won’t let Craig be great, and that sucks. In any other scenario, you’d be inclined to tell Craig to cut out the people who can’t support him in his sobriety journey, including family.

It’s commendable that Craig is trying to get his shit together. Hell, Pope is the one who told him it was imperative. But the tension between him and Deran will inevitably reach a boiling point if they carry on at this rate.

Deran is asking for Craig to kick his ass because he’s behaving like an ass over Craig trying to be a responsible adult for a change.

Deran and Craig were always the closest of the brothers, and Deran is the youngest, so he’s seemingly felt like he got displaced by Craig’s other family anyway.

Still, it’s like he takes Craig’s sobriety as the last thing that kept them bonded and closer, and he’s acting out as a result. It’s disturbing that Deran doesn’t see how Smurf-like it is to enable Craig’s drug habit for his own selfish reasons.

It was downright harsh and cringe-worthy when Deran told J that he liked Craig better when he wasn’t sober. It was a hell of a thing to say on so many levels.

None of them had their fathers around, and they all hated that they got stuck with Smurf. You would think Deran would have some empathy for his brother and understand why “the kid” is so important to Craig.

Deran won’t even call Nick by his name and doesn’t appear to have any attachment to him, and he treats Craig like it’s bizarre that he does.

Deran: How’s Craig?
J: He’s good. Grumpy but seems pretty organized.
Deran: Yeah, he came in here earlier, wanted to switch houses with me.
J: Why?
Deran: I don’t know. He thinks it’ll help him stay sober or some shit. Sober or not, though, Renn’s not going to let him keep that kid.
J: Nick.
Deran: Yeah, Nick. Give him a couple of months, and he’ll be back in here hitting the bottle. Promise you that.
J: Thought he was doing pretty good.
Deran: I liked him better high.

It was also a terribly insensitive thing to say to J, who grew up with a mother who was an addict. He probably wishes every day that Julia got and stayed clean. He wouldn’t be where he is if she did.

Deran’s response to Craig is rooted in his own personal shit he hasn’t worked through, but it doesn’t make it suck any less or any less toxic. And Craig deserves all the support and accolades for what he’s trying to do.

The supervised visitation situation with Renn is brutal. Visitation like that only works if it’s fair, but there’s nothing suitable about it right now. Renn is off running her little drug ring, and Craig is only getting moments with his son because Renn is concerned about his drug habit.

Neither of them is perfect, but it remains concerning and a headscratcher that Renn doesn’t see where her occupation isn’t equally as dangerous to their kid.

And she’s dead wrong for jerking around with the visits, switching things whenever she feels compelled to do so.

Craig is doing well, though, which is refreshing.

But he has the potential to find a different type of trouble that could jeopardize everything with this new friendship with Marc. The way Marc entered the picture with a similar interest and appreciation for motorcycles and battle with sobriety was suspect as hell.

Everything Marc shared and his very appearance were spontaneous and entirely too bold. It’s no wonder Craig thought he was a cop. Marc’s attempt to connect with Craig felt too transparent to be anything other than a setup.

Once he openly shared with Craig how he and his knocked up a convenience store for an alternative high, it screamed “setup.” But he roped Craig into robbing a diner to convince him otherwise.

Maybe Marc isn’t a cop after all with that maneuver, but trouble can come in different forms. He could be something else, and Crag was an easier target because of his current predicament with Renn and how unsupported he feels by Deran.

Marc is like this unorthodox sponsor who is tailor-made to keep Craig sober while still very much Craig.

Craig already figured out that transferring his addiction to something new, like working out, has its merits, but getting adrenaline and other highs off of the stealing and stuff are bound to bite him in the ass, especially since we don’t know shit all about Marc and his motivations.

For all we know, Marc is connected to a pissed-off Gia.

Gia: I worked with your mother for 30 years. You were like family.
Pope: You abandoned us as soon as she died.
Gia: She never would’ve let you do this.
Pope: Smurf would’ve done worse.
Gia: It was a business decision. She would tell you never burn bridges. My clients aren’t going to be happy about this, so you should watch your ass, ’cause I know you think you’re the shit, but there’s always someone bigger.
Pope: Are you done? Insurance will pay for the building and the rugs, but the rest is your penance for being disloyal to my family. You burned the bridges, not us.

Gia’s return was satisfying, only because it felt so good to watch the boys f*ck her over after her offer. Her audacity was astounding.

She was one of the first people who bailed on them the second Smurf died. She couldn’t argue everything was business and not personal when the Codys have never operated that way. And she sure as hell didn’t know what she was talking about invoking Smurf’s name to Pope.

Pope was right; Smurf would’ve done a hell of a lot worse to Gia. Smurf was petty and vindictive, and she didn’t have the most grace with other women.

And Gia was the one who struck the initial match, burning the bridge with the Codys. Gia forced them to do things on their own, finding a different fence and cultivating their own bonds to run Smurf’s empire, so she sure as hell couldn’t rely on the past to get back into their good graces or utilize their skillset.

Of course, you could tell Pope did that for himself and the brothers, but for J and Julia too.

Pope: Your mom would’ve loved what we did tonight. She hated Gia.
J: Really? Why?
Pope: Too much like Smurf.
J: That’s a good reason. That’s a very good reason.

A surprisingly high Pope telling J about how much Julia hated Gia for being like Smurf provided another one of those deliciously endearing moments between the uncle and nephew. It’s always heartening when the two bond via their mutual love and memory of Julia.

In hindsight, it’s as clear as day that Julia always had Pope’s best interest at heart and was the one person who loved him unconditionally. It’s remarkable how things have shaped out for him since Smurf’s death.

He’s able to embrace who he is and be himself now, instead of this weird extension and pet to Smurf, subjected to her constant manipulation and other mechanizations.

Connecting the moments that led up to Pope giving up skateboarding, killing this part of him that brought him such joy to Pope finding his love for it again 30 years later gives you the feels, man.

J is obsessive over this lot and trying to sell it off or do something with it. Pope’s attachment to transforming his Oceanside origins into a skate park or area where he can partake in what he loved and feel totally free feels right and like something Pope earned the right to do.

Pope skating, grinning, and having a good time made you smile. Such a simple thing seems to ground him and bring him joy.

But bad is just around the corner, and it almost feels like Pope instinctively knows it deep down. His cleanliness shtick and other quirks felt more pronounced than ever, and often a lot of that is fueled by anxiety.

It’s like his brain and body know something stressful is right around the corner. However, one can never tire of how damn good Hatosy is with portraying all these facets of Pope’s character.

The expression on his face when J put the crumbled-up potato chips on the meticulously made bologna sandwich was priceless, and him cleaning up after his messy brothers was hilarious.

We didn’t have any signs of forward progress with the Catherine body discovery in these initial two installments, so there’s a definite weariness in knowing that will be rocking this family to their core sooner rather than later, just when it seems like everyone is doing well.

Kicking the shit:

  • After the annoyance of Angela waltzing around in that winter jacket in the middle of summer, it was laugh-out-loud funny when Pope yelled at that carpenter he hired to take that damn wool cap off! The delivery was immaculate.
  • The complex relationship between Andrew and Baz is fully displayed during the flashbacks. Baz making moves on Julia and rejecting the boxed-in “brother” thing is already causing issues for Andrew.
  • Baz was always charismatic and opportunistic. Even as a teen, you can see how he got treated as a partner more than another kid for Smurf, which is interesting.
  • Kevin Csolak does a fine job at capturing Pope in his teen years. He has the mannerisms down and everything. Also, was he really skateboarding? Because damn!!!
  • “Mr. Matthews” gifting Deran that sweet board had Deran’s face lighting up. Deran is being an ass with Craig right now, but I’m intrigued by him stepping into this role of Oceanside’s protector and where that leads him.
  • I’m living for the ’90s fashion in those flashbacks.
  • In many ways, the youngest Pope and Julia actors were fascinating to watch in their roles, but the teenage timeline and dynamics are more exciting and complex.
  • For a brief moment, it looked like Pope intended to build tiny homes in that lot which would’ve been rad.
  • Why is everyone’s solution for a kid, namely a boy, who shows signs of mental illness always that they should find an ROTC program or enlist for some discipline? It seems the antithesis of helpful.
  • Pope’s awareness that he had issues with Smurf’s unwillingness to get him the help he deserved continuously makes his story heartbreaking. Can you imagine who and what Pope would be if Smurf gave a damn about him?
  • The further away we’ve gotten from Smurf, the corporeal being, in the present, the clearer her toxicity and abuse of her children and those around her is. It’s such a realistic, perfect display of the symbiotic relationship between narcissistic parents and their kids.

Over to you, Animal Kingdom Fanatics.

Did you get your thrills worth from that two-part premiere? What are your thoughts on how they set things up? Do you like the jump in the flashbacks? Sound off below!

Jasmine Blu is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.

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