Let’s get the requisite reactions out of the way: “Goliath” still isn’t the elite drama its pedigree (and inexplicable recognition from the HFPA) implies it could be, but it’s solid — more so now than in its uneven first season. The story of a drunk but persistent Santa Monica attorney who takes on the big bad powers that be continues to feel like an elevated, elongated episode of any ol’ “Law & Order”-esque procedural. But it’s got a more streamlined arc, and new showrunner Lawrence Trilling proves by season’s end that he’s actually interested in a longer game than eight episodes can contain.
Last season, Billy McBride (Billy Bob Thornton) went after a wrongful death suit and his old law partner in the process. This year, the stakes are still personal, as Billy gets involved with a Los Angeles mayoral candidate who may have ties to the double homicide he’s been asked to defend. Soon, the story expands beyond a corrupt chunk of the police force to an all-powerful Mexican drug cartel. Billy is again fighting a giant, and again proves effective in flinging pebbles from his raggedy slingshot.
There are surprises (like the ending, which, honestly deserves a discussion all its own) and stylistic flourishes (Episode 7 stands out for its unique twist on a bottle episode), but the real standout in all this is Mark Duplass’ kinky creeper, Tom Wyatt. The rest is passable entertainment with a few dark twists to please genre fans, but in 10 years, when we look back at Season 2 (or even “Goliath” as a whole), Mark Duplass’ supremely fucked-up bad guy will be what springs to mind.
It started simply enough. When Duplass’ casting was announced in August 2017, this was all the character description provided:
Duplass will play Tom Wyatt, a successful Los Angeles developer who wants to give the city a distinct skyline. A prominent philanthropist, he is a major contributor to mayoral candidate Marisol Silva (Ana De La Reguera).
All that is true. In the first two episodes, Tom is just another white collar criminal with a taste for getting a little dirt under his Oxford buttons. (I’d like to believe he wears “fashionable” tracksuits to illustrate his active role in the criminal enterprise, but that might be too much of an assumption.) He’s “successful” in that he’s incredibly wealthy, and not solely from building half of L.A.’s skyline. He works with Gabriel (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a cartel kingpin who needs Tom’s help covering up the murders Billy is trying to expose in court. Tom uses his connections with the cops as well as his political ally to do just that, but his main passion is disconnected from his business dealings — almost.
Silva, as you may have guessed, is Billy’s aforementioned new companion, but her relationship with Tom is far more interesting; in fact, everyone’s relationship with Tom is far more interesting than their other activities because Tom is just that damn weird. (One exception: The great Nina Arianda sees her character paired with the recently freed “Zoo” lead, James Wolk, and we ship that ‘ship so hard.)
Tom actually feels like he could have sprung from the wild episodes of “Zoo,” if the defunct CBS summer shitshow traded in Abendegos for “eroticized childhood trauma.” That’s right, “eroticized childhood trauma” are words that spill from Tom’s mouth in order to describe his… condition, and now is a good a time as any to mention spoilers are coming.
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As revealed in a stunning sequence of events in Episode 3, Tom has a thing for amputees. He gets off on watching them rub lotion on their amputated limbs, and he’s even set up a private space in his warehouse to watch real live people perform for him. It’s all tied to his sister, who lost her leg due to a staph infection when she was younger. When Tom watched his dad take the prosthetic limb off his sister and his mom rub lotion on her leg, he got his first erection, and, well, now he’s a grown-ass adult who masturbates to amputees. (He even rebuilt his childhood kitchen where his sister used to get her daily moisturizer.)
Lucky for Tom, amputees are a theme in Season 2, and some don’t even connect back to his fixation — at one point, he’s kidnapped by a man with a hook for a hand, but this does nothing to trigger Tom’s fetish; it’s just a weird quirk of the show. But a lot of Tom’s delicate strangeness comes from Duplass. The “League” and “Togetherness” star has done his fair share of weird roles. He’s an endearing oddball in “Safety Not Guaranteed,” a curious stock hubby in the twisted “The One I Love,” and he went full nutbag in “Creep” and “Creep 2,” but it’s his natural “aw shucks” demeanor that continues to draw you in, even when you know something’s up. As Tom flirts with Brittany (Tania Raymonde), it’s clear he’s a bit off, but Duplass plays up the self-deprecation. He’s a grounded rich guy that’s so rich he can’t be an Average Joe, but he’s trying.
His true colors come out in the little fits Tom throws, and Duplass doesn’t hold back. In one scene, Tom wails on a cop with a racquetball racket, and there’s an even better moment when he gets so angry after being shut down for a private meeting that he tips over the offender’s tiny desk plant and then mushes the dirt into her papers! He’s pouty and spoiled because Tom always gets his way, but he’s still frightening because there are so many surprises lurking underneath his forward-facing casual conduct. Tom is smart enough to know what he’s doing needs to be hidden, and he’s scary good at hiding it.
“Goliath” doesn’t take full advantage of Tom’s depraved habits, but anyone focused on this particular arc should be satisfied with its ending, as well as the season’s. If Billy is David and Gabriel is Goliath, then Tom is the blade used to decapitate the giant and shock the onlookers. Consider us shook.
“Goliath” Season 2 is streaming now on Amazon Prime.