[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Black Bird” Season 1, Episode 5, “Where I Lie.”]
There’s only one more episode of “Black Bird” and, honestly, it’s hard to figure out how this show is going to stick the landing. We’ve seen other networks pare down their series from 10 episodes to eight, but trying to clear up a story in six? Right now it doesn’t feel as if everything will be satisfyingly closed by next week, especially after the brutal gut punch that is this week’s episode, “Where I Lie.”
The world of “Black Bird” has been fairly insular. It’s behind the walls of Springfield prison with Jimmy (Taron Egerton) and Larry (Paul Walter Hauser). Or it’s outside with Detectives Miller (Greg Kinnear) and MacCauley (Sepideh Moafi). Occasionally, we check in on Jimmy’s dad, Big Jim (Ray Liotta). But as we get closer to the end, the lines of reality are starting to blur and it’s time to bring us toward those who won’t get the catharsis everyone else is looking for: the victims of Larry’s crimes.
A young girl narrates this episode. It’s easy to suss out that it’s one of the murdered girls that Miller and MacCauley are trying to get justice for, but it takes a fair amount of time into the episode to realize it’s specifically Jessica Roach (Laney Stiebing). She starts the episode by discussing when her grandmother died. Jessica didn’t know the woman, and struggled to believe her grandma was looking down on her in Heaven, “probably because we were so young.” It’s a bit on the nose to start with death, especially as a murdered child tells it, but it opens up the door to Jessica recounting random moments of her life, such as cleaning her shoes in the lake with her sister, or the first time a boy showed interest in her.
The confusion of the narration transitions to Jimmy’s literal confusion, meeting a new psychiatrist who seems to have a real interest in him for reasons he can’t explain. It’s clear this doctor is trying to tell him something, but he can’t figure it out. It’s interesting that both Jessica and the female doctor are each trying to convey information that the men, and society, don’t (or are unwilling to) understand.
Melanie Nicholls-King as the doctor this week, like Egerton’s Jimmy, has to have a deep poker face. Whether it’s Jimmy’s influence or the upcoming appeal, Larry is becoming somewhat cocky and it’s leading to even weirder interactions, like telling the doctor “I bet they smell good, your children.” She blames it on Jimmy but as the episode goes on…maybe this is just the true Larry unleashed?
And, really, the audience experiences that constantly in this episode. In IndieWire’s recent interview with Hauser he discussed his struggles to get through certain line readings in this episode and, boy, does this critic feel for him. “Where I Lie” feels like we’re watching someone interact with an animal right before it attacks. Larry just seems different and it’s unclear if it’s in the way Hauser carries the character or not.
He goes on a QAnon-esque rant about how the creation of high schools is a government ploy to make money by raising the age of consent; he bemoans the fact that girls during the Civil War got married at 13 and that’s frowned upon today. Jimmy starts to push Larry to get more intimate about his relationships with girls, and the way Hauser’s voice drops an octave as he pushes Jimmy to reveal his own indiscretions is chilling. When Jimmy tells a story about being 17 and having sex with a 14-year-old, Larry laughs; that’s nothing to him.
Where last week’s episode was strictly in Springfield we’re now back to jumping between different storylines, and as Jimmy inches ever closer to getting a confession from Larry, our intrepid detectives are going back over the evidence to figure out why Larry drove previous detectives around one specific area. “That’s a nice gas station for the middle of nowhere,” says MacCauley while on a drive with Miller.
No doubt the newly-constructed gas station is the perfect place for Larry Hall to have buried a body. What sticks throughout “Where I Lie” is how often MacCauley and Miller have heard the same story from literally everyone they’ve encountered. Larry was weird. He seemed off. One man describes him as looking like someone who never had a hug, “even as a baby.”
And yet no one ever actually reported Hall’s behavior as weird. Or if they did, as the district attorney tells MacCauley and Miller, “it’s not enough.” It’s impossible not to watch this episode and think of the chronic violence against women, much of which is reported and often not investigated. Just this week, police in San Diego are being criticized for failing to investigate an apartment complex’s numerous calls to 911 to help a woman who ended up dead in her apartment, killed at the hands of a man she knew.
There are many Larry Halls in the world and, as this episode says without belaboring the point, what can the average person do? It’s only once a woman is brutalized that anything can be done, and even then it requires an unquantifiable amount of “proof” that could still result in a not guilty verdict. Even though MacCauley and Miller find Jessica’s bike, which Larry offered to another young woman, it might still not be enough to send him to prison permanently. And based on Larry’s confidence, he doesn’t think he’ll be there long. “Black Bird” is at its most cynical this week about misogyny and it’s painful to watch in its cold truth.
To hear Larry recount killing Jessica Roach, he’s so cool and open. It’s so spellbinding watching Egerton’s face as Hauser’s character recounts this story. Jimmy has to act interested, compelled even, but you can see the revulsion dance on the corners of his face. One of the final images of the episode is a tormented Jimmy, stifling his sobs, while Larry bids him good night. If Jimmy does get out of prison, how will he cleanse his soul of what he’s heard?
This episode touches on a few other plots, like Carter outing Jimmy as a snitch and Big Jim Keene trying to find a way to call Jimmy after his credit card gets declined. But, really, the script understands this isn’t about them this week. It’s about Jessica Roach, and the countless faceless girls and women with stories like hers. The script writes some painfully beautiful lines that could sound maudlin, but don’t hit that way. “I don’t remember what we talked about. Just that we were happy,” Roach says. More importantly, the goal of “Where I Lie” is evoked in the final monologue of the episode. Roach explains that “I lived over 5000 days….you can die, but you can’t unlive. I lived.”
‘Where I Lie” is tragic and all too timely. Jimmy and Larry may be where this story starts, but the show is about bleeding out into the real world. Egerton and Hauser may dominate, but this week’s episode showed us what’s really important.
“Black Bird” airs every Friday on Apple TV+.