By Jeff Jensen
August 27, 2015 at 12:00 PM EDT

A woman is raped. The villain responsible forces her husband to watch. Many months later, the rapist remains at large, and the husband, PJ (Johnny Ferro), tries to commit suicide. He botches it, though, and is left in a coma, shattering his wife, Jocelyn (Alona Tal), all over again. You’d think a show that proceeds from such a premise would organize around Jocelyn. This is her horror. This should be her story. But Hand of God, Amazon’s newest binge, isn’t that show. Instead, it belongs to PJ’s dad (Ron Perlman), an ethically sketchy judge, cheating husband, and neglectful parent. Another hideous white male antihero? Heaven help us.

Hand of God is a confounding, sometimes infuriating, and poorly focused drama, but it’s too interesting to dismiss out of hand. Perlman is powerful and persuasive as the dishonorable Pernell Harris, and his character possesses a spirited hook. Distraught after PJ’s blown suicide bid, Harris falls prey to a sleazy preacher (Julian Morris) who sells him on Christianity and coaxes a $50,000 check from him. Harris immediately starts receiving divine messages (via his comatose son) providing cryptic clues to the rapist’s identity and a conspiracy behind the crime. He’s convinced that if he gets justice for PJ and Jocelyn—not by bringing the culprits to trial, but by murdering them—God will restore his son to health. So much for that What Would Jesus Do? stuff. The born-again judge is all about the eye for an eye.

The authenticity of Harris’ spiritual experience is presented as a mystery, but the deeper you get into Hand of God, the more you realize the rightness of his beliefs is beside the point. Showrunner Ben Watkins is more interested in exploring Harris’ chaotic internal life and the practice of faith, not faith itself. It’s a fine but refreshing distinction: Hand of God is certainly cynical about religion, but here, the problem of evil is more a proof of man’s sinfulness rather than an indictment of God. The best character is KD (Garret Dillahunt), a dim, damaged, devout ex-con, desperate for redemption and warped by Harris into an instrument of violence. His dilemma isn’t God, but those acting as his hand. It’s clear Watkins has ideas to spare, but he struggles to make meaningful drama with them. The early episodes in particular don’t encourage a full binge. The setup is absurd, the vision stuff is silly, and the tone is uneven. Jocelyn isn’t the only woman who’s poorly served. Dana Delany, playing Harris’ suffering, pot-smoking wife, doesn’t get much more to do than react to her husband’s foolishness. The show’s other virtue-challenged servants-of-a-cause characters—Reverend Paul, his girlfriend/chief acolyte (Elizabeth McLaughlin), and a hustling, realpolitik mayor (Andre Royo)—overcome rocky starts to become more coherent and compelling, but it’s not enough. Hand of God has its saving graces. It needs more. C

2015 series
  • TV Show
  • 1
run date
  • 09/04/15
  • In Season
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