When his mother dies of a heroin overdose, 17-year-old Josh moves in with his criminally inclined extended family
If gritty crime dramas with hunky men and mommy issues are your thing, there’s a good chance you’re going to go crazy for Animal Kingdom. Loosely adapted from the 2010 Australian film of the same name — though more closely resembling a TV version of Point Break than anything else — TNT’s Animal Kingdom is steeped in California noir goodness. There’s coke, neon lights, sunny beaches, weed, robberies, violence, and Ellen Barkin. What more could you ask for?
The premiere certainly gets right down to business, with paramedics showing up at an apartment and responding to a woman dying from a heroin overdose while her son sits on the couch with a nonchalant look on his face. It’s obvious he’s been here before, though this time is different. The boy is Josh, a.k.a. “J,” and this time his mom, Julia, doesn’t recover. After she dies, J ends up calling his grandmother (Ellen Barkin), known affectionately as Smurf, for a place to stay.
Smurf comes to pick up her grandson, and smuggles away some drugs while she’s at it. As J is about to leave, he’s confronted by his mom’s dealer, who’s asking for money he’s owed. J doesn’t tell him his Mom died, but he doesn’t pay him either. It’s a small moment, but one that leads to a bigger turning point later in the episode.
When J is brought back to his grandmother’s place, we get a glimpse at the life she and her sons are living. There’s a pool, nice cars, plenty of TVs, and money lying around the house. It seems like they’re living the dream, especially compared to the relative squalor J was used to, but it’s clear that everything’s not exactly on the up-and-up. Still, J’s uncles set him up in a room, bring him a TV, and give him some money to buy new shoes.
As it turns out, J’s extended family are a bunch of criminals, mostly running robbery jobs. Smurf’s in charge and her boys do the grunt work. Smurf wants to bring J into the fold for the next operation, which is set to go down in a few days, but her boys aren’t so sure. They don’t know a thing about J and aren’t sure if they can trust him.
Still, the uncles are trying to make J feel at home, in their own twisted, criminally inclined way. They take him surfing, where they intentionally piss off other surfers before getting J to pull a gun and show that he’s manly enough, that he can hold his own with the big boys. J is clearly reluctant, but what choice does he have?
Back at home, J discovers the room he’s staying in isn’t exactly his. It belonged to Pope (Shawn Hatosy), another one of Smurf’s sons, who was sent to prison for three years for robbing a bank. He’s back home now and not entirely excited to see J in his room. The feeling seems mutual. J is wary of the man and so is Smurf, who’s fairly reserved for someone whose boy just got out of prison.
When J isn’t spending time being slightly mystified and terrified of his uncles, he’s hanging out with his girlfriend, Nicky. After some foreplay that J isn’t into (ya know, because of the whole dead-mom thing), they start talking about his mom’s death and where he’s living. As the episode progresses, it’s hinted that Nicky’s about to get roped into this criminal lifestyle alongside J, if she’s not careful.
NEXT: New, stolen…same difference
We get a better sense of this family’s reputation at Julia’s funeral. J’s neighbor is there to pay her respects, and when she sees the boy with Smurf and her sons, she lashes out. She tells J that although Julia may have been weak, she did everything she could to “protect you from them.” J doesn’t want to cause a scene, though, so he puts an end to the confrontation and heads back home with his family and Nicky.
Back at home, Pope convinces Baz he needs to have something to do with the next job. Despite Smurf’s insistence they leave him out, Baz throws him a bone and tells him to secure a car for 3 a.m. Because Pope is volatile, he decides to take J with him. That leads to J trying to take the car, getting caught in the process, and Pope making the save by beating the hell out of the car owner with a flashlight.
With that out of the way, the rest of the boys execute the job. After kidnapping a few heroin addicts and locking them in a Range Rover for a few days in order to cover up their own DNA, the boys pick up the truck and drive it straight into a jewelry store at night. They make off with a ton of expensive watches, but the getaway isn’t so smooth.
As they come around a corner, two cops are hanging out in the alley; something went wrong with the security detail. That forces Deran, Smurf’s youngest son, to try and drive around them. In the process, one of the cops clings to the car door and is slammed into a dumpster before the boys get away. The other cop gets a few shots off, though, and one of the bullets ends up lodged in Craig’s chest.
As J comes home from his old apartment, where he pulled a gun on the heroin dealer who dealt to his mother, he understands that he’s trapped and that it’s starting to harden him. He sees Baz and Deran working to get the bullet out of Craig and cauterize the wound, and the next day Pope gives him a watch to give to Nicky “because girls like shining things.” This is the world J has been forced into.
NEXT: In the family now
In the second part of the premiere, “We Don’t Hurt People,” things continue to be pretty bad for J and the rest of the Cody clan. One minute they’re “goofing around” in the pool — meaning lots of punching and near-drowning — and the next they’re learning that the cop from their robbery job is dead.
The boys find out one by one. After Baz sees the news, it’s Smurf who sends J to find Deran and bring him back to the house. J finds him at the beach, hiding away in a washroom while being “serviced” by another man. When Deran sees J walk in, he begins attacking his companion, coming up with the bald lie that the man tried to take his wallet. There’s just a bit of toxic masculinity running through this family.
Back at home, all the Codys gather for a family meeting. While some of their bases are covered, they determine they need to get rid of the watches and dismantle and bleach the car they used for the job. That means sending Craig, Deran, and J out to the yard to do the grunt work, which Deran doesn’t exactly take in stride.
See, Deran’s pissed about having to do the heavy lifting while Smurf handles the money, especially now that they have to get rid of the watches (meaning a smaller cut for everyone). He’s worried about being broke, even though it’s pretty clear Smurf has always taken care of them.
While taking the car apart, Craig struggles to do just about anything, the wound on his chest getting worse with each passing minute. Deran urges him to go to Mexico, but Craig doesn’t want to; he says he doesn’t need to cause any more problems for the family.
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Back at home, J finds that Pope has completely tossed his room. He says he was looking for the watch he gave J, which J says he already gave to Nicky, but I’m not so sure that’s all Pope wants. Pope is clearly a loose cannon, and there’s more to his intrusion into J’s life than meets the eye. He’s got a very bad vibe, as he idly threatens J and seems to have some sort of weird attraction to Nicky, carrying her to bed and staring at her. None of this bodes well for J.
After all, this is the man who we later learn is also hot for Catherine, Baz’s girlfriend/wife/lover. He heads over to her place and tries to “win her back” in a sense, but it turns out Catherine isn’t into Pope just creepily showing up with presents for her daughter. Pope must have done something pretty bad in the past, because nobody seems to be excited to have him back.
NEXT: Mexico and pills
While Baz goes with Smurf to melt the watches down, destroying the evidence, we learn Smurf is hiding a lot of goods in a storage locker of her own. Considering how unstable her boys seem to be, it’s hard to blame her for keeping a little something stashed away for future use.
Back at the yard, Craig and Deran are having very little luck breaking down the Range Rover. Craig is basically dying on the spot, and Deran is just sick of the work. He decides to just torch the vehicle, which has the added benefit of proving whether J can keep a secret from Smurf or not.
That’s the thing: Secrets abound in this family. It looks like Baz is secretly taking care of his dad, though that’s not exactly confirmed. Smurf steals some files and charms her way into someone’s house in order to get pills that she can sprinkle into Pope’s food, because apparently he’s always needed medication. And as Baz takes Craig to Mexico, we see he has another woman there, someone other than Catherine, who embraces him with love and affection.
Thus, the two-part premiere of Animal Kingdom confirms one thing for sure: The Codys are a mess, and it’s probably only going to get worse from here.