Four estranged friends are thrust back together by a violent event that brings old trauma bubbling to the surface
Credit: Bob Mahoney/NBC

Game of Silence

S1 E1

[This post contains details from the Game of Silence episode that aired Tuesday, April 12]

No matter how hard you try to outrun your past, no matter where you move or what you make of your life, there will always be a part of you that’s 12 years old and stuck in your hometown. Jackson Brooks (David Lyons), a successful defense lawyer who, seemingly, has the world on a string, learns that uncomfortable truth the hard way when two of his childhood friends turn up in his office unexpectedly after being out of touch for years. Shawn (Larenz Tate) and Gil (Michael Raymond-James) have come to inform Jackson that the fourth member of their squad, Boots (Derek Phillips) was arrested that morning for nearly beating a man to death. His victim: Darryl (Tony Demil), a guy who, along with other kiddie inmates and the adults in charge, took pleasure in systematically torturing the four friends when they were 12-year-olds locked up in Quitman Youth Detention Facility in 1988.

Game of Silence adeptly shows how Boots, Jackson, Shawn, and Gil have shaped their entire adult lives in reaction to the nine months they spent at Quitman. They were sentenced to juvie for stealing a car and causing an accident (which resulted in another injured driver, though no one died). For this crime, the four boys spent nearly a year in the sadistic torture camp of a facility, where guards beat them with belts, forced them into bare knuckle cage matches against older, stronger boys for sport, and encouraged other kids like Darryl (and even the warden himself) to rape them.

The show (which is based on the 2012 Turkish series Suskunlar) is almost Freudian in its fetishization of past trauma and of the way hellish experiences bind this quartet to their adolescence. Once he grew up, Jackson moved to the big city (Houston) to escape any reminder of his childhood; Shawn and Gil turned to petty crime, too damaged to get out of the cycle; and Boots did his best to pretend like nothing happened at all, staying in their small Texas town and becoming a family man — until one day, he spots Darryl on the street and beats him nearly to death with a golf club. That act brings the four Quitman survivors hurtling back into one another’s lives, and it’s not exactly a fun-filled family reunion. Jackson got out, and out is where he wants to stay — even if he is still cheating on his fiancée with his childhood girlfriend, Jessie (Bre Blair), who is now dating Gil. But, compelled by shared history, Jackson agrees to become Boots’ defense attorney…until another former-juvie sadist has Boots shanked in prison in retaliation for Darryl’s beating. Gil (it is implied) then finishes Darryl off. Quickly, a war develops.

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Game of Silence does a good job in the pilot of establishing the moral code of its universe and what’s at stake for each character — justice, safety, reputation, and a seductive chance at revenge. The series’ most harrowing, affecting moments come courtesy of Quitman flashbacks, which are brutal. The plotline involving broader prison corruption via privatization — an issue all too relevant to our current political system — is intriguing and goes in an unexpected direction.

What’s less intriguing is Jackson. For a series lead, the character is hard to pin down in the first episode — and not in a way that makes me want to know more. He’s not so pure that watching his grudging decline into a violent revenge plot is compelling; and he’s not so shady that he can convincingly carry a straight-up “let’s get even” story. His choice of escape — becoming rich and successful — is the least interesting of the Quitman Four’s. And his voiceover, which guides the audience through flashbacks, quickly becomes a nattering, meaningless buzz. Lines such as, “Like life, fate can be unpredictable,” add nothing but eye-roll-inducing chatter to scenes that would have played better with a less-is-more approach. Even learning, late in the episode, that Jackson beat a guard to death with a rock after he got out of prison doesn’t do much to make me more interested in his journey.

Still, there’s enough meat on Game of Silence’s bones to keep viewers invested in where these storylines go, and how the tormentors from the past get their comeuppance. It will also be worth following the show to see how a network series handles such explicitly violent content. Not having cable’s carte blanche to spew gore left and right actually makes the pilot more affecting: When blood is spilled, you feel it.

But what did you think of the Game of Silence premiere? Are you in for the full sentence, or was the end of episode as welcome as early release? Hit the comments with your thoughts.

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Game of Silence
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