A funny, freaky crime tale that's also a gutter-poetic western. Astronauts, too!
Why is Luis Guzmán carrying around Ben Kingsley’s thumb? And what is the newly nine-fingered Kingsley doing so many bloody miles away, driving across Sonora in an ice cream truck to kidnap twin hoverboarding teenagers? I seem to recall $4 million at stake, though who can keep track of everyone hunting that bounty: the mysterious magician, the seductive saleswoman, the NASA trainee, the cartel assassin. Did I mention there’s a Texas Ranger named Walker?
Such are the delicate manias overpopulating the weird Western world of Perpetual Grace, LTD (airing Sundays at 10 p.m. on Epix). Bad title, but what’s in a name? Pronounce the last bit “limited,” though this ridiculously fun new drama is anything but. It premieres with a Hitchcockian crisscross. A drifter named James (Jimmi Simpson) meets talkative Paul (Damon Herriman), who spins a big-money border-crossing plot. With help from lovelorn Mexican sheriff Hector (Guzmán), they’ll fake the deaths of Paul’s church-owning parents to get a large inheritance.
Ma (Jacki Weaver) and Pa (Kingsley) sure look like good Christian suckers, wearing the kinds of hats you imagine the colonists wore in Roanoke. They take James in — and follow his directions south, when he tells them their son’s dying in Mexico. Not everyone is what they seem. Imprisoned, Pa kills a man with a shoe. He informs Hector casually, “I’m the pale horse of death, and hell follows me.” Meanwhile, James is impersonating Paul, which attracts the investigative eye of that Texas Ranger (Terry O’Quinn, looking like the face on a dollar bill you can’t afford).
All the cons overlapping in a bleached-beautiful desert landscape suggest the biblical phases of Breaking Bad. And co-creator Steven Conrad made Amazon’s Patriot, a kaleidoscopic spy drama I’m embarrassingly only now watching. Like Patriot, Conrad’s new series is a tense thriller and a whimsical comedy, full of unexpected consequences and catchy original music. Paul’s friendship with local holy-fool teenager Glenn (Dash Williams) has a folk-tale quality. Simpson, best known for Westworld, is an endearingly slippery protagonist, looking terrified, sad, amused, and exhausted all at once.
I do worry Perpetual Grace will exhaust its own perpetual motion. We’re midway through the first season and there are already two astronaut subplots. But the scuzzy noir pleasures are invigorating. Guzmán is a desperate delight. Weaver looks like a maternal White Walker, and Kingsley is Sexy Beast-ing as one very dire wolf. It’s all right there on Epix, whose streaming service runs $5.99 a month. Now, should you steal that amount from your loved ones? I couldn’t possibly suggest such an easily achievable task! That would be a simple solution, and wrong. Though, as Perpetual Grace proves, wrong feels so right. A-