Hand of God: The Tie That Binds

It’s the season finale, the tenth episode of Hand of God. The big question is whether or not there’ll be a rabbit out of the hat, a loophole we might’ve missed, for PJ to survive. Or will everything be wrapped up nicely; was it always the intention for the show to last only one season?

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Definitive Ending
That last question might sound like Hollywood outsider naivety – because of course there’d be a second season if the first was a hit – but in the case of Hand of God, it’s justified. Everyone knew this series wasn’t going to be a global scale sensation, for the title alone. Too risqué. Let alone the story, which involved a man getting messages from above – or is he? So the writers could’ve treated the 10 episode run as a mini-series, including a definitive ending. But they didn’t. In this season finale, they’ve actually put a lot of wheels in motion, not to mention the biggest wheel of them all, PJ.

Wild Conspiracy
Last week, we learnt Anne Wu (Elaine Tan) was in possession of PJ’s book. It could’ve been just a different copy, but Pernell (Ron Perlman) knew it wasn’t. It’s a bit weird, though, for Anne to have it just sitting there on her bookshelf. It’s one of the things that’s not explained (yet), Anne’s involvement. Maybe she was just angry with PJ after he broke it off with her, grabbed his book on her way out, not even realizing it contained his memory stick. Or maybe did realize, and wanted to get even by stealing his brilliant ideas. If that’s the case, then we can forget about a wild conspiracy behind it all.

Code
But what if there is? Anne may have stolen the book because she was ordered to. A third party that got wind of PJ’s ‘code’ and wanted to get/destroy it. In order for the story to continue, I’d say you need an angle like this. Pernell could just keep on doing what he’s been doing all along; go after the bad guys. However, it’s strange Anne didn’t say she was working for anyone, or even imply it – or did she?

A Ride Home
Because not Pernell, but Crystal (Dana Delany) went after her. Maybe it was just curiosity, after hearing Pernell’s theories, maybe more. Fact is, Crystal gives Anne a ride home, quickly figures out she and PJ had an affair, and then all hell breaks loose. The show cuts away briefly, between Crystal talking and Crystal standing over Anne’s body, so maybe we missed out on Anne explaining exactly why she got the memory stick and who she gave it to.

New Questions
Maybe. That’s the right word. As a great finale should, the episode clears a lot of things up, but at the same time poses new questions. Of all the key players, the only one who comes away without a scratch, is Bobo (Andre Royo). Everybody else is either arrested (Pernell), suspect (Crystal), suspect (KD), blackmailed (Paul and Alicia) or abandoned (Tessie).

Higher Power
It’s been quite a season. An unexpected surprise, this little Amazon original, Hand of God. Bold subject matter, perfectly shot, well written, at times absolutely superbly acted. Sure, the show took quite a few detours – like the ‘spa episode’ – but always remained entertaining. I guess it’s up to the digital (and apparently also physical now) bookstore, to decide whether or not a second season is something the higher power would be pleased with.

Hand of God: A Flower That Bees Prefer

After last week’s confusing entry ‘One Saved Message’, Hand of God has come back to form with ‘A Flower That Bees Prefer’ and it’s all about milk and honey.

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Stand By Your Man
Pernell’s (Ron Perlman) relationship with his wife Crystal (Dana Delany) could be better, which is an understatement, but they do manage to get through dinner together – kind of like Walter and Skyler White used to do – sitting at the same dinner table. Crystal, aware of her husband’s (symbolic) marriage to Tessie (Emayatzy Corinealdi), has decided to stand by her man. Until Pernell’s gotten rid of his demons, of course. The Tessie Chapter isn’t forgotten, but for the moment merely postponed. His biggest demon is sitting across from Pernell: his son PJ (Johnny Ferro). He should be lying in his hospital bed, hooked to machines keeping him alive, but he’s right there, in the dining room of the Harris residence, having a thing for milk and honey. The divine puzzle continues.

Going After the Source
Pernell, after seeing a therapist, knows he’s just an hallucination. Nothing more, nothing less. God has nothing to do with it. All he needs to do is take his pills and wait for PJ to go. ‘It’s there. It’s just not real’, he says. Easier said than done, though. Because the hallucination doesn’t talk back, Pernell goes after the source. He drives over to the hospital, walks into PJ’s room, sees his son in a coma, almost thinking: ‘Good. You’re in your bed again. As you should be.’

23 Times
PJ’s girlfriend Jocelyn (Alona Tal) still wants to know where Josh is, and confronts Pernell. Did he pay him off? To leave and never look back? Did he do something worse to him? The scene’s really about something else, and that’s to give Pernell PJ’s phone. Before he shot himself, he’d watched one particular video 23 times. Bobo (Andre Royo) is in it, as well as Anne Wu (Elaine Tan). And here I thought PJ’s secret girlfriend had something to do with his (still alleged) suicide. Maybe he was seeing Anne? That’d make everything perfectly come full circle.

Skyrocket in Flight
Wu’s interview, presumably taped in her home, does provide a clue. Behind her, Pernell discovers, is that damn book. The same book PJ hid his memory stick in. The memory stick that contains… well, we don’t really know, do we? But it’s definitely an important piece of the puzzle. Anyway, Wu skyrockets to the top of Pernell’s list of suspects.

Baptism
This is episode 9, the penultimate one, and I must say, I’d hoped for a bigger role of KD (Garret Dillahunt) on the show. Ever since the second or third episode, he’s been kind of shambling through the series. He’s done some very significant stuff, story-wise, but I guess I just can’t get enough of him; I need my Dillahunt shot to be bigger. KD’s role seems to be over now completely, too. He desperately wants to be whole again, clean, forgiven, so after convincing reverend Paul (Julian Curtis), with help from Alicia (Elizabeth McLaughlin), he gets baptised. Not before confessing to all his sins, which gives the reverend all the information to blackmail ‘Brother Pernell’ for all eternity. If he wanted to, of course, I mean, he’s a reverend, so he’d never do that, right? Sure, Pernell had just told him to stay away from him, because he’d figured out Paul and Alicia were just after his money all along, but the Hand of God Church wouldn’t steep to blackmail, would it? Okay, no. My guess is it would. Definitely.

The Threat is Real
The question is whether or not Pernell’s search for the truth still matters as much, now he’s decided to ‘pull the plug’. He believes the hallucinations will stop if PJ’s taken off life support. And he may be right. However, what’s Hand of God, as a show, going to be like if the thing (sorry to call you that, PJ) everything revolves around is gone? It doesn’t feel like an empty threat, though. This series might actually let PJ die, I believe it. So many other shows often work towards the unthinkable – like taking the edges of the carpet in both hands and threaten to pull it from under the whole concept, but you know they’ll never kill off Brody. Did I say Brody? I mean, you never have to worry they’ll discard the whole premise of the show. The great thing is, you never know what to expect from the Hand of God. You’d better prepare yourself for the worst.

Hand of God: One Saved Message

Okay, so here’s the deal. The eighth chapter – or should we say commandment – of Hand of God is kind of a mess. Despite some great performances, especially by Dana Delany and Garret Dillahunt, the episode suffers from a confusing script.

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On Hold
Is it because of the way it’s directed? Well, I suppose Mario van Peebles could’ve made better choices concerning the incorporation of the flashbacks, but it’s mostly due to the fact how the story’s constructed that makes ‘One Saved Message’ feel all over the place. Last week, Pernell (Ron Perlman) misinterpreted the signs/his hunch and got Josh killed. Before KD took his chance, Josh did share a piece of important information with Pernell. PJ was seeing somebody. Somebody who could be pivotal to PJ’s decision to shoot himself. Or did he? However, all this is put on hold for the moment. The reason for that being..? An unnecessary flashback episode.

Antagonizing Mental Coach
Pernell’s in a crisis of conscience, literately. Has he indeed been misreading the signs/visions/hallucinations all along? It’s not gotten him closer to anything, really. So when his office – his judge chamber – gets flooded with white imaginary doves, he knows he’d better get some help. And so he does. It’s Dr. Langston (Camryn Manheim, Person of Interest, Extant and the lady with the pierced ears on The Practice), who should be a psychologist, but she’s more of an antagonizing mental coach. I can’t imagine this approach would ever actually work, since trust needs to be established first. I would’ve been out of there in no time, and got myself someone with a little more compassion.

Unrecognizable Flashbacks
It seems like the voluntary admittance is just a framework, in order to weave flashbacks into it. But the problem is, it doesn’t quite work. There’s no indication they’re actually flashbacks, for starters. It’s hard to distinguish reality and Pernell’s reality filled with hallucinations as it is. Unrecognizable flashbacks thrown into the mix, that’s asking a bit much. Besides, they don’t add much to the story. Is it necessary, or even nice, to know how Pernell got in contact with Paul and Alicia of the Hand of God Church? Have we been dying to see, ever since the first episode, how Pernell got baptised? How PJ’s suicide attempt affected him while being with Tessie? Not really. Or not at all, I should say.

Crystal
Pernell questioning his visions and his belief, that’s a believable turn of events. Unfortunately, the writers opted for the most obvious way to examine it; a therapy session. It’s not all bad, though, absolutely not. Pernell and Crystal (Dana Delany) are on speaking terms again. Sitting across from each other, being more honest than they’ve been in a long time. Crystal, who’s started (or have been?) sleeping with men outside of her marriage, throws it all on the table. It’s another great performance by Delany. There’s really no going around her when the nominees for the Golden Globes are announced.

Burning Down the House
Garret Dillahunt hasn’t had a lot to do these past few episodes, KD’s been kind of waiting around till Pernell tells him to take care of another suspect for him. But Josh was a mistake. He’s killed an innocent guy and it’s weighing on him. He decides to burn down his house, and himself with it. Alicia (Elizabeth McLaughlin) is just in time to save him – not his house, though. Dillahunt’s at his best when his characters are tormented and/or heavily conflicted. Some actors have it, some don’t, the ability to show you everything you need to know in just their eyes. Dillahunt’s definitely got it.

Hand of God: A Bird in Hand

It’s episode 7 of one of the best new series this year – if not the best, Hand of God, and Pernell Harris (Ron Perlman) isn’t exactly getting closer to the truth. There is however new information about his son PJ (Johnny Ferro), but it’s almost insignificant. Almost.

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Leads
This show knows how it’s done, in every way. Camera, lights, acting, the whole production’s been flawless up to this point. Seven perfect hours of television in a row, I can hardly remember the last time that happened. But also in storytelling, this series has no equal. I’m talking specifically about the leads its characters are chasing – the discovery of new information that drives the plot forward. Many other shows use a trick. A cheap trick. Blindspot, The Blacklist, and also Alcatraz, to name one for which the trick didn’t really work (since it was cancelled after a short first season). Their concepts have the leads built in, in the sense that all Kurt Weller has to do is figure out what Jane Doe’s next tattoo means and once that’s cleared up, we’re a little bit closer to the truth. Explain enough tattoos and we get the answer we’ve been waiting for all along. That’s a pretty common way to do it; just work off a list. But Hand of God is much more sophisticated than that. Leads and clues come from anywhere, from anyone, at any time.

Raunchy Detail
The mystery of the show is PJ. Who’s responsible for his (alleged) suicide, and is he going to wake up from his coma? It’s not like Pernell is getting one lead from God every week to chase – which is how a traditional network series would probably handle it. No, this time, it’s PJ’s best friend Josh (Hunter Parrish) who tells him something that he believes is just a raunchy detail, but it’s more significant to the story than it may appear. PJ was having an affair. And she could know about that memory stick which looks like the smoking gun of it all.

The Girl
I bet next week Pernell’s going to track down the girl, and because some things are like father like son, maybe PJ was seeing Tessie (Emayatzy Corinealdi), who knows? Probably not, though. Apart from being very coincidental, it’s nothing more but a twist that would make Pernell throw up in his mouth, but nothing else. While Hand of God is shooting for that ‘else’. A deeper layer. That’s not to say Pernell isn’t a bit let down by PJ cheating on Jocelyn (Alona Tal). He fails to see the irony – he himself even married the woman he is cheating on his wife with.

Keeping their Cool
Speaking of tracking down people and Tessie, Crystal ‘call me Crystal’ Harris (Dana Delany) has discovered, through her mole, that her husband’s secretly been getting a second wife. After cursing, but not confronting Pernell just yet, she looks up Tessie. The two of them are equals in the way they’re able to keep their emotions completely in check. Where other series would just have the wife throw a glass of whatever they’re drinking in the prostitute’s face, threaten her and storm out, Hand of God shows it’s a show by, for and about grownups. Of course, in the end Crystal does threaten Tessie, because what else can she do, but their whole conversation’s superbly written and acted. There’s not much more that I love than to see two arch enemies discuss things over a glass of cognac, figuring each other out, keeping their guards up at all times, like each other but hate each other, and keeping their cool.

Hostage
Pernell has ordered a hit out on Josh, but too soon. Josh is one of the good guys. So KD (Garret Dillahunt) has to be called off, but he’s unreachable – something Pernell told him to be. In order to save Josh, Pernell takes him hostage in his apartment, where KD’s circling the building. As long as Pernell’s inside, Josh will be safe. Until he escapes and KD does what he’s supposed to do; Pernell’s dirty work.

Hand of God: For the Rain to Gather

Pernell Harris (Ron Perlman) used to rely on his visions to know what to do next, but they’ve stopped coming. Turns out his wife Crystal’s (Dana Delany) newly found hobby wasn’t so much born out of interest or a passion for cooking, but merely a solution to administer the pills Pernell doesn’t want to take.

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The Finer Lines in Life
There’s a fine line between devoting your life to an invisible higher power and being considered a crazy person. Religious? Going to church? Trying to do good? Pray? All’s well; we’re all doing that. But take it a small step further, and people will think there’s something wrong with you. In Pernell’s case, that small step might as well be finding a loophole in the Bible so you can, with a clean conscious, marry your mistress.
That fine line between faith and insanity probably is, no, must be a theme of the Amazon original series Hand of God, if not the main theme. Where does belief in God end and mental illness begin? If that’s indeed the reason Ben Watkins created the show, to explore this very subject, it’s an even riskier production than I already thought. Then everybody involved, from Watkins to Perlman, to Amazon Studios, has got huge brass balls for their commitment to this outstanding piece of work. Just imagine the level of scrutiny the series would’ve faced if it’d been written half-heartedly. Thank God its serious subject matter’s treated seriously – and brilliantly.

Business Transaction
Marrying your mistress. Easier said than done. Tessie (Emayatzy Corinealdi) did accept the ring, but she’s still just a (high class) lady of the night. Her time with Pernell is a business transaction, first and foremost. She’ll come around, is what Pernell seems to think. At the moment, he’s got bigger fish to fry. No visions. No voices. No clues. God is behaving like passive aggressive wife because Pernell didn’t want to eat his home-cooked tupperware meal. So he turns to reverend Paul Curtis (Julian Morris) for help.

Finger Pointing
Together with other members of the Hand of God church, Pernell, Paul and KD (Garret Dillahunt) set up camp in the hospital, at the end of the hallway of PJ’s room. They sing and pray, and they fast. And hallelujah, all four chairs turn and there he is. The voice. Pernell walks over to PJ, who gives him a sign: the shadow of a pointing finger, stretching out over the side of the wall. It’s pointing at ‘the devil’, but there are too many people. Who is it? The woman from church who looks like Tessie? KD, standing in the line of fire? Somebody else?

Vegetable
Time is of the essence, because PJ’s friend Josh has released an old video of theirs, in which PJ states he doesn’t want to be kept alive by a machine, in a hospital bed, like a vegetable. It’s enough evidence to have his plug pulled. Jocelyn, Pernell’s daughter-in-law, still wants that to happen, although just last week PJ gave her a sign of life. From below the belt, mind you, it was just a physical reaction, but still. Boners don’t lie.

First Kiss
Crystal’s on Jocelyn’s side. Gives her motherly advice to move on. Whether there’s something going on between her and Josh or not, she needs to live. And she does just that. As the storm – one of the many Biblical references in the show – is pouring down on the city, she and Josh kiss for the first time. It wouldn’t be drama if no one was watching, and indeed, Pernell is. Actually just on his way to Josh, because he’s found – well, Tessie’s found it for him – a possible link between him and the possible man behind the man behind the man who might’ve had something to do with possibly deliberately trying to kill PJ.

Hand of God: Welcome the Stranger

It’s what they call in the business a filler episode; the main character takes a break from whatever he’s been doing and focuses on the matters at hand, often at a different location. Judge Pernell Harris (Ron Perlman) does exactly that in ‘Welcome the Stranger’. Including wearing white bathrobes and smoking cigars by (and in) the pool.

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Filler
I have nothing against filler episodes. They can be great, despite taking detours from the ongoing storylines. LOST, for instance, offered its best episodes when it put Desmond Hume center stage, saving the journeys of Jack, Kate, Sawyer and Sayid for a rainy day. (Sure, not all that glittered was gold; we all remember Nikki and Paulo all too well.)

But
But – because there’s a but – I don’t fully understand the necessity of a filler episode in this case. The case of launching 10 episodes all at once, the drama business model of Amazon and Netflix. You’d think a filler episode’s useful when you’ve got a season of 22 episodes (or more) to fill. You’d want to stretch it out a little bit, because the order’s nice, and it shows a lot of appreciation from the network, but sometimes the arc just doesn’t have enough meat on the bones to spend 22 hours unraveling it.

Standalone
Another upside to a filler is the fact it doesn’t intervene with the plot; it’s a standalone. Therefor, it’s easier to bring in a writer and have him do just that one episode. Whether you want him because he’s a great screenwriter, or you think he’s got potential and want to see what he can do.
Both reasons one could have for filling time, don’t apply here. Since the first season of Hand of God consists of only 10 episodes, and Daniel Tuch (Burn Notice) is neither a famous David Mamet-ish writer, nor a rookie, I guess taking Pernell out of his everyday life was just a fun thing to do.

Tessie
Pernell, Bobo (Andre Royo, The Wire), Asa (Cleavon McClendon, Justified) and Ira Goldstein (Robert Joy, CSI: NY) are taking a business trip. And what better way to conduct business than at a resort, in white bathrobes, cards and cigars in hand and prostitutes walking around? Bobo thinks he’d done Pernell a favor, by inviting/hiring Tessie (the absolutely stunning Emayatzy Corinealdi) to the party. But the judge ain’t too happy about that. He’s a one woman man now, living up to his marriage vows. Having (a naked) Tessie around is more temptation than he bargained for.

Frozen Yoghurt
She’s not exactly a one man woman, something Pernell’s very much aware of. Although, everything’s different when he’s confronted with one of her other clients. Then shit suddenly gets pretty real. That other client’s Ira Goldstein, who was hoping to butter up the judge, but calling Tessie a hooker (twice) and describing a sexual position he used to have with her, doesn’t soften anything. On the contrary. Pernell turns to frozen yoghurt instead.

God Approving Way
When Pernell gets back, he wants, needs, to figure out a bonafide, god approving way to be with Tessie. He gets council from reverend Paul Curtis (Julian Morris, New Girl) and together they find a solution. We’ll have to wait and see if Tessie feels as relieved as Pernell does.

Progress
So what about PJ? Well, there’s progress. A small, slightly bigger, a little bit bigger, kind of progress. When Jocelyn (Alona Tal, Burn Notice) gives him a manicure, it looks like the comatose patient is getting aroused.

Hand of God: He So Loved

Keep your guard up when an episode, of any series, feels like a filler. When everything’s at a standstill, the plot takes a break, people talk but don’t discuss, argue but immediately make up. Then you know a bomb’s going to be dropped out of nowhere, turning everything on its head.

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Midnight Body Dumping
Hand of God’s fourth entry wraps up last episode’s cliffhanger with good news. Judge Pernell Harris’ (Ron Perlman) midnight body dumping in gardens operation turned out alright. For him. Not so much for Julio Farkas, who’s arrested and awaiting his trial. Pernell’s off chief of police Toby Clay’s (Maximiliano Hernández) radar. He’s still crazy, though, as far as Toby’s concerned, so they’re not letting him out of their sights. Or talk to Julio alone, in an interrogation room. Pernell’s after the man Julio’s been working for, but before Julio can admit to anything, Toby storms in and shows Pernell the door.

The Name Pernell
On a side note: names aren’t randomly chosen for (lead) characters on a show. Well, unless it’s John or Jack, I suppose. ‘Pernell’ is too uncommon to take for granted, so I looked up its meaning. Its description reads like a thorough study of Ron Perlman’s role. Among the highlights: ‘Your expression is quite direct, candid and lacks the moderating tone of tact, diplomacy and friendliness. Others find it difficult to accept your domineering and argumentative manner. You’re not inclined to merge your opinions with others, to accept compromise, or to work in a subservient position against your will’, and to top it off: ‘Weaknesses in the health caused by this name centre in the head.’

Jail Time
So the only way to get to Julio is for another inmate to hear him out. Through some clever I scratch your back, you scratch mine judge/lawyer tactics, Pernell sentences KD (Garret Dillahunt) to 14 days of jail time. Should be long enough to get the answer he’s looking for. Too bad about KD’s newly planted grass seeds, though. His lawn needs watering twice a day, otherwise the grass won’t come up and his dedication would’ve been for nothing. It’s what KD says to Pernell, in court, and everybody’s kind of smirking about it – and it is somewhat funny, in terms of a person’s priorities, but you truly feel for the guy. He’s trying to get his life back on track. Got a new house. And his lawn is very important to him, it symbolizes a new beginning. So damn right it’d be a disaster if prison time cannot be postponed for another couple of weeks. Hand of God really knows how to pull a thing like this off. It’s one of the hardest thing to do; treating your characters with the upmost respect, no matter how offbeat they may be.

Circle of the Supporting Cast
Pernell’s wife Crystal (Dana Delany) hasn’t given up on her husband. During one of her weed sessions with April (Erykah Badu), she thinks back to how they first met and decides to stand by her man. And make him dinner.
The circle around Pernell, including his daughter-in-law Jocelyn, con man/reverend Paul Curtis, real estate developer Bobo and lady of the night Tessie Graham, they’re all doing their things. A big part of the secondary storylines involves Tessie’s mother and brother. I’m not sure how they fit into the larger narrative. But it seems Pernell has cut off Tessie for good. God wouldn’t approve, he says.

Calm Before the Storm
And after a bunch of scenes that don’t push the story forward – brilliantly written, acted and directed, so fun to watch -, your guard had better be up, because it’s just the calm before the storm. When Pernell visits his son PJ, he hears a voice that tells him: ‘Sacrifice your son.’
The total concept of the show – at least what I thought it was: man tries to save his son by doing God’s dirty work – is turned upside down and inside out. PJ can’t die, because without him, there’s no Hand of God. Or is there? Or will Pernell never go through with it anyway? Or, or, or…