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« In Which We Go On After It Happens »

What She Doesn't Know


Red Widow
creator Melissa Rosenberg

ABC’s new series, Red Widow, is the American redo of a Dutch show called Penoza. Aside from this version being shot in well-to-do Northern California and the need to constantly introduce tropes of American family values, the plot remains between the two versions of the show: Marta Walraven (Radha Mitchell) must take over the business of her husband (Anson Mount) after he is murdered.

By “business” it isn’t his work at the marina per se, but the Russian mafia drug-trading he was roped into by marrying Marta in the first place, she a sort-of mafia whose suspicious brother Irwin (Wil Traval) had convinced Evan to join. 

For one thing, Marta seems strangely clueless about anything involving her own family’s trade. Her father is some big mobster who hangs in a dark place called Café Russiya, but apparently he cannot really protect her and her family when she wants to be disconnected.

We never really learn the extent of her father’s power in the mob, or why he isn’t more powerful. If anything, Marta seems like more of an outsider. She doesn’t entirely know what Evan and Irwin are ever doing for business, and she has no idea about the details involving their protection and relations with the cops. She seems to think that if Evan fails to pull them out of the business and she left with their three children, that she would be safe even without a husband. He gently reminds her often that she doesn’t understand, which is painfully evident.

It isn’t clear what Marta does while Evan is at the marina doing business and the kids are at school. At one point, a police officer states that she’s a housewife and I realize that without this statement I may not have known – Marta is always somewhere or at an event, like her sister Kat’s (Jaime Ray Newman) wedding.

But that’s just it – everything moves so quickly, it’s hard to get a grounding on who these people really are. Sure, we get just enough facts to put together a family portrait, and of course we are left in the dark about most things because a series needs to reveal information weekly, but in terms of the characters as real people… there just seems to be something amiss with each of them, something that doesn’t make them fully human or three-dimensional.

Take their youngest child, Boris (Jakob Salvati), who acts as the catalyst for Marta wanting out of the business in the first place. He brings Evan’s gun to school one day in an attempt to defy his bully, and to be honest, the foreshortened camera angle on the cocked and loaded gun is kind of terrifying because I am not ready to see this kind of gore. But after the scene promptly ends with a cut to the principal’s office, followed by Marta warning Evan that she’ll leave him, the entire thing is forgotten and never mentioned again. Nobody seems fazed that Boris almost killed another child, in public at school, or that he even got a hold of Evan’s gun. Nobody seems to be concerned about what Boris is going through, about the bully, or about whether he learned his lesson.

After Evan dies close to the end of the pilot (for a show called Red Widow I wouldn’t consider this to be a spoiler alert), the necessary montage of crying family members at the hospital is a nice slowness that gets you to feel something after nearly 30 minutes of exposition. But again, the next day hardly feels like the father of these children, the husband of this woman, the friend to his coworkers, has not only died (in front of Boris) but was murdered. Wouldn’t you take a break from your life, mafia or not? It’s only when Marta comes home to find the police ransacking their house that she reminds them (and us) that her husband is barely cold, as she puts it. As much as the dialogue is exposition for our sake as third-party viewers, I feel as if the entire episode is composed purely of self-conscious wording, not genuine lines to tell each other but to tell the viewers.

I don’t want to find out what happens to these people. I’m guided by tropes left and right and can’t begin to imagine how any plot-twist might surface (and would it really surprise us?), not to mention the music tells you everything before it even happens. From this sampling of the series, I’ve learned that nobody really knows anything, the family is dysfunctional because they don’t really interact much on screen, and anything that could be considered devastating might very well not even change the characters’ interiors.

Shelby Shaw is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer and artist living in Chicago. You can find her website here. She twitters here and tumbls here.

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