August 30, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Animal Kingdom”


The second season of TNT’s ANIMAL KINGDOM concluded on a fitting note of dissolution and violence.  It was a well-told season, shepherded by series creator Jonathan Lisco and uber-showrunner John Wells, who’s been guiding TV dramas to long runs since China Beach and ER.  Lisco and Wells successfully increased the stakes among the criminal Cody family members without stretching the show to an unrecognizable form.

The main development of Season 2 was Baz’s (Scott Speedman) move against his spider queen adopted mother Smurf (Ellen Barkin), who expertly manipulated Baz, her biological sons Pope (Shawn Hatosy), Deran (Jake Weary) and Craig (Ben Robson), as well as teen grandson J (Finn Cole), against each other and for her own gain.  Baz (with the unwitting help of J) robbed Smurf of the money and jewelry she’d stolen from her children’s own heists, then sort-of framed her for a murder she actually did commit, but by commissioning the killer rather than pulling the trigger herself.

Of course, nothing is more dangerous than a caged animal, and in the season finale, written and directed by Wells, Smurf made her own moves.  She attempted to split Baz from his tightly-wound brother Pope by revealing that Pope–at Smurf’s behest–had murdered the mother of Baz’s daughter, but that fell apart when Baz forgave Pope.  She threatened to plea bargain her family in exchange for her own jail release, and she splintered everyone when she gave J her power of attorney, freezing Baz’s ability to sell her assets.  In the end, she appeared to cross over a line of no return by having Baz shot, although the shooter’s identity was hidden, and things were made a bit ambiguous when we saw Baz’s girlfriend Lucy (Carolina Guerra) pulling Smurf’s suitcases of loot out of Baz’s wall.

It was a good idea to set Smurf on her heels in Season 2–her always being a step ahead of her sons was becoming too predictable in the show’s first season.  Animal Kingdom is a show that needs some varying moves, because it tends to hit the same emotional notes over and over (unlike Wells’s other dysfunctional family series Shameless, there’s little humor or aspirational yearning), as every family member becomes distrustful and resentful of all the others, rinse and repeat.  The show is helped by its strong ensemble–Barkin is never not a powerhouse, and Speedman has resolutely put his heartthrob history behind him–and it was a particularly solid season for Hatosy’s Pope, whose doomed romance with born-again Christian Amy (Jennifer Landon) made him a more sympathetic figure than his bursts of violence had framed in Season 1.  The season also amped up its demands on Cole and Molly Gordon as Nicky, who at various times has been the girlfriend of both Craig and J, and who became more central figures as the story has developed.  The quick appearance of Daniel Sunjata in the episode as Smurf’s lawyer implied that we’ll also be seeing him added to the mix in a substantial way next season.

Animal Kingdom isn’t nuanced enough to qualify as Prestige TV, but it’s a reliable hour of compelling drama, with steady ratings and room to grow creatively.  One assumes that Baz’s finale gunshot wounds will prove not to be fatal, and that will leave the series in an intriguing place for the upcoming Season 3.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."