Despite being cancelled after one season in 2010, Terriers, the little show that could, has recently found itself the subject of various Internet discussions. During upfront week in May, I posted a blog detailing why Netflix should resurrect the show after many of the cast members' availability opened up. Since then the chief content officer of Netflix, Ted Sarandos, has independently noted the popularity of Terriers on the streaming service. And in light of this, a seven-week rewatch is underway by The One True Bix's Netflix Terriers site. And coincidentally, TV.com will be doing a rewatch of their own during a similar timeframe.
Not wanting to be left out, I plan to follow Bix's rewatch and blog commentaries once a week about that week's episodes.
(I will do my best to see this through to the end. Sometimes "real life" gets in the way. Most of the time I get lazy.)
With this in mind, let's look at the first episode, the pilot. I once read -- or heard on a podcast -- or decided myself during a moment of concentrated, deep thought -- that the mark of any great first chapter (pilot episode, in this case) is that it introduces and touches upon every theme that a story will later explore. Hindsight being what it is, it is absolutely clear upon rewatching the Terriers pilot, written by Ted Griffin, that it achieves this in spades.
When we meet unlicensed detectives Hank and Britt in the pilot they are two characters stuck in life purgatory. While the pilot doesn't explicitly detail their pasts, it's clear they've both been through some stuff and come out on the other side of it. Numerous mentions are made of Hank's prior alcoholism, failed marriage and former career as a police detective. Britt, meanwhile, displays an impressive acumen at breaking and entering that suggests it may be something he has a lot of experience in.
In the pilot, Hank and Britt exist in a space where they are long past their prior mistakes yet unable to take the next steps in their lives to become fully, functioning adults. In Hank's case, he is still clinging to the past with his desire to buy his ex-wife's home while Britt is unable to fully commit to Katie, his girlfriend, and give her the baby she wants. As Katie puts it, they're "living in never-never land."
Not everyone in Terriers is paralyzed in their lives though. Hank's ex, Gretchen, is getting married again; Katie is studying to be a vet; their lawyer is expecting a baby. Life moves on, Hank and Britt don't.
That is until Hank and Britt take a stumble into Ocean Beach's noirish under-belly when Hank's old drinking partner Mickey Gosney seeks his help in finding his missing daughter Eleanor. This takes Hank and Britt out of their usual small-time cases and into a much bigger criminal conspiracy with wealthy land developer Robert Lindus at the forefront. And no sooner do they save Eleanor than Mickey turns up dead, a heroin needle sticking out of his arm -- his death presumably faked by Lindus's people.
Even though it happens late in the pilot, Mickey's death is the big Joseph Campbell moment in Terriers. It calls Hank and Britt to action. Staring at his dead friend, Hank sees a man who was never able to overcome his demons -- the same demons that cost him his relationship with his child. The fact Mickey died before fixing his relationship with Eleanor makes this all the more tragic for Hank. Not only does this serve to remind Hank of what could have happened to him, but it also spurs him into vowing to take down Lindus, ensuring Eleanor's safety -- something Mickey wasn't able to do. Meanwhile, Britt's arc starts off on a far more subtle note: with a declaration to Katie that he wants to get a dog with her -- the first shared responsibility en route to eventually starting a family.
By the end of the pilot, Hank and Britt have taken their first steps toward getting out of their self-imposed purgatory and towards becoming real people; people who are capable of giving back to the world and actually living as opposed to passively existing.
In light of Mickey's death, Hank and Britt's first shot in the war against Robert Lindus for the heart of Ocean Beach underscores their scrappy, working class determination. They plant evidence in Lindus's house. The great thing about this is Hank's acknowledgement that Lindus will easily use his money to escape the charge, with nothing but his weekend ruined. And on top of that, Hank knows he's probably just brought a huge shit storm down upon both himself and Britt. A shit storm he is more than prepared to weather and come out on top of, money and resources be damned.
By the end of the pilot, not only are Hank and Britt on a journey towards maturity, but the class struggle that festers beneath their hometown of Ocean Beach, CA is well established and all the seeds are planted for the first season of Terriers.
I hope you enjoyed the pilot and this commentary. If you haven't already, I wholly recommend you check out Bix's site. He has a schedule for the rewatch there and he'll be posting various interviews and production videos that he collected from the show's original run.