Thursday, October 1, 2009

Durham County

Durham County:
There Is Something Dark And Twisted Up North

As many of you are aware, I am a huge supporter of going out and exploring the world through its television programs, almost, or even more so then its movies or music. Now as alot of you know, I've been a long time detractor of the "American way" of approaching television shows, and I have long spoken out in favor of downloading or watching streaming versions of television from all over the globe, I believe there is good out there, you just need to find it, you just need to look for it. Now, I will be the first to admit, I have found my fair share of winners, but, as happens, even among the good, there will rise afew things that enter the realm of excellent, something that is just perfect, perfect story, perfect actors, perfect director, perfect cinematographer, every single bit of it is just flawless, so flawless it leaves my mouth open and my jaw on on the floor with shock and wonder. The Canadian psychodrama Durham County, stands worthy of praise among the very few excellent. From its perfectly cast actors, to its iconic and sublime imagery that just spills out through out every single scene in a fashion that would make David Lynch or Oliver Stone sit there with their mouths agape in awe, to its eerie backing music, and true to life dialog, none of that "forced to sound current" crap I hate so much, this show truly is a joy to watch, and a joy to go frame by frame on. Seriously, I could do a post on just the iconic still shots on each episode alone.

Durham County is the story of two life long friends, who though the same, are polar opposites, Mike Sweeney; a cop who has moved back to his childhood home of Durham County, Ontario, that though brutal and unyielding at his job, and though socially awkward, is in his heart a good man who cares for his family and those around him and wants nothing more then to protect them from the bad in the world, and the other, Ray Prager; on the surface has everything, a successful business, is beloved by the townsfolk, has a beautiful wife and a son with a bright and shining future ahead of him, but under that exterior, Ray is a serial killer with a violent streak and and a mind twisted beyond belief. The show tells the story of how their lives, regardless of how much Mike tries to keep them apart, are headed for, and then have a violent collision, and over the first two seasons, you find out just how connected these two really are, with Ray bitter and angry deep down for Mike not only causing him an injury that kept him out of the NHL, but also, for abandoning him when they were younger. Ray states many times that Mike was the closest thing to a brother he ever had, and in the final episode of the first season expresses that everything went wrong when Mike left.

The rest of the cast are all equally intertwined as well, even if they don't realize it, Mike's wife Audrey Sweeney; who at the start of the series had only recently beaten what she thought was to be a fatal form of breast cancer, Audrey feels alienated and neglected, and has selfesteem issues from her cancer treatments, she isn't aware that Ray is being nice to her, even buying her some sexy lingerie, just to get into Mike's head and provoke him into reacting violently toward him, making Mike look like he's got it out for him over old unsettled scores. Mike's two daughters, Sadie and Mattie; Mattie is the younger daughter, and is abit strange, most of the first season she wears an mask that looks like an anime drawn face and talks about how she can smell the dead body of the man who died in their house before they bought it, in season two she no longer wears the mask, and has taken to being some what of a normal, even if weird 11 or 12 year old girl, her older sister Sadie, is more connected to her father, she wants to be a cop just like Mike, and is often seen making small dolls and restaging crime scenes in her old doll house to try and visualize and solve a crime, she is estranged from her mother who thinks she has issues with how sick she was, and in season two, do to the events at the end of season one, Sadie becomes the centerpoint of Ray's sick and twisted mental chess game, using her to not only drive her crazy, but to get at Mike by using old covered up events that happened after Mike had left to make Sadie doubt her father and wonder if he's really, as ray claims, just like him. The Sweeney family in general, though strong when needs be, are a family divided and detached from each other, given Audrey's illness, and Mike's overly protective though emotionally devoid personality, the family dynamic is completely fractured.

Tracy Prager, is Ray's wife, she is outgoing, friendly and fun to be around, she enjoys having parties and entertaining guests, she is a part time yoga teacher, and part time manager of the plumbing and bath store Ray owns, she enjoys her life of expensive things and high life parties, so much so she plays off when Ray does small things to hurt her, most noted in the series is in the pilot when Ray bumps her into a very hot metal grill and she burns herself, Tracy also loves her son Ray Jr. very much, and is very proud of him, she goes on often about how he was selected out of thousands of high school students to get a special writing scholarship, a thing that Ray seems jealous of and states repeatedly he doesn't want his son to go, that he should stay and learn the family business. Tracy disagrees, and after their arguments on the matter turn violent, she leaves Ray. Ray Prager Jr. is the son of Tracy and Ray Sr, he is the complete opposite of his father, he is kind, gentle, quiet and creative, he doesn't like to draw attention to himself or what he does, he is withdrawn and dismisses any attention or praise given to him for his writing, the only person he seems to deeply trust is Sadie, whom he expresses his deep love for by the end of season two. Ray Jr. kinds him conflicted though, torn between doing whats right, and protecting his father, the only shred of family he has left after his mom leaves, he wants to do what is right, but he also has trouble believing just how sick and twisted his father is, by the end of the second season he is forced to come face to face with just how sick his father is, and just what kind of a monster he is, and the fear that he doesn't want to ever end up just like his father, and that really the only ones who have ever looked out for him in his life are either dead, or trying to put his father way for life.

The entire first season of the series is the cat and mouse game between Mike and Ray, at the start of the first episode, Ray is in the woods outside of an old abandon farm he stayed at in his youth, he is hiding in the bushes watching a man and two teenage girls dressed in very short school girl style outfits as they engage in the starts of a sexual encounter, after using plastic ties to restrain both girls, the man then lays them face down, and bludgeons them both savagely in the head with a large rock, he then rapes them and leaves them for dead. Ray waits for him to leave, then comes out of his hiding place, to investigate, he then goes home, gets a picnic basket, and heads back out to the woods, where he rapes one of the bodies, then discovers that the other is still alive barely, he then has his way with her over and over over the course of afew days until her wounds get to much and she dies, Ray then cuts a lock of each of their hair, puts it in his basket and leaves. From this point on, Ray mimics the actions of that man he saw in the woods, his path crosses with him afew more times, once in a strip club, and another when he attempts to pick up Ray's wife Tracy, Ray exclaims that he knows what the man is, and what he's done, but that if he's read the news, Ray does it better then him. This is Ray's modus operandi, he is in a sense, a copycat serial killer, who the original has no idea is emulating him.

Its Ray's second victom, school teacher Nathalie Lacroix, a woman who has a deep connection to Mike, as well as the teacher who keeps pushing Ray Jr to be proud of his writing, saying he could be a great writer of he just stopped holding himself back. Ray kills her during a meeting she has with him about his son's future at a public park, when she starts to tell him of how good his son is as what he does, Ray gets enraged and starts to hit her, he beats her savagely and leaves her in a wooded area near some powerlines for dead, he then comes back to check on her later that night, he finds she's still alive, she puts up a bit of a fight but he grabs a large nearby rock and caves her skull in, but not before she stabs him with a pen leaving a deep gash in his arm, and blood and dna on her pen. After she's dead, Ray cuts her hair like he did the other two girls, and pushes her body into the lake and leaves her body there to float to shore. Mike is called in to investigate, he tells his partner that he recognizes her, and says she was a friend, Mike recognizes the cut of hair as a thing Ray and some of the others they hung out with as teenagers used to do to a girl they would sleep with, or bring to Ray's old farmhouse and brutally gang rape, you find out in the final episode of season one that there is a panel in the wall of the farmhouse that comes loose, and behind it, is a wall with the names of every one of the men Mike and Ray knew written on it, and each has some cuts of hair under it, Mike's name ofcourse is not found there, given that he said he never took part in that game of theirs.

From this point the first season is a race or sorts between Mike and Ray as Mike tries to prove that Ray killed Nathalie Lacroix, and the others he kills along the way, Mike has to fight uphill against Ray's large influence in Durham County, he's friends with many of the police and local political people and other members of social standing, all of which get in Mike's way of proving Ray's a murderer, and bringing him to justice. Ray finally snaps in the end of the first season and kidnaps Mike's daughter Sadie, taking her to the old farmhouse he does some rather unspeakable things to her, that if i explain will ruin the impact of when you hear them outloud at the end of the second season.

At the end of the first season, Ray is sent to jail for his crimes, and is awaiting trail, season two starts up a year later only afew weeks before Ray's trial, Mike has been promoted in the wake of all the inquiries and truth coming to light of some of the rather shady business that the other cops did to keep Mike from getting Ray in the first season, and you find out that the case against Ray is starting to unravel, as they loose one murder charge and witnesses start to back out. Season two plays out completely different then the first season, its more of a psychological drama leading up to Ray's trial, where you have Ray and new character Dr. Pen Verity (played by Michelle Forbes who some might remember from the series Homicide, as well as the character of Ensign Ro Laren on Star Trek The Next Generation, or most recently as Maryann Forrester on Tru Blood), both manipulate the cast to their own ends. Ray uses blackmail over never reported crimes to get various people in the police force and local business men to destroy the case against him, while manipulating his son and Sadie into not testifying against him. Pen is using Mike, and her job as a police psychologist to keep her son in a very bitter custody battle, which you find out is all of her own doing, Pen doesn't use blackmail to get what she wants, instead she uses her place as a person of trust to lie and manipulate people into seeing her as she wishes to be seen, not as she really is. Though a start contrast, the second season really is just as mindblowingly good at the first, afew people have said it was better actually, though i'm still on teh fence on that. Pen is a great main villain and she plays the black widow role well, and the scenes where her and Ray actually meet and interact are creepy beyond belief, but I'm not sure, I find myself at an impasse on which main villain was better, the black widow spider of a woman who's mind has completely snapped in two, or the twisted beyond all recognition everyman who only sees his own failures and repressive self hate which drives him to kill. Hard call really.

As great as the series is on the acting and writing side, its just as good on the filming side as well, the lighting, the flashbacks and looks into the minds of each character as they remember or imagine scenes, the ghosts that haunt them all appearing in certain places, the constant images of the powerlines, hinting that the electro magnetics of the powerlines are slowly driving everyone insane, just the whole thing is a huge iconic film noir style case study in how to shoot a film or a tv series to give it the very feel you want. Its just so brilliantly done it makes me almost slack jawed in complete and utter awe of its assault from all sides fo the creative spectrum at once. Truly a thing of wonder with no real equal.

They are airing the series here in the states on ION, where its being aired as one whole of 12 episodes instead of two six episodes seasons, though I would assume given the nature of that network and its target demographics, and run times, its been edited down, each episode has been chopped from about 60 minutes to just around 42 to fit your standardize american hour long timeslot, more then likely they toned down the violence and cut the nudity and sex scenes unless key to the story, and probably edited out the swears and harsh language. I would recommend if you could, either order the dvds or get your download on to find the show in its original untouched form, it has a bigger impact that way. But in any event, this is a must see series, it will leave you breathless, and cursing every day till next year when the third season airs.



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