The second season of Copper ended last month, but I haven’t felt particularly excited to review it. The truth is, the show is just not exciting enough to talk about for an entire 500-word post. But, if you were wondering whether you should watch it, I’m here to tell you you shouldn’t bother.
As season 2 opens, a lot is going on:
- Corky has been reunited with Ellen (his wife), and they are living together with Annie (the Lolita from season 1), but things aren’t going well. Ellen and Annie are both mentally disturbed, and their time together does nothing to improve either of them.
- The 6th ward gets a new boss , Brendan Donovan. Corky likes him because he’s Irish, and he at least purports to want to bring order and justice to the seedy parts of town.
- Robert and Elizabeth are to be married, but Elizabeth is keeping the horrible secret that she was conspiring with Kennedy (the confederate traitor).
- Dr. Freeman and Sara prepare to move back to 5 Points to confront their horrible memories of the race riots they endured, and so that Dr. Freeman can practice where his skills are needed
By the end of the season, a whole lot of shit has happened. One of the women is dead, another is addicted to morphine, Lincoln has been assassinated, Sarah’s mother has been rescued from the deep South, Frances Maguire is reinstated as a detective after being cleared of all charges. Donovan proves to be formidable and despicable. Dr. Freeman, Robert, and Corky are forced to remember and relive their horrible experiences in the war.
With all of this happening, you’d think the show would be truly compelling. In trying to think about what has me so ‘meh’ about it, I can only land on the writing. There’s little suspense, and emotional peaks and valleys for the characters are more like speed bumps. Maybe it’s just the sheer number of characters we need to care about that makes it difficult, but…It’s almost as if the writers are afraid of being too climactic. But this isn’t a Jonathon Franzen novel, it’s a TV show about an incredibly dramatic and violent time period. They’re not afraid to show nudity and violence, but they do seem incapable of focusing on grief or tragedy or disgust in a quiet and overpowering way. In the entire season, I never felt a strong emotional connection with the characters. None of them.
Part of it is that we’ve all seen shows about the detective, obsessed with justice, willing to go to any length to see it done. Luther comes to mind as a show where this is done perfectly. But still, it’s a common trope. If you’re going to make that the crux of your show, you have to do it in an unusual way, or do it unusually well. I don’t think Copper accomplishes either thing. And I think it’s got to be down to the writing. But I don’t know what goes into the directing, so maybe I’m not knowledgeable enough to point out the flaws there. I’ll let them share blame.
The show exists in a world where death is nearly constant, so I think it’s inability to show grief is what bothered me most. They devote almost an entire episode to the funeral/wake for Corky’s wife. She’s been mentally ill, she was pregnant (did we ever find out who the father was?!), and then she killed herself. What a better writer could do with all of that…but for all that happened, it’s as if she just died in her sleep one night after a peaceful life. Death is something that (in my opinion) you can’t pretend you’ve experienced if you haven’t. It seemed to me, watching this episode, that the people involved with it either had never experienced true grief, or were desperately pretending they hadn’t. It didn’t ring true at all. Real grief, especially at an unexpected loss, involves a fair amount of numbness, of shock and inaction. There should be anger, in this situation there should also be relief. And then more anger. But it was just flat, a flat grief that I have never experienced in my life.
I just read that the show won’t be returning for a third season. Obviously I’m not terribly disappointed; I wasn’t going to be turning in either way. On the other hand, I feel like it should be common practice for networks to either a-let showrunners know in time for the last episode to be a true finale or b-give the show one last episode, maybe during the summer, to create some closure. I despise leaving a show behind on an open-ended episode.
The show had some compelling characters–I imagine this is down to the actors who played them–but they were never given enough to do. I rooted for Corky, as I was meant to. I liked Robert and Eva. Dr. Freeman is a tough one; he was presented as such a paragon that it’s difficult to take him seriously as a character. But I liked him too. These likeable characters were always bogged down by such tiresome secondary characters and plot lines that I never felt I had time to appreciate them in the show. In fact, a lot of them are likeable because they are around such unsavory (or worse, boring) characters.
The whole season was just–and I feel terribly harsh for saying it–a waste of time.