Never has the narrative clumsiness at the heart of Hand Of God’s premise been more apparent than in third episode “Contemplate The Body.” The body in question being that of rapist cop Shane Caldwell, murdered by Garret Dillahunt’s K.D. at Pernell Harris’ order (or God’s order, if you believe as Pernell does that he’s getting orders from above). Informed that their lackluster planning has all but ensured that K.D. will be followed by the police, Pernell takes a van out to the grave and starts digging.
Never mind that the supposedly brilliant judge goes out on his task in a suit and without gloves, or that ex-con K.D.—clearly no stranger to such dealings—has advised him on every step of the plan, Pernell takes so long in the digging that the sun comes up, bringing a text message from Dana Delany’s wife Crystal that he’s late for a mandatory meeting with a shrink. Never mind also that neither K.D.’s careful preparations nor the judge’s common sense tell him not to show up at a gas station to glare at the counterman while buying several dozen pine tree air fresheners, or that he shows up at the psychiatrist’s caked in grave-dirt. Or that Crystal, heretofore presented as a whip-smart, capable woman, doesn’t put the pieces of what her husband’s doing together, even when he’s in a van festooned with air fresheners with a suspiciously body-shaped and reeking plastic bundle in plain sight. (And presumably a shovel.) No, the best example of Hand Of God’s storytelling style comes after the appointment, when Pernell, rearranging the shrink’s wall art on the floor, decides (with the help of another vision in the form of his son’s disembodied voice) that the divine plan is for him to take the body, in broad daylight, and leave it in the yard of Caldwell’s friend Julio. It’s there that Pernell receives another, nearly identical text message from Crystal about another missed appointment (this time with the judge hearing his explanation of his recent judicial misconduct), leading to another cross-town scramble with the body, where, again, Crystal sits fuming.
Hand Of God’s biggest failing is its inability to make Pernell Harris much more than a tool of such contrivances. Again in this episode, there’s no consistent vision of what the protagonist’s sudden religious awakening means to him—except as a source of convenient visions. Pernell keeps attending the services of shifty preacher Paul, but, apart from proclaiming it God’s will that the bullet was a millimeter away from killing his comatose son outright, there’s little evidence that his born-again status has any meaningful effect on his daily life. (Other than breaking off the sexual component of his relationship with mistress Tessie, who’s absent from this episode.) Instead, Ron Perlman is left to play Pernell as a bullying obsessive when it comes to following the trail of visions he believes will lead to those responsible for Jocelyn’s rape, and a petulant child when those visions don’t come fast enough. (“So why is it so fuckin’ hard!,” bellows Pernell to the heavens tonight, echoing his pattern in every episode so far.) Hand Of God is turning into a show where Perlman’s performance can only be appreciated in isolation. Tonight, he has a touching little moment breaking down in the van in front of Crystal, and a nice, quiet scene with Bobo on the porch of the mayor’s dad’s house, but there’s no continuum to the character.
“Contemplating The Body” also serves as a primer on how to deflate promising characters. John Tenney’s lawyer has been impressive in his brief appearances to this point, his smooth confidence in getting Jocelyn to decide her readiness to sue over P.J.’s fate and his ability to stand up to the ever-imposing Pernell marking him out as a character to be reckoned with. This episode, after starting out with him bracingly going nose-to-nose with Pernell about bullying his client and then openly questioning the impartiality of the mediator (who, he notes, keeps calling the judge by his first name), springs the dispiriting reveal that he and Crystal used to be lovers. Their dinner conversation is bad enough, with the two adversaries making googly eyes and laughing about old times, before the show takes a turn for the ludicrous when he bursts in on Crystal in the restaurant ladies room for some blatantly crude sex talk. It’s bad enough that this turn into melodrama makes the already questionable drama of the impending court case a mockery, but, as Dana Delany and Tenney exchange lines like “Your beautiful cock. And I would suck it so hard you’d pay rent for it to live in my mouth” and “If things were different, I’d have your underwear off by now,” it’s hard not to just feel embarrassed for the actors.
Alona Tal’s Jocelyn, too, takes a step back. While the show setting up the idea that Hunter Parrish’s pal Josh is going to put the moves on Jocelyn eventually isn’t especially promising, their eventual confrontation—after a rattled Jocelyn fires two bullets at what she thinks is an intruder—finds them having a prosaic debate about whether her having made P.J. buy the gun makes his eventual suicide her fault. Jocelyn’s been presented so far as someone who wouldn’t need that particular fact explained to her—there’s considerable ambiguity about what exactly contributed to P.J.’s act, but the fact that Jocelyn is so guilt-stricken that a gun was around the house is far too facile a thing for her to be stricken with. Tal continues to stand out—the opening scene of the episode, with Jocelyn reenacting her husband’s final actions right up to the moment before she pulls the trigger of the gun in her mouth, is riveting. (The way she tilts up her chin as she re-reads the suicide note we know says unkind things about her is a subtly powerful little move.) Jocelyn’s understandably distraught on many levels, but being so obsessed with the gun is beneath her as she’s been presented so far.
The one character who manages to sail through this mess of an episode is K.D. Garret Dillahunt makes the ex-con’s every scene bristle, K.D.’s seething stew of repressed fury and violence always threatening to overwhelm the confines of his strident religiosity. All that, coupled with his ever-present shame, makes watching K.D. navigate his way through even the most innocuous conversations fascinating. He has two big scenes tonight. His defiant recital of the Lord’s Prayer while Maximiliano Hernández’ s Chief Clay administers the handcuffed K.D. a brutal beating, and his confrontation with Julian Morris’ Reverend Paul over his beating of a homeless man caught pissing on the church wall are equally powerful. Having seen that the Reverend’s relationship with Alicia makes for regular trysts in the church, Dillahunt makes K.D.’s confused rage as the preacher lectures him about the true meaning of Christian values something awesome to behold—as a lifelong sinner (currently helping Pernell murder people) who believes he truly knows the will of God, K.D.’s inner storm of clashing impulses here is Dillahunt’s best work on the series so far. Watching his face and body language as Paul berates him, it’s equally likely he’s going to break down and weep, strangle the preacher, or perhaps simply explode. What’s even more impressive is a quieter sequence where he, after telling Pernell that he can’t move Shane’s body because of constant police surveillance, teaches the judge how to do the deed himself. In his voice over, K.D.’s matter-of-fact tone about the gory details is simply chilling in its certitude.
- Andre Royo’s Bobo continues to get all the best lines, as in his response to the lawyer who’s filed the complaint against Pernell: “That sounds like a threat.” “Really? I need to work on my inflections.”
- As Bobo’s crusty dad, that’s the great character man Bill Cobbs. He doesn’t get to do much more than be “crusty old man,” but his appreciation for Pernell’s pork-heavy eating habits gives him a funny line: “If you weren’t white, I’d think there was a mixup at the hospital.”
- “If you wanna kidnap and murder someone and not be identified, you can use my car.”
- Dillahunt also shines in his scenes with woman hired to remove his tattoos, K.D.’s determination to erase all evidence of his past sins while committing even worse ones another terrifying glimpse into the man’s mind.
- Another storytelling cliché Hand Of God’s already beaten into the dirt, Pernell’s vision in the shrink’s office again sees him addressing something no one else can hear, although this time it’s coupled with the added cliché of the shrink thinking that Pernell’s statements are addressed to him.
- Episode director Richard J. Lewis adds an effective touch during Jocelyn’s opening scene, as J.P.’s shadow briefly appears on the wall, mirroring the image of her with the gun in her mouth.
- After being resigned to J.P.’s death last episode (even killing the fish Pernell brought their son for emphasis), Crystal has completely shifted gears, nastily snapping at Jocelyn during the mediation and using her wiles to try to persuade Tenney’s lawyer to drop Jocelyn’s case. If I’m missing something here, I don’t know what it is.