Carrie Preston, Jenn Lyon, Niecy Nash, and Judy Reyes
Photo: TNT
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At the heart of its cavalcade of pills, acetone, and swamp-logged intrigue, TNT’s Claws is a story about nail artisan-in-charge Desna Simms (Niecy Nash) and her evolving morality. Last season demonstrated a notable shift in Desna’s motives for her criminal behavior: What were once choices made out of necessity were slowly becoming opportunities for retribution against those who have wronged her and her loved ones. Now, Desna is fully owning her position as the crime boss not to cross. With her crew solidly by her side, a stand-out third season promises to take the Palmetto-grade antics to new heights as Desna, Jenn (Jenn Lyon), Quiet Ann (Judy Reyes), Polly (Carrie Preston), and Virginia (Karrueche Tran) dig their stiletto acrylics into what’s rightfully theirs.

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The newest chapter is set against the backdrop of Desna’s newly inherited casino, a neon-piped oasis of roulette and shady dealings. She quickly learns that her new fortune comes with a pair of unenthusiastic business partners—Mac (Michael Horse) and Melba (Rebecca Creskoff) Lovestone, a devious couple embroiled in their own meticulous, underhanded system. It is our first look at a true shift in power dynamics: For once, Desna and the crew are face-to-face with their equals and cannot be easily intimidated or chased away. In some respects, Mac and Melba represent an even bigger problem than their previous adversaries. Unlike the Russians of yesteryear, there is no option to fall in line and accept their scraps. In theory, only one boss can remain standing in the end if they want the spoils that come with this exceedingly dangerous lifestyle, and neither party is withering away quietly. Meanwhile, Uncle Daddy (Dean Norris) must navigate a world where he can no longer rely on his fire power and bank roll. Sequestered to a tiny cot in a community center basement, we get to see how things unfold when those who have grown accustomed to a very specific station in life are suddenly out of their element and have to fight their way to the top. The question that remains is, what and/or who will Uncle Daddy sacrifice to reclaim his former glory?

For years creator Eliot Laurence and showrunner Janine Sherman-Barrois have successfully (and creatively) subverted trite storytelling in favor of perspectives that are truly fresh from people who are rarely centered in media. In addition, Claws grants its women the space to be messy, chaotic, and just plain wrong without stripping them of their autonomy or competence. Polly, for instance, is able to simultaneously grapple with prioritizing her mental health over her floundering relationship with Dr. Ken (Jason Antoon) while remaining one of the most cunning co-conspirators in all of Manatee County. Virginia (who, lest we forget, just took a bullet to the temple) is still maturing and learning how to be a good partner to Dean (Harold Perrineau), but is also empowered enough to become a boss in her own right, looking after the shop while the rest run the casino. The writers aren’t afraid to move their characters forward, and doing so doesn’t threaten the chemistry that made the show so magnetic in the first place.

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While Claws has never stood as a paragon of subtlety, the series continues to embrace the campier elements befitting of a Florida noir, growing more delectably madcap by the season. Laurence and company have cultivated an environment where a big musical number doesn’t feel so out of place. (Roller’s outlandish faux funeral in season one walked so that season three’s major casino number could fly. Let’s never forget that.) There is always the risk of leaning too far into absurdist territory -yes, even for Claws- and it’s a risk that didn’t always pay off last season. The first two episodes of this season hint towards a potential side effect of Virginia’s healing process that could truly test that balance. Thankfully, the writers have showcased their ability to toe a very fine line while remaining loyal to their self-dubbed “Clawsian moments” thus far, and those surreal instances are what set the Claws apart from the rest of cable television’s summer slate.

Claws continues to deliver an experience that is suspenseful, unorthodox, and relentlessly fun while testing its own boundaries. It’s hard to guess where this season will take us—playing it safe has never been part of the formula. But what we can glean so far is that this casino will serve as the setting for some significant changes for our manicurist mafia, and neither Desna’s reign nor the security of their friendship will come easily.

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