Life on the run is hard. You’ve got CIA goons on your tail, and you’ve killed several of them already. Your oldest friend in the business is hiring assassins to take you out. On the upside, you meet and almost immediately begin a romantic relationship with Amy Brenneman. As a wise man once said, he strikes and gutters, ups and downs!
As was the case with the show’s first installment, this episode of The Old Man keeps the plot to a minimum, preferring a more vibe-based approach. For Dan Chase, whose real (?) name we learn is Johnny, this entails setting up shop in a safe house he’d arranged for in advance, to the surprise of the property’s current occupant, divorced Zoe McDonald (Amy Brenneman). When Chase overcomes her reticence about both of her herself—it was her of her estranged ex-husband of her who rented the guest house out of her without checking with her first of her—and his dogs of her by cooking her dinner of she invites him out the next night.
The pair hit it off despite, or because of, an intense conversation about his late wife and the collapse of her marriage. They spend the night together, but a series of unpleasant dreams and daydreams causes Chase to pack up and prepare to leave. He’s interrupted by the sound of breaking glass; when he investigates, he finds out from Zoe that she’s behind on her son’s college tuition because her ex de ella has been shorting her on alimony just to show her who ella’s boss de ella. She rests her head on his shoulder for comfort, and with that, it seems any hope of severing herself from him before trouble can find them is gone.
And trouble is definitely on its way. On the other side of the episode’s ledger, FBI Assistant Director Harper continues his double-sided investigation into Chase’s whereabouts with the help of his workaholic protégé Angela Adams (Alia Shawkat). Like her mentor, Adams blows off the (entirely justified!) concerns of their CIA liaison, Agent Waters, who gets in her ear with tales of Chase as a rogue combo of Rambo and Colonel Kurtz—a young American (played by Bill Heck) ready, willing, and able to personally kill Soviet soldiers at the Reaganite height of the Cold War.
What neither Waters nor Adams know is that Harper has made contact with his and Chase’s own mentor, Morgan Bote (Joel Grey). This gray eminence (sorry) gives Harper the phone number for an unknown person who sure sounds like an assassin; Harper tasks him with taking out Chase, and provides him with Zoe’s address from her. Violence, I suspect, will follow.
And oh yeah: the daughter with whom Chase has been conversing over phone calls and text messages allegedly killed herself years ago. Not quite sure what to do with that!
I’ll say this for The Old Man‘s second episode: It was wise of FX to schedule it back-to-back with that bravura first episode. Many of the pilot’s strengths—the cat-and-mouse games, the bone-crunching combat, the barrage of surprises—are replaced by the (admittedly charming) relationship dynamics between Chase and Zoe on one hand and Harper and Adams on the other. And for all that the ep includes a brief monologue from Chase about a wise man who believed “the truth lived only in silence”—an echo of Harper’s Frank Lloyd Wright quote about space being “the breath of art” from the first episode—the ostentatious long takes and silences of the first episode aren’t really on display here. Aside from a lovely prolonged shot of Chase and Zoe taking and holding each other’s hands, it’s a much more standard episode of television, for whatever that’s worth.
Still, I think you’d be a fool to write off what Bridges and Lithgow and Brenneman are delivering here: thoughtful portraits of aging people by intelligent and extremely telegenic actors. I mean, I’d watch a romance about Chase and Zoe even without the CIA-killing-machine business. And I have some confidence, whether earned or not, that the show can return to the nail-biting thriller sequences of its debut if and when it wants to, especially with Harper’s assassin in play.
What I wonder, beyond hoping for a return of the premiere’s suspense, is whether The Old Man will delve into the wisdom, or lack thereof, of America’s imperialist counteroffensive in 1980s Afghanistan. When you look at the past 20-plus years of life on this planet, it seems pretty important to get that story straight, right? As a rabid anti-communist who helped the mujahideen (until he suddenly stopped, for unknown reasons), Chase is a hard figure to valorize. Will the show try, or is the futility of what he did a part of the narrative? Whatever my reservations about this episode, I’ll be sticking around to find out.
Sean T Collins (@theseantcollins) writes about TV for rolling stone, vulture, New York Timesand anywhere that will have him, really. He and his family live on Long Island.