Episode 1: Pilot
Episode 2: The Contract
By: Carlos Uribe
Red Widow is a show about the wife of a mob boss who must take over the business when her husband is killed.
A critically acclaimed show on cable is called Breaking Bad. It follows the downward journey of a math teacher who finds out he has cancer. In order to provide for his family, he turns to creating meth. It's a story that creates a likeable character that slowly turns him into a monster that doesn't resemble the man from the beginning. It creates questions for the viewer about the attachment they have towards him. It's considered one of the best shows currently on television and for good reason: the writing, characters, acting, and plot are all brilliant. Red Widow is a show that's going to follow a similar journey: a typical wife has to take over a criminal organization to protect her family. The stakes are clear and the potential for forcing her into situations that devolve her character create themselves. Melissa Rosenberg, the creator of this show and former head writer of Dexter, knows a few things about creating a situation where the viewer feels conflicted about rooting for the protagonist. She might have adapted the Twilight series but she's generally a talented writer. Red Widow has a pretty good cast and the idea behind it is solid. It is easy to look at it from a behind-the-scenes angle and see that this show has promise. Red Widow is a show that points that it could be a very good show but it currently isn't. The acting and plot are there but the writing is lackluster. The actual characters are a mixed bag. That's not what kills Red Widow. It's not even that it's on a major broadcasting network that limits how far the writers are going to be able to take their character. The major problem with Red Widow is that it feels lifeless. Red Widow might very well come alive in the future but there's nothing you missing out at the moment.
This is probably a good time for a disclaimer. I'm not exactly a fan of the mafia genre. I don't dislike it either as there's a lot of good movies out there that I like: The Godfather and City of God jump to mind. It is possible to sell me this genre but it has to be spectacular. I wasn't expecting to be hooked to Red Widow but I was at least expecting that it would try. There's a point in the pilot where there's a big wedding scene and I almost zoned out. That wouldn't be the last time in the two-hour premiere. There were even points when I was looking at my watch. There were a few interesting elements but most of them were quite dull. Why? The plot moved way too slowly to be engaging. The first episode does have some pace as it has to set up the premise of the show. Marta's family get in over there head with a ruthless killer. She puts pressure on her husband to leave them. He gets killed. She learns he was planning on turning her family in. This includes her brother and her father. The situation is made more complicated because the ruthless killer expects Marta to fulfill the debt. What is this show about? A housewife having to take over the mob. It makes sense to take your time to get there but waiting until the end of the pilot to do so? It's frustrating. The second episode is actually slower as she basically has to deal with her family drama while she basically gets a mission: bribe a guy. It takes her a whole episode to accomplish this. I'm not suggesting this show become a fast-paced show but at least do the slow bits in an interesting manner. Breaking Bad has done entire episodes where nothing has happened but they were fascinating to watch because of the characters. Red Widow so far can't claim that because I could care less about any of these characters. It's not just the pace that is too slow: all of the scenes are treated with so rigidity that only a couple of them looked like the characters were human or that the people involved were having fun.
A massive problem with the protagonist, Marta Walraven, is that there was only scene where I felt like she was human. It was a scene where she was forced to go to the apartment of the guy she had just tried to bribe. She was hoping to open up to him to ensure he didn't turn her into the Department of Homeland Security. It was a good scene where she let her guard down and basically revealed her insecurities. It's the one scene where I felt connected to Marta as a person. That scene didn't come at the beginning of the pilot but until the end of the two-hour premiere. That's at the end of the second episode. Why did it take so long? In the pilot, Marta was basically a bland housewife. It makes sense that they would want her to be a typical housewife so they could explore how being a criminal overlord changes her. At the same time, does that excuse her for being able to so easily blend into the background? She's the protagonist. She should always stand out. It doesn't help that she lacks agency. She basically reacts to things. Her kid takes a gun to school? She wants out of the life. Her husband gets killed? She'll try his debt to keep her kids safe. She waits two weeks before asking to learn about how to pay of this debt. She should be more assertive. If she isn't because that's who she is, which isn't what this show is going for, then that should be a part of her character. We don't want to see a story about a character who is reacting but taking matters into her own hands. The motivation to bring Marta into the mob life makes sense but now it's going to need to find a way to make her want to stay in. She also needs to be written more consistently. One scene she's determine to give back the stolen product to the ruthless killer but the next scene she's telling his representative she doesn't want to? It makes no sense.
All of the side characters were rather forgettable. The main antagonist is Schiller whose dangerous because the show tells us this. It would have gone a long way towards setting up the tension if we actually were provided evidence of this. That's a part of the reason the show felt so lifeless: the stakes weren't properly conveyed. Marta's connections to the criminal underworld is through her family and Mike. Her brother, Irwin, largely gets arrested and is afraid he's not going to be able to pay for protection. He's the one who decides it's a good idea to steal from Schiller, a villain everyone is afraid of. He basically acts stupid rather than a veteran criminal because the plot requires him to. Her father, Adrei, is as stereotypical as a Russian mob boss can be. Mike's connection is a bit up in question as we don't find out why he's in this life or how he got dragged in. Mike largely acts as Marta's guide even if they don't trust each other. She thinks he killed her husband and he thinks she stole the product that Irwin had stolen. This lack of trust between them is something that have to work through but the conflict this is supposed to create largely feels manufactured. Her father's main henchman is Luther whose only scene of note was where he helped the little kid when he has an accident. The way he handled it showed he had some depth beyond being a henchman. Marta doesn't just have connections but friends as well. Dina, her best friend, is the husband of Mike. She's basically a civilian and she's easily the most forgettable character of the show. I had to keep reminding myself who she was. A more interesting character is Kat, who married a spanish-speaking character in the pilot. She's not involved in the life but she is aware of it. The only reason I like her is because Jaime Ray Newman is pretty great but so far the writing for the character is lackluster. It needs to draw her into the world as well. The show retains another antagonist with Agent Ramos. The show tries to develop him by giving him a heroin...sister? Wife? Daughter? Mother? I'm not sure but he's not very competent at his job. It's not a good sign when the law enforcement in the show is basically shown as being able to be outwitted by a teenager. Marta has three kids as well. Gabrial knows the truth and wants to be involved. He's actually pretty useful but Marta doesn't want him in the life. Natalie is in the dark but she's starting to ask questions. That's basically her character. Boris is a troubled kid who saw his dad get shot. He also took a gun to school and wet his pants.
Red Widow is a show that could one day be a great show. There's certainly the talent and potential for a good show here but it needs to find a way to come alive. It can't be this rigid week-in-and-out because that's not entertainment. All of the characters are going to need a lot of development in the next episodes since none of them really stood out. It's also going to find a way to have Marta embrace her life or the show will find itself in danger of having the audience wanting for her to get out. That's dangerous for a show that's supposed to be about her being in it. Overall, Red Widow has the talent to pull itself together but it's going to need to do so fast. This is a short season of only six more episodes-that's barely any time.