“Reprisal” follows the story of Katherine Harlow, (Abigail Spencer) a woman left for dead by her brother and his gang who seeks revenge years later. Now an upscale woman going by the name of Doris Quinn, Katherine gathers a crew to violently dismantle her brother’s gang, the Banished Brawlers. Along with two men on the inside, Witt (W. Earl Brown) and Ethan, (Mena Massoud) Katherine enlists the help of a crime ring called the “Monster Ring” and the body count begins to pile up.
While Katherine works her way into the gang, “Reprisal” provides additional storylines that lie within the gang itself. Madison Davenport plays Meredith, Burt’s daughter and Katherine’s niece who grew up in the gang compound and performs in the Bang-a-Rang burlesque show nightly. Eager to leave the compound and explore the world, Meredith is a restless character that sucks others into the destructive tornado of her actions. This overtly sexualized character attempts to be a deep and soul-searching character but results in a bland portrayal from Davenport.
Rodrigo Santoro stars as Joel Kelly, the leader of the Banished Brawlers now that Burt (Rory Cochrane) is in hiding. Joel is the level-headed ring leader with a daughter of his own living on the gang compound. While other Banished Brawlers are itching to start a war, Joel tries to prevent any death or violence and solve problems the smart way.
Mena Massoud plays Ethan, the troubled kid who is tricked into joining the Banished Brawlers just so Katherine can have another man on the inside. Ethan reluctantly adapts to gang life and eventually becomes a die-hard, loyal member. This provides many obstacles for Katherine as Ethan becomes more attached to the gang and more unwilling to help.
“Reprisal” is described, by their own PR, as a “hyper-noir series.” Clearly aiming to mimic the stylings of David Lynch or Quentin Tarantino, there is nothing about “Reprisal” that is noir. No shadows, no mystery, everything is out in the open. All the “darkness” “Reprisal” attempts to bring is communicated strictly in dialogue, not in directing, cinematography or tone. Filled with violence that feels very unrealistic in each instance, this attempt at noir is a huge hit and miss.
Referred to as “era ambiguous,” it’s clear “Reprisal” tried very hard to create a mysterious and beautiful world but missed the target by mixing too many decades into one show. Their aim for ambiguity left a feeling of confusion and greatly distracted from the story. While characters use flip phones wearing 1950’s attire and driving a 1930’s car with a rotary phone in the glove box, this mash-up of eras is too much at once.
As “Reprisal” centers around one woman’s revenge, it would be helpful to understand the motivation behind her anger. Questions arise such as “why did her brother set her up?” “why did her brother try to kill her?” and “how is the hurt brought on Katherine emotional and not only physical?” Not enough information is given to understand what is going on underneath that blonde hair which causes a lack of connection between our femme fetale and the audience.
Some big swings were taken by director Jonathan Van Tulleken who chose to create a “drive-in movie feel” as greenscreens were used to explain backstory in a series of quick frames as characters sat on a bench or in a car while the story played out behind them. Additionally, with a very commercial-like scene in Episode 1, the directing choices were a bit puzzling. However, in Episode 10, there was a 3-minute, long-shot fight scene as the Banished Brawlers attack their enemy’s compound in order to retrieve Joel’s kidnapped daughter. The series of consistent long-shots and the fight choreography in this scene is almost enough to forgive the confusing era ambiguity.
The acting in “Reprisal” is generally over the top. The actors bring a commercial-like approach to their characters, portraying their characters loudly and big. The most notable performance is that of Rodrigo Santoro as Joel Kelly. Santoro brings subtlety and a controlled, almost quiet power to the role. Abigail Spencer as Katherine Harlow/Doris Quinn delivers an excellent performance as she brings out the best and worst parts in this femme fetale character.
Although the side stories get lost or completely dropped, the driving story is interesting enough with twists to keep an audience engaged. With your usual shows slowing down for the mid-season break, “Reprisal” is an entertaining show to binge during the upcoming winter break.