Red Widow was added to the ABC lineup tonight after a lot of fanfare and a rather extensive advertising campaign.
Anson Mount as Evan Walraven was the best, most compelling character on Red Widow. Unfortunately, given the show's title and the numerous trailers playing for the last several weeks, we've all known he wouldn't last. What we didn't know was that he would take the best opportunity for success Red Widow had with him when he left.
I'm not certain Red Widow knows exactly what it wants to be. It's not a family drama, nor a crime drama and, frankly, it's not a very great mixture of both. As Marta Walraven, Mitchell is given only the basest material to work with. There aren't any character strengths she can pull out of the hat to cling to which would give the audience something to make Marta appealing. Even before he died, she was already at odds with Evan over his business, but it was a conveniently timed annoyance, seemingly tossed into the script to provide angst at his death.
We knew things weren't exactly right in the family when little Boris Walraven was bullied at school, a trapping no doubt shown only to prove that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Even at his tender age, the best route for this budding young mobster was to pull a gun on the jackass who taunted him after stealing his headphones and calling him Doris in a sing-song voice.
So the gun trumped all. A big bully could continue his behavior, generally doing whatever he wanted, thereby tossing a kid who could have taken the right path down the wrong one through expulsion from school.
Marta was the daughter of a notorious Russian mob boss. That was something she wanted dead and buried, but not enough so that she didn't run like crazy while Evan dallied in drug smuggling. His biggest mistake was apparently doing business with his best friend, Mike, and Marta's brother, Irwin, who must have had visions of daddy's success dancing in his head, because the stupidity of the "deal" he got them involved in - and resulted in Evan's death - was embarrassingly juvenile. I found it difficult to believe he would rip off a man even his father was afraid to rub sideways.
Once dumb was caught by the police, he and dumber (best friend, Mike) decided to pin it all on Evan. That played really well when Evan was dead, and was the catalyst for Marta turning to the man Irwin betrayed to make amends, thereby joining the life she had always despised.
I'm not exactly sure how we got saddled with two series in the 2012-13 season showcasing otherwise intelligent women being convinced that working for the mob was in the best interest of their family. First, we had Fox's The Mob Doctor and now we're exploring a very similar subject with Red Widow.
I wondered if Marta would be the good person making questionable moral decisions for the sake of her family when her father said he would kill or hold a gun to the head of a guy she tried to enlist to help her in her quest, who instead threatened to turn her in to Homeland Security if he decided not to take the bribe Marta offered. That's definitely a moral dilemma.
Marta didn't accept daddy's offer, and told Bob - the down-on-his-luck, soon-to-be-bad guy - the truth. That was a start in the right direction, but she still dragged an otherwise good man down a bad path. A good person doesn't do that, even for the sake of her family. Certainly, with her father's connections and those of Mike and Irwin, someone must have had one on the docks other than the dude Marta brained. How could you spend years in the smuggling trade without having more than one contact on the water?
Goran Visnijc plays the dashing, dastardly Schiller. He toys with Marta while she awaits her assignment from him; one that will supposedly wipe clean the debt left by Evan's (or Irwin's) betrayal. They make him seem frightening by laughing at inappropriate times. I guess that can do it for some people, but it comes off a bit comical to me.
Visnijc is a better actor than that, so the portrayal came off as a bit surprising. My wish would be that they find a better direction for his character, tone down the ineffective fake tough guy routine and go for some a bit subtler, yet equally as frightening.
Once Marta chose to work for Schiller, she shared the knowledge with just about everyone she knew. It appeared the assignment was to steal an inbound shipment of some sort, much like Irwin stole Schiller's. To get the job done, Marta had to get "smuggling 101" lessons from Mike and find people like Bob the dock supervisor to work inside for them. With all the people in her family already knowing about the job, it sure seemed like a big risk for Marta to bring in an unknown. As Marta quickly learned, just because you're without funds doesn't mean you're immediately up for the criminal trade.
It was all a bit technical. There wasn't much excitement that went along with bringing Bob on board and we didn't see learn anything in her smuggling lessons other how to load pot bricks into coolers. I hope she doesn't choose to bring in many others in as the mystery progresses. Something tells me the further down the rabbit hole she goes the less people who knows, the better. Watching her scream "I'm kidding!" as Bob threatened to call Homeland Security was horrifying.
I had a hard time understanding what lead Marta to join up with Schiller in the first place. Was it just to get Irwin out of jail, or to keep him from killing her kids? I got the impression, for all his supposed bad-assery, that Schiller wouldn't slump to child-killing or even taking a mother away to create three orphans. Like he said, why would he have killed Evan? If he was the only person who knew where the product was and he killed him - there was no way to recover what he lost. It didn't make sense. Part of his toying with Marta was letting her think he would hurt her, when clearly he would not.
The best moment of the second hour was between Boris and Luther when Boris relived the moment of his dad's shooting in the driveway waiting for pizza. There was a tenderness present in Luther that was quite unexpected. Luther proved to be more than momentarily caring, because he even took it upon himself to do Boris' laundry and protect his secret. So many of the men on the show are shady and thinking only of themselves. I hope Luther's part is expanded as Red Widow continues.
At the end of two hours, there weren't a lot of characters to empathize with. The writing was a little shaky, leaving too many gaps to really feel for the protagonists or understand their choices. There were some bright spots, like the aforementioned Luther and, surprisingly, Andre Lazarev, Marta's father. He came off as sympathetic and caring. If he knew his son was the heart of the current circumstances, I wouldn't hold out much hope for Irwin. Jamie Ray Newman, as Kat, Marta's sister was underutilized as she has been in the last several series she's been on. Perhaps if these three characters are moved to the forefront the future will be brighter for Red Widow.
The other possibility, and the one that would be the most interesting for this viewer, would be if Schiller let Marta in on his secret. He didn't kill Evan, he knew who did and wanted her to figure out that her own family were the ones against her. She was surrounded by people she thought she could trust but who had nothing but disdain for her because she had found something in and with Evan that they could never achieve on their own. I have no idea what kind of duo Schiller and Marta might make, but it would be a hell of a lot more appealing than anything she could come up with dealing with the likes of her dishonorable family.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.