Spoilers for last night’s Terriers coming up:
In much of the handwringing over why Terriers is not doing better in the ratings, here and elsewhere, one point of discussion has been the branding—especially the title, which seems to have left some potential viewers unclear what the show is about. The explanation is that Hank and Britt are like little dogs with a bone—they may be small, but they’re determined, and once they sink their teeth in, they don’t let go.
That can be an admirable trait. But it’s not necessarily; or rather, the flip side of it can be the inability to let the past go, to forgive, to stop being suspicious. Terriers is a funny, entertaining detective show, but it also has enough darkness to recognize that the traits that make a good detective—skepticism, persistence—can be the result of disturbing issues, and that there’s a fine line between doggedness and mania.
In last night’s fine episode, “Sins of the Past,” the present-day Britt storyline and the Hank flashback both showed how damaging it can be to nurse past hurts and to investigate the past. Donal Logue, in particular, did some of his best work of the series in showing us that Hank’s suspicion and brooding over the past is not just the result of his breakup with Gretchen. It, maybe even more so than his drinking, was the cause of it, as well as the cause of his dismissal from the police force.
When we meet Hank in flashback, his drinking problem is pretty far advanced, so it’s hard to untangle exactly what’s cause and what’s symptom. But when you see him completely lose it with Gretchen over what he believes is a rape in her past—as furious with her as with her supposed rapist, if not more so—it’s clearly not just the whiskey talking. Hank, lovable underdog though he may be, is also a guy with deep-seated injustice and anger issues, and his talent at detective work both grows from those issues and, in a way, enables them. (Why let the past go when you can investigate it?)
What we see of Hank in flashback sheds a whole new light on everything we’ve seen of him so far this season—not just his investigating Gretchen’s new man, but also his imploring Britt to take the advice that, it turns out, he could never follow in his own: forgive, forget, move on and be happy. Seeing Britt at his lowest here, acting out spitefully and mauling the wrong guy in a parking lot, is distressing; seeing him and Hank at odds and essentially alone is even more so. And yet, seeing the two of them meet for the first time, we can also see how badly the two of them need each other, and how they just might be able to help the other avoid the mistakes they’ve made on their own.
Two more episodes until the end of the season (and possibly, though hopefully not, the series), and Terriers is better than ever. Keep your fingers crossed for next year.