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Stumptown - Family Ties - Review Roundtable: Strange Alliances

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This week brought us "Family Ties", another powerful episode of Stumptown. Strange alliances abound and we learn more about the people in Dex Parios' life. While some problems are resolved others show that danger is just around the corner. SpoilerTV writers, Ellys Cartin and Marko Pekic and I look at the episode and answer some of the questions on our mind.
Read our thoughts then share your own in the comments below.

Are we satisfied with the Artie/Dex resolution? Was it a stronger storytelling choice for Artie to suddenly latch on to that the baby reminded him of his daughter when the baby didn't faze him at all in the prior episode? Was it cliché to give him redemption?

Donna - I love a good redemption story as much as the next person when it's done well. This one wasn't. A good redemption story takes a character to rock bottom and then they earn their way back to forgiveness, and that takes time. It did a disservice to the character of Artie and to the wonderful Donal Logue who played him to have this arc occur in the span of one episode, and it wasn't even a full episode. He does a jarring about-face, suddenly caring about this single mother and baby that moments before had not qualms about double-crossing. It would have been nice to have him hang around for a few more episodes to be a thorn in Dex's side. Series star Cobie Smulders and Logue worked very well together, and he could have easily become a long-time part of this cast.

Ellys - Redemption itself is never too much of a stretch, but a complete 180 in the space of a single episode pushes credibility. Even if this is the extent the show planned to use Artie this season, they could have held something back. It didn't quite track that he would get a heart, spill the contents of that heart, and team back up with Dex in just a few minutes. I didn't want them to stay enemies forever, so I was glad they ended up working with each other again, even if it happened abruptly. Dex still needs to complete those apprenticeship hours too. Her next mentor has big shoes to fill, as entertaining and complicated as Artie was.

Marko - Chemistry wise the scenes between Artie and Dex work so well. They do elevate the show quite a bit. Artie pulling out that sappy story was way too convenient and unnecessary. It was a major cliche. Artie was a complex enough character this type of redemption was unnecessary. The writer's choice to forcefully redeem his character left a bad taste in my mouth. Yet, Artie should become a recurring character, Logue is just too good in the role.

In a wonderful, heartfelt scene between Dex and her brother, Ansel (Cole Sibus) we learn more about their family history. We learn that at some point they were separated and Dex fought to reunite with her brother. Ansel seems to be able to get through to Dex when no one else can. What do you think happened to them? Sue Lynn seems fond of Ansel; do you think she has more of a connection to their family than her son?

Donna – Ansel may be the most perceptive person in Dex's life. He is her anchor and moral center. He sees through her bravura and with a word can center her. There were references to them being abandoned, whether it be by one or both parents and were likely separated by authorities due to their young ages. However, true to her nature, Dex fought to find and be reunited with her brother. And though it is apparent he was very young when it happens Ansel's one memory of that time is that his sister came for him and has been there for him ever since. The rapport and sibling connection between Smulders and Sibus feels real and natural.

Ellys - Dex was surprised that Ansel remembered being taken away from home, and you could tell she was wondering how that had affected him. Her reaction indicates he must have been young. Ansel's subsequent statement that he wasn't afraid because he believed young Dex when she said she'd fight for him was the final nail in my bucket of tears. It's our first major clue that Dex's present-day demons may have taken hold in her childhood. This episode again made me wonder how far back Sue Lynn (Tantoo Cardinal)'s connection to Dex's family is. Repeatedly we've seen that Ansel has a keen discernment of the truth about people, which means his positive interaction with Sue Lynn both throws a wrench in and supports my theory about Sue Lynn's falling out with the Parios siblings' father. Ansel doesn't seem to know the full story about how Dex and Benny were kept apart, so one wonders if he was around for the breakup. Regarding how Sue Lynn treats Ansel, she was kind, but I wouldn't go so far as to say she was fond of him. Her kindness immediately made me wonder if she played some role in Dex and Ansel being separated to begin with. I am very suspicious of TV characters this year.

Marko - Ansel is Dex's guiding star. When it gets the darkest, he is probably the only thing that can pull her back into the light. Ansel is the only pure, not tainted person in Dex's life. I assume there must be a negligence or substance abuse story in the Parios family that led to the forceful separation. The way the writers are throwing little chunks of their backstory at us keeps my appetite satisfied so far, let's just hope they don`t drag it too far.

How well did the episode balance the three main storylines (Dex getting revenge on Artie and bringing Tapper down, Det. Hoffman (Michael Ealy) and his history with the escaped convict, Kane (Colin Cunningham) and Grey (Jake Johnson)'s involvement with Kane?

Donna – While understanding what they are doing in terms of setting up backstories of other characters, but this week I was more invested in Dex's main story of getting revenge on Artie and bringing Tapper (Robb Derringer) down. There were essentially four storylines to follow and the episode felt just a little crowded. That said, each story had strong elements that showed growth for the central characters. Hoffman's history with Kane and his determination to recapture the escapee put him at odds with his superiors but showed the depth of the character. In fairness, they have been building Grey's story of his criminal past coming back to haunt him. The highlight of his story was the way he protected Ansel by getting him out of the bar before the visit from Kane's thugs that he knew was coming. But there were so many other great elements of Dex's pursuit of justice for Candace (Shoshana Bush) and getting revenge on Artie that I would have preferred to have seen.

Ellys - I found the jump back into the Kane business caused me trouble keeping track of things in the episode. Dex's story could easily have been the entire episode. I think that when you have two more serialized stories clashing in one episode it can be harder to process. I was invested in following how Dex was going to help Candace and outwit Artie, and the whole bus crash and escape bit was on another plane entirely. All the stories I felt ate away at each other a bit, with Dex's taking away some of the intensity of the Kane escape, Hoffman's taking away some of the fun from Dex's, and that just left me caught up and worried about when and how Ansel and Grey would cross paths with Kane. I was relieved to see Grey send Ansel out of harm's way, but I was also sad because I could see that Ansel was confused trying to figure out what Grey was doing. That made me worry, and there were two other major threads I was supposed to be following!

Marko - From the get-go, Stumptown has a great pace and natural flow. While Hoffman's and Grey's stories were second in a row, they used the time they've got with them to create an emotional connection to the characters and their stories. The angst didn't feel forced or out of the blue. Now it is up to the writers to create high enough stakes and consequences to keep it satisfying.

Detective Hoffman was given a great deal of character development and history this week, what did you think of his backstory and his character growth?

Donna -It was interesting to discover that Hoffman is haunted by a case that went awry. He was likely second-guessing himself as to whether there was anything he could have done to prevent the death of his informant. The case was influential in Hoffman's development as a close to by the book cop and not taking chances. Seeing the cracks in his demeanor were handled well by Ealy and added great layers to his character.

Ellys - While I thought it odd his past with Wallace Kane didn't come up when he was previously investigating Kane-adjacent matters, the revelations about Detective Hoffman were welcome as his character was a bit too perfect up to this point. We saw him in conflict with Cosgrove (Camryn Manheim) the first time, and no meandering stories about dogs brought that tension to a quick resolution. Ealy's performance also kicked up a notch as he got to play to those darker regrets and desire for justice that are influencing Hoffman.

Sue Lynn and Dex seem to form an odd partnership this week. How long do you think this uneasy truce between will last? Did Dex helping to expose Tapper earn her points with Sue Lynn? How did you like the two of them working together to trap Tapper?

Donna – I loved Dex and Sue Lynn ultimately working together. The scene where they tag-teamed Tapper at the restaurant was a masterpiece of timing and dialogue. Smulders and Cardinal just clicked on all cylinders in their banter as if those the characters had been working together for years. While Sue Lynn will be grateful to Dex for preventing Tapper from taking advantage of the reservation I don't think the slate has been wiped clean between them. It will be a long time before she forgives Dex for the death of her son. Sue Lynn had a nice moment with Ansel at the bar which has me thinking she knows more about Dex and Ansel's past than she may be telling.

Ellys - It's fair to say that Sue Lynn and Dex are just a step away from reconciled. The question now is what is going to test this new trust that has formed between them at the beginning of this season. Whatever dislike Sue Lynn had for Dex years ago looks less and likely to have been because of Dex herself.

Marko - As stated in last week's Roundtable, Sue Lynn's type of characters if used properly can do wonders for a show. Sue Lynn is primarily an opportunist and while Dex doesn't cross her paths the wrong way they won`t have any issues. Still, knowing Dex she will probably cross it in her own messy and violent fashion. Eventually, the show seems to be heading to a point where the two ladies will have to go head to head and only one will survive.

What do you think about Stumptown thus far and this episode in particular?

Donna - Stumptown has quickly become one of my favorite new shows of this season. The characters are nuanced and layered and this well-matched cast is working like a seasoned team instead of a freshman series. The stories are well-crafted and it's obvious there is so much great material for the writers to explore.

Ellys - While this episode was the first to stumble in pacing, its core quintet of characters has burrowed into my heart. The show could use some more complicated mysteries for Dex to solve too. For now, though, I'm content to just spend time getting to know more about everyone.

Marko - Stumptown is just the light, dynamic and comedy filled drama I enjoy. The show balances the comedic and dramatic well, with so far captivating characters. The writing is sometimes uneven and tidbit too pushy, still engaging and entertaining. The show is getting progressively better and this episode was a good step forward from the previous once. If the show will be able to continue to get good guest stars and tell decent stories with them, the show will certainly stick on my watch list.

How would you answer our roundtable questions? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

NOTE: Stumptown will not air on Wednesday, October 23 but will return with a new episode on Wednesday, October 30.

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