Quarry: More than meets the macho eye
Slice of deep Southern soul8
Helen Archer | On 18, Jan 2017
Looking for a new box set? We take a spoiler-free look at the first four episodes of Quarry, which airs weekly on Sky Atlantic.
Quarry, the eight-part series based on the novels by Max Allan Collins, takes its time in revealing its secrets. On the surface, a savage drama about the brutal criminal underworld of Memphis in the early 1970s, it gradually exposes itself as something entirely more soulful, depicting a morally ambiguous universe populated by complex figures figuring out the cost of violence and what it means to be a man.
Its memorable opening scene reads like a metaphor for the programme itself – our hero (or anti-hero) Mac Conway, played by Logan Marshall Green, floats face-down, seemingly dead, on the swampy shore of the Mississippi river. After an interminable few minutes, he rears up, wades quietly out of the water, only to shoot a man standing nearby in the back of the head. It’s a scene that speaks of Mac’s circumstance – he is, in a wider sense, returning from the dead, and leaving a trail of dead bodies wherever he goes – and lays the groundwork of all that is to come.
Having just returned from his second tour of Vietnam, where he and his army-buddy Arthur (Jamie Hector, previously Marlo in The Wire) were involved in a My Lai-style massacre, theirs is no hero’s welcome. Greeted on their arrival by anti-war protestors, they find re-entry back into civilian life challenging – treated as pariahs by society, unwanted in the job market, and with faltering relationships, they are unsure of their positions as breadwinners, husbands, and fathers.
Mac is returning to his wife, Joni (Jodi Balfour), while Arthur is returning to Ruth (Luther’s Nikki Amuka-Bird) and their young family, but these relationships have been badly affected by the mens’ absence. The series is, too, just below the surface, a relationship drama in the framework of The Deer Hunter, with all the secrets, lies, guilt and forgiveness that entails.
Into this personal quagmire steps Peter Mullan’s enigmatic crime boss, known only as The Broker, who sees in Mac and Arthur’s desperation and inability to reassimilate an opportunity, and seeks to exploit their potential as killers-for-hire. Initially hesitant, soon the former soldiers are introduced to a shady criminal network.
The series has an atmospheric aesthetic, a kind of Southern gothic meets 1970s noir. There is an abundance of facial hair, a soul soundtrack, and an overwhelming mugginess which matches that opening scene. Everyone is constantly covered in a thin sheen of sweat. Water is an ongoing motif – be it in swimming pools, swamps, rivers, or your common-or-garden baths and showers.
The leads turn in terrific performances (and Mullan showcases an excellent Southern accent), but the peripheral performances are no less powerful. Damon Herriman, in particular, plays Buddy, one of The Broker’s crew, a compact gay sociopath, who feels he is at the end of his criminal career and whose relationship with his mother, Naomi (Ann Dowd), could fill a series in itself.
Quarry is bloody and violent and dirty, a slow-burner full of machismo that nonetheless examines an intensely grown-up romance – that between Mac and Joni – which is presented as a shining light, and Mac’s reason to keep living. At its heart, beyond the blood and the mayhem, this is a thoughtful dissection of the difficulties of reintegration into society after war, and the psychological scars the battlefield leaves behind.
The full box set of Quarry Season 1 is available to watch on-demand until Friday 10th March. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it live and on-demand on NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription. The contract-free service includes access to a range of Sky channels, from Sky Atlantic (The Young Pope) and Sky 1 (Arrow, Supergirl, The Flash) to FOX UK (The Walking Dead, Legion, 24: Legacy). A 7-day free trial is available for new subscribers.