‘Quarry’ Digs Deeper Than Its Crime Drama Surface

Cinemax’s latest prestige drama Quarry emerges as its greatest achievement yet

The Southern crime drama Quarry isn’t the kind of television series which viewers should judge based solely on the pilot. Several shows have promising starts but fade into obscurity with illogical plot twists and drawn-out storylines. Cinemax’s Quarry is kind of the opposite of all that. It establishes its basic premise efficiently in the pilot and then veers in complicated and engrossing directions. As a result, Quarry grows into the most promising new drama I’ve seen this year. It’s certainly the best thing Cinemax has ever produced.

The series kicks off in 1972 as title character Mac “Quarry” Conway (Logan Marshall-Green) returns home from a controversial stint in the Vietnam War, and the decision to establish the series during the high-tension early 1970s feels entirely justified. The circumstances of Quarry’s return to America become underscored by such major events as the Nixon-McGovern presidential election and the 1972 Munich Olympic massacres. Writers Graham Gordy and Michael D. Fuller give the proceedings a painstakingly researched feel, and that sense of history helps amplify the on-screen drama.

Quarry returns with his best friend easily drawn into the quick-cash world of murder for hire and with a wife desperate to find a connection to her husband. These two circumstances initiate a series of event that, through the five episodes I’ve seen, pay off in brilliant ways. The world building of the pilot gives way to deep, emotionally resonant scenes between Quarry and wife Joni (Jodi Balfour). It also puts Quarry directly into the entangling alliances of a crime world from which he cannot seem to break free. Or does he even want to break free? The story unfolds gradually and efficiently, taking time to blend its action scenes with those of quiet reflection. Quarry is, among many things, an effective character drama that wonderfully explores the lives of those living through the social turmoil of the 1970s.

Marshall-Green gives a deceptively reserved performance as Quarry. To some, he may appear bland and unworthy of being the center of the action, but his Quarry is all anger and resentment bubbling beneath a smooth surface. Jodi Balfour’s turn as “the wife” is hardly just that as she gives a complex portrayal of a lonely woman. There are scenes of shocking brutality involving Joni later in the season, but they never feel superfluous. There is graphic violence here, but it all serves a purpose. It informs the narrative and shades the main characters in intriguing ways. Perhaps the biggest scene-stealer, though, is Damon Herriman as hit man Buddy whose deep relationship with mother Naomi (Ann Dowd) warrants serious consideration as a spin-off series. Herriman’s Buddy is a tricky character to portray, but the actor never once launches into gross stereotype. Buddy feels as incredibly authentic as his surroundings, and Herriman runs with the role in a way that could result in awards attention should the series take off as it should.

Thanks to director Greg Yaitanes’s strong directorial approach, Quarry pleasantly surprises in multiple ways. It isn’t overly concerned with rushing through the material and often stops the action to allow characters room to breathe. The script often, at times, feels near play-like in its thoughtful musings on 1972. Yes, there’s quite a bit of hypnotic action from which you can’t turn away, but it’s supported in the best way possible by a cast of actors who embody real world characters. Quarry as a dramatic action series demands patience as it gradually unveils its secrets, and you should indulge its deliberate pacing. The rewards ware completely worth it.

Quarry premieres tonight at 10pm ET on Cinemax. 

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