I have finished season 2 now and add this review which follows on from my review of the first season.
After having re-told (and re-imagined) the plot of the original film in season 1, the show had to find its own path in season 2 – expanding the universe while trying to stay true to the characters.
At the beginning of season 2, you notice that things have been fast-forwarded a bit. It seems the writers did not want to spend time on showing us how the characters got to that time and place, but rather start the story at the point where they felt things will get interesting.
(note: according to the show’s creators, the time gap is approximately 3 months)
The relatively short duration of these seasons (10 episodes) might be one reason for this decision. And it is not only that the characters are brought to a point in their lives where the writers need them to be; there are also a number of plot developments throughout the season that feel a bit convenient. Moreover, some of the characters have been tweaked, and some back-stories seem mildly retconned.
Season 2 sees the characters split up into different small teams, all with their own story-line. In fact, the separation of people who used to be close (and the question if they can ever re-unite, ever overcome their differences, and ever trust each other again) is the core theme of this season.
This creates a slight structural problem. While the various characters in season 1 sooner or later converged into one spot, season 2 sees all of the characters for the most part in their own separate story-lines. And since there are more than just a few characters, this way of story-telling means that we spend only a little bit of time with each of the characters (and their plot-line), always leaving you with the feeling that you are not getting the full picture or do not fully understand the character. Let’s call it the “Game-of-Thrones-syndrome”. In fact, there are some instances in which characters suddenly appear someplace else and we are merely told in one or two lines how they got there or what happened in between.
The fact that the show spends not enough time with a protagonist in order to successfully establish changes in that person is most notable in the character of Kate. Madison Davenport does as good as job as in season 1 portraying the character, but the writing and story-telling problems of season 2 do have a negative impact on the forcefulness of her performance. Another actor who is suffering from the changes brought on by season 2 is D. J. Cotrona as Seth. In season 1, Seth was a driven man, haunted by his inner demons – but he was also mostly in control and had a certain suave charm. The beginning of season 2 sees Seth flying solo and this causes him to lose control – and with it his charm. Cotrona was the perfect casting choice for season-1-Seth. The Seth of season 2 does not allow the actor to play to his strengths – although this changes later in the season.
But, as I said, Davenport and Cotrona do a good job, as do the rest of the cast. The cast has been extended by a number of characters, most notably the new chief-villain Malvado as one of the nine “Lords”; and “The Regulator”, a mysterious, slightly Golem-esque figure played by Danny Trejo.
The return of Trejo to the franchise will likely be welcomed by all the fans, and he does a fine job here, even though his character is rather one-note. Being one-note is not necessarily a problem in a supporting character, but you do expect more from your main villain. And unfortunately, Malvado has not been written all that well, and Esai Morales really struggles to make Malcado a convincing threat. Malvado is brutal, but he still never feels really menacing.
I cannot name all returning or even all new cast members, because I want to avoid spoilers. But some notable smaller supporting roles are played by Hemky Madera (another “Lord”), Jeff Fahey (Uncle Eddie), and Chris Browning, who has heaps of fun playing a sleaze ball. There is also a cameo by Jesse Johnson, who is used in a flashback to portray a much younger version of the character portrayed in the series by his father Don.
As in season 1, female characters are a bit underrepresented (which lies in the nature of the hierarchy of Malvado’s empire), but there are smaller female parts played by Alicia Sanz, Briana Evigan, and Demi Lovato. When the writers learned that Lovato wanted to join the show, they created a whole new character for her and shoehorned that character into the script. The result is that she is unable to shake that shoehorned-in feeling and that her character seems generally not only underdeveloped but also underused.
With the writers juggling all these various players and story-lines, it felt to me as if the characters of Santanico and especially Narciso have been a bit short-changed. Not so tragic in the case of Narciso, as he is not such a major character, but in the case of Santanico it meant that the show as a whole suffered a bit as a result.
To this list of minor flaws you can add a rather tedious opening monologue which was repeated before nearly every episode of the season. In the first episode, it might have served a purpose of reminding audiences of the results of the season 1 finale; but after that it becomes pretty pointless.
This season is rather enjoyable and has a lot going for it, but it feels less compact, less neat than the first season. There is a certain vibe of “throwing-a-lot-of-things-at-the-wall-and-waiting-to-see-what-sticks” – also in regard to some things that seem to have been set up for future seasons.
Being weaker than season 1, I would rate this season somewhere around 6.5 out of 10.