Shades of Blue: Season 1, Episode 3 - "False Face, False Heart"

Anthony Merino

Shades of Blue's Harlee Santos is no Walter White. Yet.

Shades of Blue

Airtime: Thursdays, 10pm
Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Warren Kole, Hampton Fluker, Ray Liotta, Drea de Matteo
Subtitle: Season 1, Episode 3 - "False Face, False Heart"
Network: NBC
Airdate: 01-21-2016

Almost two years ago, one of the greatest shows in television history, Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad, ended. The series centered around Walter White's (Bryan Cranston) descent into evil due to medical circumstances and his love of family. Cranston received six Emmy nominations and four wins for his portrayal.

It’s clear that Adi Hasak borrowed this formula for his new series Shades of Blue. While there are a great many differences between the two series, the most immediate and meaningful’s the change in the central figure, Harlee Santos’s (Jennifer Lopez). gender. This results in uncomfortable and daring television.

Taking on an interpretation of the iconic Walter White, seems like a very daring step for Jennifer Lopez. Her most recent spike in mainstream cultural consciousness came from grinding buttocks with Iggy Azelea singing "Big, big booty, what you got a big booty" in the video for her single Booty, in 2014. On November 6, the song was number one on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Songs. Curiously, she seems adequate for the role, although, both performances depend on a large part of her being transcendently sexually desirable. Ms. Lopez is hot, so this box is checked.

This sexual attraction makes for one of the most difficult aspects of the series, including the relationship between Santos and FBI special agent Robert Stahl (Warren Kole). In all three episodes, there has been a scene in which Stahl has made demands of Santos that she does not want to follow. He then blackmails her and forces her to his will. From the beginning, this play of force and non-consent leads to a hint of sexual tension in the first two episodes.

This hint blooms into full metaphorical rape in the third episode, "False Face, False Heart". The two are in a bathroom, and Stahl demands Santos take off her dress. As Santos capitulates, Stahl reaches out and touches her shoulder. Santos says, "You don’t touch me, ever". Stahl grabs her arm, twists it behind her back and whispers in her ear: "Listen, I will touch you whenever and however, I deem necessary -- because I own you".

Every tactic used by abusive partners, Hasak has Stahl use with Santos. He continuously threatens her. In an earlier episode, he had another agent pull a gun on her. He tries to isolate her. He openly threatens the welfare of her child. The use of actual physical punishment is more an escalation than anything new in their relationship.

Hasak writes, and Lopez plays the scene, with a slight and disarming twist. Santos is clearly aware of her sexual desirability. While furious, there is a sense of defiance as she reaches to unzip her dress. Additionally, throughout the series so far, Santos is extremely calculating. She’s defined by her ability to keep her head cool and manipulate. Lopez does a good job of indicating a sense of one part fury and one part calculation.

Adi Hasak does not leave the viewer out of imagining that Santos is unaware of the sexual context of their exchange. Later in the episode, she shows up at Assistant District Attorney James Nava’s (Gino Anthony Pesi) apartment and aggressively seduces him. Just as they are about to make love, Santos turns on a microphone. (Earlier in the episode, Stahl put a wire on Santos.) She took it off, and placed it in her purse, allowing Stahl to have a blow-by-blow audio track of her having sex with another man. This is a heinous act on many levels. The most superficial, it was established that Santos was already in a relationship, although there was no indication it was a monogamous one.

Second, she never fully detailed the reason for her sexual aggression to ADA Nava. Third, ADA Nava’s researching many previous convictions, including one in which Santos framed her former lover. She could’ve picked any man in any bar, but the choice of Nava also serves the function of severely compromising his objectivity. She can even use their improper relationship as leverage later on. Finally, by using her sexual desirability to punish her quasi-abusive FBI handler, she morphs from a victim to a partner in a pseudo- sadistic retaliatory abusive relationship.

Shades of Blue is ultimately far more soap opera than crime drama. In addition to the psychosexual tension between Stahl and Santos, every character deals with some kind of personal relationship. The main protagonist, Matt Woziak (Ray Liotta) meets up with his adviser Donnie Pomp (Michael Esper) in a hotel room. They discuss the case, and then start making out. Officer Michael Loman (Dayo Okeniyi) tries to establish a relationship with a relative of the drug dealer he shot. Detective Tess Nazario (Drea de Matteo) decides to move the body of a gunshot victim in order to save her family.

On the lighter side, detective Stuart Saperstein (Santino Fontana) confides in a hooker -- trying to get pointers on how to compliment his on-line honey -- who is from Brazil and only speaks Portuguese. This provokes his partner Marcus Tufo (Hampton Fluker) to declare: "You sit across from his highness King Panty Dropper all damn day and you ask a whore for lady advice…. I’m going to get a cookie, process this betrayal".

All in all, Shades of Blue is not quite Breaking Bad. The biggest thing that seems absent is the sense of place. The desert environment of Albuquerque figured far more into Breaking Bad than New York City defines Shades of Blue. Jennifer Lopez is not yet, and may never be, an equal to Bryan Cranston. But the show is getting better. If Lopez and Hasak keep on pushing the character, there’s the (highly remote) possibility that Harlee Santos can dance with Walter White.





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