Previously, on Quarry: “Carnival of Souls”
Quarry – S1E8 – “nước chảy đá mòn” | Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Jodi Balfour, Peter Mullan, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Damon Herriman, Edoardo Ballerini, Chloe Elise, Josh Randall, Happy Anderson, Ann Dowd, Joshua J. Williams, Mustafa Shakir | Written by: Michael D. Fuller & Graham Gordy | Directed by: Greg Yaitanes
To bring its first season to a close, Quarry has to take us back 10 months; back to Vietnam and the events that have haunted Mac all season. In doing so, the series also delivers its longest episode yet, its most action-intensive episode yet, and its absolute best episode yet.
“nước chảy đá mòn” is a Vietnamese idiom roughly translating to “flowing water wears away stone”. Thus far, the focus of this entire season has been the stone: Mac. We’ve seen just how smoothly he has been worn, as his PTSD has gone woefully untreated, and he has slowly come to a point where he no longer seems forced into a business relationship with The Broker; he has looked like he longs for it. If you question that interpretation of Mac’s actions, you need only look back at the title of the series premiere “You Don’t Miss Your Water” and the lyrics of the central song in that episode; at the time, we may have thought Mac was missing Joni, but now we know better. He is a smooth stone desperate to find more flowing water, but why?
Of course, we do have an idea about the “why”; in the abstract, at least. We can assume, based on hints here and there, the moments where Mac has gone in-and-out of panic, or even the real-world knowledge we bring to the table ourselves; but we can’t really know what it is that has cast a shadow of torment over Mac and everything he has attempted to do in his life since coming back from war. Until now; until we see a 7 1/2-minute one-shot from Greg Yaitanes of just what it is that causes the word “massacre” to forever be printed in history books. In one of the best shot sequences you’ll ever see on television–or elsewhere–you feel every bit of the raw destruction that took place in a small fishing village in Vietnam; several dozen men, women, and children were killed, and a handful of soldiers had their minds pelted with emotional shrapnel.
I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m attempting to sensationalize the scene, especially given how carefully it feels like Yaitanes and crew were to not sensationalize it themselves. The scene feels entirely organic, just as every action sequence in previous episodes has, and that is actually part of what makes it so effective; there are things in that sequence that will haunt me as a viewer, and I say that with full belief it was necessary. This should stay with me, just as it stays with Mac.
Frankly, they are very different television series, but this is very similar to the season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead. In that episode, there were some very graphic things that some fans did not like, but those things were necessary to establish a character as a threat. Here, as callous as I know this will sound, the Quan Thang Massacre absolutely had to be brutal. As I want to reiterate, not for the sake of sensationalizing it, but for the fact that it is reality. So much of this series has been cognizant of itself and its place in reality. Mac Conway is not a real person, but the world he lives in has been established as one of real places and real people. Veterans of war are real people, and they have been through real things; not all as bad as the things experienced by Mac, but some. For the character of Mac and who he represents, a Vietnam veteran living in a time when there is no real help for PTSD, it is monumentally important to really know where he has been to appreciate how incredible it is he manages to still be where he is and to understand why he is willing to go where he is going.
Back in Memphis, we see the waters of the Mississippi River can smooth many a stone themselves. From Moses revealing his true motive to Marcus, to Mac’s relationship with his father being obliterated by his stepmother, to Buddy succumbing to the myriad pressures he is under: we’re shown the harsh truth that, sometimes, home can become a war zone. Nowhere is this more clear than when we are taken back to the very first episode; the first time we met Mac, lying face-down in what we now know to have been the Mississippi River. Yes, we learn who the mystery man is Mac killed in that scene, but what’s more is the outstanding transition the setting undergoes, as Mac begins chasing the man in Memphis and eventually catches him in Vietnam. Not literally, of course, but the atmosphere matches that of the earlier scenes we see in Vietnam. The past Mac has been trying to let go of all season has infected his home. Mac tried to move forward, but he never really stood a chance against The Broker and his machinations.
Lastly, the music. As much as I have loved watching all eight episodes of this season, it cannot be overstated just how much this series’ unbelievable use of music has contributed to my immersion into its world. That’s by design, of course, so I don’t want it to sound like I’m suggesting that is unique to me. From Otis Redding’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water” in episode one to the Spirit of Memphis Quartet singing “Ease My Troubled Mind” over the ending credits of the finale, every single moment of music has felt meticulously selected to further deepen this series’ story. That goes just as much for the final two live performances of the season here, too: Frally Hynes singing Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Long As I Can See the Light” and Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire”. Both are songs speaking directly to an inability to let go; a stone’s need to find more water.
After seven episodes of intrigue and suspense, Quarry’s season finale manages to take everything up to an entirely other level. There have been a lot of questions, and this episode provides some answers. There have been a lot of one-shots, but this episode’s one-shot is longer and more intense. There have been a lot of ups and downs for Mac, but this episode shows us his lowest level from the past and his highest level so far. This episode brings the freshman season of Quarry to the most satisfying conclusion we could have asked for.