It’s not just the lighting that’s dark and murky around here.
I hope you watched this one with your blinds drawn, ’cause otherwise you may not have had the faintest clue what was going on half the time. Don’t get me wrong: GANGSTA has some very good reasons both thematically and practically to place its characters in lots of lightless rooms covered in long shadows with only the occasional faint ray of moonlight passing through barred windows, but man, was my tablet unhappy about it. In addition to those “work of fiction” and “subtitles” notes at the start of each episode, they really oughta add a “best viewed in a closet” notification, too.
Okay, lighthearted snarking over. Let’s get to the serious stuff.
As with last week, we spent most of our time in the past, further establishing back story and
solidifying complicating character mentalities and relationships so that we’ll give plenty of damns when things inevitably come to a head in the coming weeks and we Twi Hard With a Vengeance (sorry, sorry, but this episode was so grim that I have to joke or shall weep!). Still, we did meet some folks and learn some factoids, so let’s knock out the Bullet Point Rundown before digging into our main trio.
- Thanks to a misleadingly named “Four Fathers” gathering, we officially meet all the underground rulers of Ergastulum: Danny Monroe and Gina the Merc Boss, of course, but also Tag-hating Uranos Corsica and schoolgirl Loretta Cristiano, who seems to have taken over out of necessity after her father’s death.
- It’s been implied previously, but we officially learn that all (or at least the A/0) Twilights have a “compensation”: Some kind of disability in exchange for their superhuman abilities. Nic’s, as we know, is his hearing, while Doug’s seems to be something involving aging, although it’s not made clear. No word on the others yet.
- Any Twilight not born and raised in Ergastulum is considered a “rogue.” Nic’s one, as is Doug, who says he was “committed” here when he was sixteen. Man, this system just gets better and better, don’t it?
- We’ve identified our Twilight Killers (and Tag stealers) as Erica and Mikhail, although their motivations and employers (if they even have any) are still a mystery.
All of which is a fair amount to take in, but is downright elementary, dear Wallace, when compared to the messy, vacillating, and at times flat-out contradictory nature of our main characters and their relationships with each other. While this may seem like an odd comparison, GANGSTA is more and more reminding me of Yurikuma Arashi. This is partly because both are focused on the marginalization of groups deemed “monstrous” by the ruling power, as well as how both paint a nuanced (and ultimately sympathetic) depiction of their child soldier characters, never excusing the violence but also depicting the elusive why by showing the abuse and/or indoctrination at the core of their psychologies.
What stands out the most to me, though, is how both shows gracefully and expertly utilize a “shifting sand” narrative style. They began with something that seemed fairly straightforward (even cliche) at the start and gave us 2-3 solid episodes to get comfortable with it. Then, once we felt like we had a grasp on the world and characters, the writers immediately began to challenge that understanding, revealing a little more information and history each week, systematically stripping away expectations and forcing us to reevaluate what we thought we knew.
It’s delicately handled, using changing perspectives and new situations to tease out different (often conflicting) facets bit by bit, and demonstrates incredibly tight narrative control by directors and writers alike. All of which gives the story itself more depth, yes, but more to the point, challenges the audience to reconsider their own assumptions as well.
GANGSTA‘S narrative style has never done more work (nor been as unsettling) as it was this week, all but rewriting every past interaction we’ve seen between Worick and Nicolas. Via flashbacks we learn that “Wallace” actually had no idea that Nic was a Twilight, and the knowledge makes him begin to reevaluate his prejudices towards them. Er, sort of. It’s more an “Oh, not him, he’s different” thing, which is still bigotry but is often the first step toward moving away from those narrow ideas (and he is still just a kid at this point, after all).
He “buys” Nic to save his life and the two attempt a friendship, but Nic ends up just getting thrown into another mercenary group, Wallace is still being abused, and things are as dismal as ever. That’s when Nic attempts to show that some things have changed when he uses his first bit of sign language and makes a suggestion that horrifies Wallace: How ’bout I kill these awful people for you?
The real tragedy at the heart of all this is that Nic is, I think, genuinely trying to help Wallace in the same way Wallace helped him. He sees Wallace as the one person who treats him like a human being—the only person who thinks his life has value outside of his fighting prowess—and so when Nic sees Wallace in pain, he wants to make that pain stop. But he’s been raised on violence. Killing is the only thing he really knows how to do. So when he sees Wallace’s father put that cigarette out in his eye (which… fuck, you guys. That’s all I got. Just fuck), he puts a stop to it the only way he knows how.
But as much as Wallace feared and quietly rebelled against his family, he never wanted to see them slaughtered wholesale, either. In a fit of rage, he prevents Nic from killing himself (in penance, because Nic knows he did something unforgivable even if he did it for the “right” reason?), and issues his first order: You don’t get to die until you’ve suffered more. “Not until all the other guys die first.”
This moment is too heated and visceral not to be the truth when Wallace says it. And, flashing forward to Worick, still suffering PTSD-style flashbacks from that night, who admits with a pained grin that he “hates Tags” but then insists he’s “just kidding,” it’s clear he still harbors some serious rage towards Nic and, by extension, all the Twilights in Ergastulum. It colors previous conversations in a very different light and makes you wonder exactly where Worick’s cheerful facade ends and his decades-long bitterness begins.
Where do I stand on this? In an odd, very contradictory, very human way, I don’t think Worick is entirely lying one way or the other. You don’t spend 20-odd years living and working with someone—saving each other’s lives, fighting to make end’s meet—and feeling nothing but loathing towards them. So when present-day Worick says they’re friends, I think a part of him means it. And when he says he hates Tags, a part of him means that, too.
Much like Nic himself, Worick was/is a basically good-hearted person who’s been hurt and twisted by the violence around him, and it’s made them both into walking contradictions. It’s why Worick can call Nic his partner and still despise what he is, and why Nic can play around with Nina and make friends with the neighborhood cats, then turn around and commit gleeful acts of violence. Whatever good there is here, it’s irrevocably tainted by past abuses and traumas. And that’s a mighty dark place to leave us this week.
To end on the lightest note I could find, Alex appears to be working through her withdrawals and has been much more stable in recent days, although she’s still taking tranquilizers to ease the transition. Dr. Theo warns that excessive stress could cause a relapse, and with the upcoming Gang and/or Twilight War we probably haven’t seen the last of Barry The Abusive Illusion.
But Alex is as much of a survivor as her male employers, so for now she’s doing her best to live “normally,” and is even able to provide Worick with a little emotional support in exchange for the help he gave her a few days ago. That was an important moment, showing some give-and-take in their relationship, and I especially like the way GANGSTA plays their relationship as increasingly intimate without being romantic or sexually charged. It’s a mutual “shoulder to lean on” thing for now, and it provides us with one of the few genuinely tender moments this week.
The other dash of heartwarming? Alex’s attempts at sign language, which are atrocious but endear her to Nic because she’s at least trying. The few people who have bothered to learn sign language are generally the only ones in the series who actually see Nic as a human being—someone they want to communicate with and learn about—and the fact that Alex is one of them goes a long way towards building a tentative bond between them as well. It’s not much yet, but it’s something, and given how tenuous the ties between Worick and Nic are turning out to be, Alex’s deepening connection to both may prove more important than we’d have suspected just six short episodes ago.