With only three episodes left, critics and fans alike are moving into “Save Terriers” mode — if you missed Sepinwall’s piece yesterday, it’s a good read — and the series is continuing to prove why all those columns and Twitter hashtags are worthwhile. “Sins of the Past” is a flashback episode to the case that cost Hank his job and his marriage and it’s also unbelievably powerful. I can’t say for sure because the recency effect might in play here, but as of now, “Sins” is definitely my favorite episode of the season and is absolutely one of the 2-3 best thus far.
Flashback episodes are always tricky business and perhaps even more so when what is being shown seems so crucial to the characters in the present. All season, the story has danced around what really happened to Hank, what got him fired, what made Gustafason resent him and what made Gretchen leave him. Gustafason, Gretchen and even Hank have mentioned things in passing, but there hasn’t been much specificity. But for the most part, that’s a good thing because it’s important for the series to develop the characters in the present, and Terriers has absolutely done that. We’ve seen Hank be a heroic, awesome guy in a way that totally conflicts some of the criticisms Mark and Gretchen have spit at him. But we’ve also seen him as a misguided, incessant investigator who easily holds a grudge.
“Sins of the Past” dives head first into all those issues in such a way that the flashbacks or transition between past and present work as a framework better than they perhaps should thanks to Tim Minear’s fantastic writing and another tour-de-force performance from Donal Logue. Terriers hasn’t been afraid to make Mark’s claims about Hank seem partially true all season, but this episode pulls absolutely no punches in making sure we recognize that Hank was really, really messed up in 2007 and a number of the issues he had then still exist today.
There are so many wonderful things about this episode this review will probably be scattered from here on, but perhaps my favorite thing about “Sins of the Past” is how it executes the differences between past and present. Apart from the transitions themselves, Tucker Gates’ direction adds enough differences between the two time periods that it’s totally obvious where we are at every moment. Things are dark and dirty, with only one scene — I think — taking place during the day. But that’s fitting because at this point, Hank’s life was very, very dark.
He’s drinking excessively, even at work, blacking out after work and generally seems like a mess. One telling example is the first scene in 2007 sees Hank and Mark come into the precinct from what looks like a few weeks as undercover vagrants or drug dealers. In the next scene, Mark is all cleaned up and trying to get away from that part of the job, but Hank doesn’t seem worried about cleaning himself up at all, and even when makes some attempt, he looks just as bad. The random guy who made a crack about Hank’s apparel 3-4 episodes ago would have a field day with this version of him.
And of course, Logue plays this different version of Hank in such a way that emphasizes how far he’s come. For the most part, the Hank in the present is calm, cordial and oftentimes warm towards everyone, especially the people he cares about. In the flashbacks, he’s aggressive, high-strung, drunk and cold towards everybody, but especially towards the people he presumably cares about. Hank slowly unspools over the course of the flashbacks and before it’s all over, he has no idea what’s really going on and the episode is totally willing to emphasize that he planted evidence on the man he suspects is raping a bunch of women and probably raped Gretchen in college. It’s a fascinating and staggering performance, one that featured one emotional gut punch after another.
It’s interesting to think about how Hank’s learned from this experience and how he hasn’t. It’s easy to blame a lot of his 2007 problems on the drinking and the fact that the rapist may or may not have attacked Gretchen in college, but if we think about the various points Hank’s gone a little too far in the present, there’s not a whole lot of differences there. The intensity and general hatefulness he exudes towards the suspect isn’t much different from how he reacted to the client in “Change Partners” or how he escalated his issues with Gretchen when he confronted her about her new husband’s past. Therefore, while I think this flashback suggests the alcohol had a lot to do with this his state in 2007, I like that the series doesn’t give Hank many excuses. He couldn’t let things go then, he can’t now. He might be able to get away with more in 2010 because he’s not a real cop, but a lot of the same habits are there. It makes his dalliances with alcohol less like #1 problems and more like catalysts for the worst parts of his personality.
But as bad as 2007 Hank is for most of the flashback, some of his qualities shine through there as well when it comes to his relationship with Britt. Conveniently — a good kind of convenient — Britt happens to be secondarily involved in the rape case because he was trying to steal something from the lady who was raped, but did the right thing and called the police. Hank sees the good in Britt from the beginning despite his drunken state and makes sure that Britt gets out with little issues. While the episode doesn’t explore how they become partners after the fact, we can imagine that after his life fell apart in 2007, Hank got a call from Britt and began to piece it back together. That again emphasizes how close these two guys are, as they more or less helped each other from becoming monsters, criminals or whatever else.
Which, of course, makes the present-day story with Britt even more powerful, even if it is a little one-note. After he moves out of Katie’s place in a fantastic pre-credits sequence that really nails the confusion, anger and uncomfortable nature of this kind of break up, Britt finds a picture of Katie and Gavin taking shots the night she slept with the professor, which obviously gets his drunk ass riled up. Hank zooms in and tries to keep Britt from doing anything stupid, but Hank should have known better to let a steaming drunk with a broken heart stay alone when he has someone to blame right in the cross-hairs. Britt eventually figures out who Gavin is and where he hangs out — I love that he calls him the Wolfman — and beats the living hell of him.
There’s an obvious symmetry with 2007 Britt getting out of jail with Hank’s help and 2010 Britt getting put in jail because Hank wasn’t there as he should have been, but just in case “Sins of the Past” hadn’t ripped out our hearts enough, Hank finally comes clean that he knew about Katie’s infidelity, which appears to break Britt’s heart just as much as Katie’s initial reveal of the truth did. So now that Hank has gotten rid of some of the demons of his past, it looks like he’ll have to deal with the ones from his very recent past. It never, ever gets better for Hank Dolworth and it’s just fantastic watching it all go down. Mother F, Terriers is so. damn. good.