Apple TV+’s Black Bird has finally drawn to a close with its finale being released today. But it’s the focus on what a ‘good guy’ looks and seems like that underpins the brilliance of this drama, according to one Stylist writer.
Content warning: this article contains minor spoilers for Apple TV+’s Black Bird and also mentions sexual assault, which some readers may find distressing.
If you’ve been watching Black Bird as avidly as us these past weeks, you’ll know that as the finale looms over us, you can’t help but approach it with excitement (of course) and a heaping share of fear, trepidation and nerves.
In recent episodes, Jimmy (Taron Egerton) has been closer than ever to nailing Larry (Paul Walter Hauser) for the murders and burials he’s accused of. Jimmy’s managed to do what he was tasked by the FBI to do: befriend a serial killer and get those gritty details he needs to ensure Larry spends his life in prison and be released from prison himself.
The drama does an excellent job of showing how the responsibility of obtaining this information – through the closest means necessary – is taking an emotional toll on a man that, from the first episode, has been seen as the most charming, charismatic and strongest of them all. But what Black Bird has executed perfectly throughout its six episodes is hone in on the idea of the ‘good guy’.
When we meet Jimmy, he’s the former high school football star who thrives as a drug-dealing king pin. Even when he’s charged with the possession of drugs and weapons, you can’t help but think he’s undeserving of the decade-long sentence that is thrust upon him. He’s far from the archetypal image of a ‘good guy’ but his devotion to providing for his family, caring for his dad and keeping his head down in prison feeds into the idea of Jimmy trying to be the best version of himself. He’s trying to bring a serial killer of young girls to justice after all, so Jimmy has to be one of the good ones, right?
More interestingly, though, it’s Larry that is the ever-changing enigma of a character. We know what he’s done – there’s no question about his involvement in the murders – but it’s the image of him as this softly spoken, slightly overweight, easily overwhelmed and knowledgeable man that makes the series so chilling.
We watch each episode knowing that Larry is a serial killer but in the flashbacks to the crimes, we only ever see his mysterious grey van, not his face. It helps with separating our image of what we think serial killers seem like with the man before us. The effect? Well, we get to know Larry, we hear his stories as he opens up to Jimmy and all the while, we can’t quite imagine him to be the monster he’s supposed to be.
It’s why his crimes went undetected in the first place, of course. Even when all the evidence pointed to him, police officers overlooked his confession because they just thought he was a well-meaning citizen who “liked” confessing to crimes. That fact seemed ludicrous in those first episodes of the series but viewers soon realise that it’s this underestimation of Larry that feeds into his ability to commit more crimes.
As Jimmy has managed to peel back the layers of Larry – from the civil war reenactments he attends to his rocky relationship with his alcoholic father – we’re left stunned by what comes out of Larry’s mouth so unapologetically. He confidently talks about digging up graves as a young boy to steal jewellery from corpses, he boasts about raping girls, urges Jimmy to reveal the “youngest you’ve ever been with” and talks about the ease in which he can kidnap girls with his concoction of poisonous drugs.
As much as it’s the content of what he’s saying in these scenes that is most chilling, it’s also their delivery. Larry is usually calm, stoic and carefully considered in what he says but when he recounts these grotesque details, it makes for scenes that are as disturbing as they are shocking.
Although Larry is lauded as a model prisoner who helps officers fix pipes, clean up and is afforded extra time in the wood workshop, the viewer has been consistently reminded that he is not a ‘good guy’. He’s as far from it as humanly possible, contrary to what characters within the series will have you believe. In the finale, his true colours come to light and it’s this image as an aggressive, violent misogynist that will haunt you as this series wraps up.
If true crime content has taught us anything, it’s simply the fact that you can’t judge a book by its cover. It’s this reliance on Larry as a ‘good guy’ character who can move around undetected that provides the powerful, thought-provoking scenes that make Black Bird one of the standout dramas of the year.
The final sixth episode of Black Bird is now available to stream on Apple TV+ along with the rest of the season.
Images: Apple TV+