One of the lesser-remarked-upon gifts of the holidays came from Kate, who, because she’s a college student, gets Showtime for practically nothing, bundled with her already low-cost Spotify account. She loaded the app on our TV box when she was home, and as a result we were able to watch “Escape at Dannemora” over these past few nights.
I liked it. A lot.
It’s a seven-part series about the 2015 escape, by inmates Richard Matt and David Sweat, from Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York. You probably remember; they got out with the help of a female civilian employee, and stayed out for more than three weeks, surviving on food stolen from a series of Adirondack hunting cabins, using the dense forest cover to escape detection from an intense manhunt. But they didn’t get away clean, because how often does that happen? Matt was shot to death, and Sweat was also shot, but taken alive. The civilian employee, Joyce “Tilly” Mitchell, who it turned out was having sex with both of them in the course of supervising them in the prison tailor shop, ended up behind bars for her role in all of this.
I read a few reviews of this when it was released about a month ago. The primary complaint was that it was too long, suffering from “Netflix bloat,” i.e., the tendency for projects like this to be padded out to make a season out of what could be a two-parter. I didn’t find this to be true, mainly for the way it observed the entirety of the Clinton Correctional universe, particularly the corrupt culture among the prison staff, which made it easy to smuggle contraband hacksaw blades and other tools into the facility, blurring the line between the criminals and those charged with keeping them behind bars. You really feel how shitty and depressing life is on both sides of the cell door; Dannemora is referred to as “Little Siberia” for its deep winters, and working at the prison is probably the best gig in town for the working class. But it sucked, because how could it not?
My favorite episode was the penultimate one, a flashback compilation that introduces the three main characters via their histories, the two prisoners committing the crimes that landed them in Clinton, and Tilly’s shady romantic affairs with her ex-husband and the one who takes his place. We see her working at a shoe factory maybe 20 years before the escape, already dumpy and frowzy, trading sex to get ahead in the world, in a place where sex is about the only pleasure to be had outside of food and Bud Lite. It’s not surprising to see her working later in the prison, because the shoe factory probably closed, its jobs sent out of the country. (A little Googling shows that was indeed the fate of the Tru-Stitch facility.) After a while, what’s the difference between living in a cell and living in a house nearby? In many ways, not all that much.
Some critics have pointed out that the “escape” doesn’t happen until the final episode, but honestly, I didn’t mind. And if there were a noticeable number of long, contemplative shots of the Adirondack forest rolling off to the horizon in waves, well, all it did was remind me what it must have looked like to a man who hadn’t seen freedom in many years.
All three leads were outstanding. Paul Dano captured Sweat’s keen intelligence and patience. Patricia Arquette must have gained 60 pounds to play Tilly, and is nearly unrecognizable. And Benicio del Toro as Matt did a great job of embodying a man who, it turns out, not only belonged in prison, he did everything possible to get himself back there — until he was shot to death. And Ben Stiller directs with a confidence that surprised me. But I guess an actor knows how to work with actors.
Anyway, the nights are still long and cold, and will be so for a few more months. It’s worth your time.
Big news today, obviously. I just read this in the Axios PM newsletter:
Between the lines: The two sides of the House chamber looked drastically different today, Axios’ Caitlin Owens notes.
All but 13 House Republicans this Congress are men, and the vast majority are white.
While the GOP side of the chamber was filled with dark suits and red or purple ties, the Democratic side was filled with colorful attire and people of varying racial and ethnic backgrounds.
I think that says it all, and I’ve gone on for a while. Time to walk Wendy and think about dinner. Have a good weekend, all.