'Black Bird' recap: Things heat up for our jailhouse informer on Apple TV+

Things heat up for our jailhouse informer in Black Bird [Apple TV+ recap]

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Black Bird recap: Things are not going well for prison informer Jimmy Keene (played by Taron Egerton).★★★★
Things are not going well for prison informer Jimmy Keene (played by Taron Egerton).
Photo: Apple TV+

Apple TV+ miniseries Black Bird finally reveals the killer this week, along with the evidence that might hang him … or might not be enough to do anything but frustrate the people working to expose him.

Superlative work from actors Paul Walter Hauser, Ray Liotta and Laney Stiebing in the episode, titled “The Place I Lie,” pulls the show into greatness just before its final installment.

Black Bird covered a lot of ground in a little time — and now it’s time to bring it home.

Black Bird recap: ‘The Place I Lie’

Season 1, episode 5: Everybody’s looking at undercover informant Jimmy Keene (played by Taron Egerton) funny in prison today. It might just be that they’re all having a bad day. But it could be because guard Carter (Joe Williamson) sold him out because Jimmy couldn’t get him 10 grand.

Jimmy doesn’t want to be too suspicious. But then he goes to see the prison psychiatrist (Christopher B. Duncan), and he’s on vacation. An unannounced vacation. That doesn’t bode well. Seems like maybe the people who know Jimmy’s doing work for the state are abandoning him.

The woman who’s filling in for the regular shrink seems nice for a moment. But then it becomes very clear she’s giving Jimmy an ultimatum of some kind. Is he presenting a mental threat to any of her patients? She asks it a few times. She has someone specific in mind.

Things are heating up behind bars

Jimmy’s in a little hot water because whatever else is true, Carter definitely planted a seed of doubt in the mind of a crime kingpin (Tony Amendola) doing time with him. If this guy finds out Jimmy isn’t who he says he is, who the government set him up to be as cover, he’s gonna have one short sentence on his hands.

Jimmy goes to make a call to tell his handlers about the change in temperature inside but his phone account’s been cut off. His dad, Big Jim Keene (Ray Liotta), finds out and tries to fix it. Unfortunately, he can’t. So, frustrated, he goes for a drive.

Meanwhile, detective Brian Miller (Greg Kinnear) and FBI agent Lauren McCauley (Sepideh Moafi) investigate a lead dropped by the guys who arrested suspected serial killer Larry Hall (Paul Walter Hauser) all those years ago. He brought them up and down a stretch of road looking for the spot where he said he dumped a body, but then they realize what happened. Larry buried his victims in a place that had a gas station built over it. The bodies are under the gas station.

Talking sex with a serial killer

To clear his head, Jimmy goes and finds Larry in the wood shop and starts asking him about sex. Larry wants to know about Jimmy’s sex life, and he’s floored by the idea that Jimmy’s had consensual sex with maybe as many as 80 women.

Larry says he never got around to that with grown women. But young girls? That’s another story. And then he starts telling him about Jessica Roach (Laney Stiebing) — the girl whose body the police never found. The girl who wanted a mountain bike more than anything in the world. The girl whose mountain bike is sitting in the shed of another teen girl at this moment, another girl Larry tried to impress by giving it to her.

The only problem is, this isn’t enough to hold against Larry. The cops can’t prove he killed the girl and got her bike and gave it someone else. If this isn’t enough, what would be? Jimmy would sure like to know.

Strong directing from Joe Chappelle

Director Joe Chappelle (The Wire, Fringe) does a marvelous job this week. The interrogations are suitably tense, even when Kinnear and Moafi are just asking gas station attendants for phone numbers.

There’s an agreeable air of mistrust everywhere. But the real great work is in the scene between Egerton and Hauser as Larry confesses to killing Jessica. Chapelle frames the scene like Jonathan Demme would have, in a series of close-ups to camera. Egerton and Hauser look directly at the screen, at us, as they confess and make sense of the very worst things either of these men ever did or heard. It’s a very spooky scene underscored only by falling rain.

… plus strong soundtracking by Mogwai

The music comes back in a very important way in the next scene, as the detectives discover Jessica’s bike in the other teen’s shed. Mogwai’s song for the occasion is a very hopeful, if bittersweet, bit of instrumental music that celebrates the life of this kid who did everything right and whose death can’t fully take away the joy she felt living. Very strong work, especially considering we’ve only gotten to know this character for 10 minutes this episode.

… and some incredible acting from Ray Liotta

Black Bird recap: Once again, Ray Liotta steals the show.
Once again, Ray Liotta steals the show.
Photo: Apple TV+

The late Ray Liotta is also incredibly strong this episode, though … of course he is. His frustration on the phone with the prison authorities — and his crest-fallen, tear-stained expression staring at the jail, knowing his boy is inside and he can’t help him even though he could almost touch him — that’s the kind of expressionism Liotta always brought to his roles.

Big Jim is an unwell man, so Liotta must fight through his sickly nature and impacted motor functions to locate his first instincts. It stands as really strong and striking work. I’m going to miss knowing he could show up and improve a show or a movie like this.

★★★★

Watch Blackbird on Apple TV+

New episodes of Black Bird arrive every Friday on Apple TV+.

Rated: TV-MA

Watch on: Apple TV+

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.