It’s Bibi Garvey’s time to shine this week on Bad Sisters, Apple TV+’s dark, depraved and hilarious comedy. She deals with the insurance investigators and hatches a new plan to kill the Garvey sisters’ brutish brother-in-law John Paul. But is she the crack shot she remembers?
Bibi and Eva both must overcome personal trauma to make it to their next appointment with death, while Grace starts to crumble as nothing in her life goes even remotely well. This week’s fine episode flirts with hitting risky subtextual bull’s-eyes.
Bad Sisters recap: ‘Eye for an Eye’
Season 1, episode 5: In the episode, entitled “Eye for an Eye,” investigators/brothers Matthew (played by Daryl McCormack) and Tom Claffin (Brian Gleeson) head to Bibi’s (Sarah Greene) house to get her side of the story of John Paul’s death. She’s ready for them. She’s hostile from the word go and gives nothing away.
Her wife, Nora (Yasmine Akram), comes in at the wrong moment, though. She starts going on and on about what a miserable bastard John Paul (Claes Bang) was and how he deserved to die. This doesn’t go well.
Then Becka (Eve Hewson) comes in, having been babysitting Bibi and Nora’s adopted son, Reuben (Jake Farmer). When she does, Bibi happens to see Matthew brushing his hand against Becka’s. Bibi demands Becka stop seeing Matthew immediately, as does Thomas … so you know how that’ll go.
Thomas suffers a little scare when his wife, Theresa (Seána Kerslake), has a blood pressure spike, so Matthew comes over to check on her. She seizes this opportunity to tell him she’s worried about her husband: Matthew should try to get him to calm down.
She obviously doesn’t know why Matthew’s so unhinged about this, so she makes him break into Thomas’ database of claims for clues. He finds something else, though — a suicide note left by his and Thomas’ father. He’s livid. Matthew was told his father’s death was an accident. Turns out he killed himself because he’d been stealing his clients’ money for years. If they don’t find a hole in the Garvey girls’ alibis, Thomas is going to jail — and Matthew, too, probably.
A murderous paintball plot
Back in the past, Grace (Anne-Marie Duff) gives Bibi, Becka, Ursula (Eva Birthistle) and Eva (Sharon Horgan) another avenue to try and kill her husband, John Paul. He wants to do paintball for his birthday. Bibi’s a crack shot. Maybe she can hit a weak spot he has on the back of his head, the result of the same car crash that took Bibi’s eye.
The trouble is, when Bibi gets the paintball gun out to practice, she can’t hit the target from a distance. When she shoots the target up close, it doesn’t make a dent. Maybe this scheme won’t work after all.
Bibi’s having a crisis of confidence anyway, and this isn’t helping. She feels like she’s the bitter parent to Nora’s more loving one, and that their son doesn’t remember her before she lost her eye. Eva gives her a pep talk, and Bibi goes and has a nice chat with Reuben. It makes her feel a lot better, though when she gets the old bow and arrow out, she still can’t hit her target.
Then she remembers the night in the car, when John Paul refused to slow down while giving her a ride. He panicked, and she hit a dashboard saint with her eye.
Step on it!
They can’t kill John Paul a minute too soon. He’s winding up Roger (Michael Smiley), his religious neighbor, by catfishing him. And he accidentally kills the family’s new cat by spraying water on it till it runs in the street and gets hit by a car.
Grace tries taking a dance class to get out of the house more, but it just makes her feel more alienated. She leaves in tears. When she comes home, John Paul has placed the cat’s carcass in the street. Grace runs it over for a second time, in front of Blanaid (Saise Quinn), so she gets the blame for killing the cat.
Gabriel (Assaad Bouab) and Eva go on a nice date until they run into an old ex of hers (Frank Laverty) who left her when he found out she was barren. They get drunk, and Eva tries to make a move, but he confesses that he’s gay. He just wanted them to be friends and didn’t know how to just do that.
They have a little row about it, but Eva’s conscience gets the better of her and she patches things up with him. He confesses he never felt like he could come out in his public life because his parents would never have accepted him. This one will depend on your mileage when it comes to believability (I mean, Horgan even says, “It’s 2022”) but I didn’t mind it too much.
All eyes on Bibi Garvey, er, Sarah Greene
This week it was the Sarah Greene show, and I loved every minute of it. She digs into the inner conflict of Bibi like a wolf into a rabbit. The climax, wherein she relives the trauma of the accident, is sort of a cheap shot from the writers, but her performance sells it.
The tendency to go cruel is a tough one to pass up today because … I mean, we’re sort of over the usual transgressions, aren’t we? How are you going to really shock and stick with people?
We need to talk about We Need to Talk About Kevin
I thought of Scottish director Lynne Ramsay adapting American born/England- and Ireland-based writer Lionel Shriver’s novel We Need to Talk About Kevin. Ramsay knew that by the time she got around to making this movie (which was released in 2011), the idea of a school shooting wasn’t the taboo thing it once was, and that the cultures fostering such tragedies were getting more depraved all the time.
By the time Ezra Miller takes his bow and arrows to school in the film’s climax, America was basically done regulating guns just as our school shootings were going up. So Ramsay highlights instead a world of mutable chaos, so that when the highly theatrical gesture finally takes place, it isn’t surprising — and it’s all the more tragic because of it.
The difference here is that Kevin is about one woman slowly realizing she created a monster purely through absence. Her “punishment,” such as it is, is the freedom she always craved in the worst and most twisted monkey’s paw fashion. Bad Sisters, on the other hand, is about five women and sometimes some men. Thus, punishing each of them individually so early in the show’s run can’t have the power of something self-contained like Kevin (which, despite its sprawl, is a very focused work of art).
On violence and art
Bad Sisters isn’t focused to the same extent (and to be clear, it doesn’t have to be). So when a similarly theatrical violent outcome occurs, it feels like just another bit of bad luck after two other botched murders, and so, to me, shouldn’t feel so “written.”
It’s just a little too tidy in its cruelty, designed specifically to bring out Bibi’s worst feelings of self-loathing … but I’m not blind to the fact that this show quite deliberately deals in absolutes, whether symbolic or real. So when she maybe blinds a stranger while aiming for John Paul, it’s everything she hates about her life in one pull of the trigger.
Still, none of that gets in the way of how fun and wrenching it is to watch Greene act the scene. She’s a remarkably present performer, staring holes in her scene partners, mind on a hundred things at once, never not serving in her all-black wardrobe. She’s meant to be the “scary one,” as Eva puts it to Gabriel, but she’s the most fun.
Watch Bad Sisters on Apple TV+
New episodes of Bad Sisters arrive on Apple TV+ every Friday.
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.