Following up on its solid first season of Outcast, Cinemax launches another new eight-part series this month in Quarry, a sweaty Memphis noir set in the 1970s starring Logan Marshall-Green, that guy who looks exactly like Tom Hardy.
Marshall-Greene plays Quarry, a codename he is given by The Broker (Top of the Lake’s Peter Mullan), the leader of an enigmatic criminal organization that recruits him to become a hitman. Quarry, who has just returned from two tours in Vietnam, declines the Broker’s offer repeatedly, but soon discovers that there’s no other work for a guy like him. Vietnam soldiers weren’t exactly greeted with parades when they returned home in 1972, especially those who were involved in the My Lai Massacre (Look it up. Or don’t, if you want to keep you faith in humanity). No one will hire him as a swim coach; his Dad won’t bring him home to meet his wife much less hire him; and a violent PTSD incident costs Quarry his lowly job as a mechanic.
Through an unexpected and bloody contrivance involving his best friend, Quarry eventually is brought in as an unwilling hitman, not so much to earn a living but more to pay off a debt. For a guy accustomed to following orders and killing indiscriminately, the job suits him, and it helps him to put those PTSD flashbacks at bay. He also has a wife (Jodi Balfour) to support, and while she capably services Cinemax’s T&A quota, she’s also one of the series’ more interesting characters, although to say any more about her arc would spoil the pilot.
Quarry comes from Graham Gordy and Michael D. Fuller, staff writers on SundanceTV’s Rectify, and there are a myriad of similarities. Like Daniel Holden in that series, Quarry is returning to his old hometown — where he’s not exactly welcome — with a new perspective, damaged by his past in Vietnam but intent upon forging a new life. Like Rectify, the pacing on Quarry is also laconic, but the series is darker, murkier, more violent, and less given to epiphany.
Quarry is also not a particularly sympathetic character. Even understanding where his violent tendencies come from doesn’t make them any more palatable, and in a series replete with charismatic character actors (Ann Dowd, Josh Randall, Damon Herriman, among others), there’s not enough facial hair in the world to put Marshall-Greene on even ground.
The series, however, deftly works around its lead actor’s weaknesses with great attention to the grimy period details, the brilliant 70’s classic rock soundtrack (so much Otis Redding!), and by heavily featuring the scene-stealing work of its character actors. Herriman — Dewey from Justified — is a particular standout, a Southern-fried, gay Boyd Crowder type who brightens his every scene in an otherwise gloomy period piece.
Based on a series of books from Max Allan Collins (Road to Perdition), there’s a mystery at the center here, although in the early going, it’s not well defined. With a strong ensemble cast, a captivating Memphis setting, and a unique opportunity to explore the homefront during the Vietnam era, Quarry nevertheless holds plenty of promise, and with the guys from Rectify pulling the strings, it merits at least a one-season commitment.