‘The Old Man’ Episode 1 Recap: Age Against the Machine

Befitting its title, The Old Man, a show about the passage of time, is unusually concerned with how it spends its time. It feels at one point, for example, that the episode passes half its running length with a camera in the passenger seat of fugitive spy Dan Chase’s (Jeff Bridges) car, just watching him talk on the phone.

These are important calls, to be sure. The first is with high-ranking FBI official Harold Harper (John Lithgow), who instructs Chase to cut ties with his beloved daughter and disappear if he wants to have any hope of surviving the people on his tail without destroying her life in the bargain. The first is with his daughter, to whom he must say his final goodbyes.

But while the plot information contained in the phone calls is important, so too is just spending time looking at Jeff Bridge’s face. Again, befitting the show’s title, these closeups give us an inescapable sense of his character’s age—how the years have grayed his beard and hair and carved his face into severe, Chester Gould wrinkles and ridges. You can’t imagine such a man going on the run for long. Letting us linger with this physical fact is the point of the scenes.

THE OLD MAN EP 1 BRIDGES DRIVING

But can we trust our eyes? Take another lengthy sequence, for instance—actually, it’s not a sequence, it’s one long shot that lasts for roughly five and a half unbroken minutes. In this shot, Chase rams his car into one of his black-ops pursuer, gets out of the car and shoots the guy to death, then has a seemingly endless mixed martial arts battle against the surviving agent, until Chase’s well-trained attack dogs chase the guy back into another car for safety. Remember that teary-eyed old man from the driver’s-seat phone calls? In his place is a vicious operator who manages to kill three highly trained men half his age, and we get to observe him in action without the camera cutting away. After all the attention the show has lavished upon Chase’s age, watching him defeat his enemies—with a little help from his dogs—is borderline miraculous. And indeed, Jeff Bridge’s masterful physical performance throughout the episode makes his every impressive physical feat feel like a borderline miracle. That power from that body? It feels incredible, and totally earned.

This is the kind of gripping, self-assured action filmmaking that awaits you in The Old Man’s pilot episode, the first half of a two-episode giant-sized series premiere. Based on the book by Thomas Perry and directed by Jon Watts (late of the Spider-Man franchise) from a script by co-creators Robert Levine and Jonathan E. Steinberg, who serves as showrunner, it’s the most engaging espionage thriller debut since The Americans.

THE OLD MAN EP 1 BRIDGES STARING

The plot is a simple one. “Dan Chase,” an alias for whatever Bridges’s character is really named, has been living undercover in a nice suburban home for decades. He and his wife “Abbey” (portrayed by Hiam Abbass in recent flashbacks and Leem Lubany as a young woman) have even raised a family, though their own blissful retirement was cut short by Abbey’s Huntington’s disease. But when we catch up with Chase, he’s grown old enough that even putting on his own socks is a struggle, and he’s growing paranoid that “they,” whoever “they” are, are out to get him.

And in the episode’s first big surprise, he’s right! When he catches and kills an intruder, we realize his paranoia is justified. He immediately goes on the run (along with his dogs), calling his daughter to warn her. (“I’m fine, the dogs are fine,” he says in one breath, as if she gives a fuck about his dogs.)

This is when his old handler Harper gets in touch with him. Though he’s been brought in to help catch Chase, Harper has his own reasons why he never wants the guy to be caught—there’s a mention of a mysterious figure named Faraz Hamzad operating out of Kabul, Afghanistan, but that’s really all we know—so he helps him escape over the phone. This draws the scrutiny of young CIA Agent Raymond Waters (E.J. Bonilla), who seemingly wises up to Harper’s illicit dealings with Chase right away. (That’s another welcome surprise from a show that by its very nature is going to dance right up to the line of cliché.)

In the end, Chase ignores Harper’s advice and fights back against his pursuers rather than simply giving them the slip. He then goes so far as to call Harper on Waters’s phone line, promising to send anyone they send after him back home in a bag. He’s not the past-his-prime, out-of-touch patsy Harper took him for. To quote another show about a great craggy-faced villain, he is the one who knocks.

THE OLD MAN EP 1 “DO YOU RECOGNIZE ME NOW?”

To explain why this episode is so engrossing, there’s a brief aside in the middle of the episode that I feel is worth exploring. “Space is the breath of art,” Harper says to his grandson, quoting architect Frank Lloyd Wright. (Harper has full custody of the boy following an unmentioned tragedy that befell the kid’s parents, one which leaves Harper sobbing in the bathroom rather than crying in front of the poor kid.) The long takes, the lingering closeups, the judiciously applied score by T. Bone Burnett and Patrick Warren—all of these leave ample space for us to sink into the drama, to regulate our own emotional responses to it rather than be frog-marched around by rapid editing and intrusive orchestration. The Old Man creates a space and invites us in to observe what happens, a truly fascinating approach for a thriller to take. I can’t wait to see what does and doesn’t happen.

Sean T. Collins (@theseantcollins) writes about TV for Rolling Stone, Vulture, The New York Times, and anyplace that will have him, really. He and his family live on Long Island. 

source: nypost.com