#byNWR: Too Old to Die Young – Episode 2: The Lovers

If you thought the first episode of Danish provocateur Nicolas Winding Refn’s full blown foray into television was an alienating, challengingly slow burn watching Miles Teller’s antiheroic detective gradually involve himself in organized crime as a hitman unfold at a snail’s pace, then the writer-director’s second installment only proceeds to pump the brakes harder.  Leaving the United States and our main character behind for ninety minutes, Too Old to Die Young jumps into a Mexican crime empire with the assassin of the first episode, Jesus (Augusto Aguilera).  

In a near silent, extended crawl on the hands and knees, episode two entitled The Lovers chronicles the Mexican assassin’s visit to his crime-boss uncle at a key moment when an all-out war between the police and cartel stands to erupt.  Amid a shaky relationship between his uncle’s girlfriend Yaritza (Cristina Rodlo) and bad apple son Miguel (Roberto Aguire), The Lovers touches on a cacophony of aberrant criminal behaviors including but not limited to incest, sex trafficking and hard drug abuse.

Punctuated by stretched, lengthy pauses between dialogue with numerous long takes of camera pans unbroken for several minutes at a time, the second installment of Too Old to Die Young intends to test your patience and commitment to the show.  Nary a single line of dialogue in this episode isn’t in Spanish with some sequences in montage designed so we don’t hear the characters speaking over Cliff Martinez’s pulsating score.  It also peels back further layers of ugliness than the previous episode though in the time-honored tradition of the writer-director, much of the worst atrocities contained in the world of Refn’s show are more heavily implied over being explicitly shown. 

As aforementioned, composer Martinez flexes his creative muscles more than ever here with his electronic music leaning heavily towards a theremin sound fit for a ‘50s creature feature with the camera pointed at very real monsters in the act of committing violence.  Also new to Martinez’s soundscape is the incorporation of vocals into the music, creating a sense of grandiosity about the proceedings.  Visually the show comes alive at night and within the neon-lit multicolored cool of nightclubs and bars though the wide vistas of a barren Mexican desert landscape add to the second episode’s overall chilliness and distancing impact. 

Uncompromising and boundary pushing for television, crime drama and cinema in general, the second episode all but seeks to weed out any and all casual followers with only room left for die-hards to roam around.  It’s a tough gamble for the first two episodes of the new Amazon Studios show to be this distancing between the auteur and the viewer but make no mistake, this isn’t merely the Danish filmmaker navel-gazing.  

By abruptly leaping from American soil to Mexico, quickly Too Old to Die Young establishes a vastness in scope, spanning further than just one setting with numerous warring criminal lineages sharpening their bayonets.  It also builds anticipation towards an impending battle of cops and robbers far bloodier and deadlier than anything previously seen in the Valhalla Rising and Drive director’s oeuvre.

- Andrew Kotwicki