#byNWR: Too Old to Die Young - Episode 6: The High Priestess

After the tumultuous exercise in transgression and ultraviolent chase thriller action that was the fifth episode in Danish provocateur Nicolas Winding Refn’s Los Angeles crime saga Too Old to Die Young, the show pumps the brakes as it catches back up with the Mexican cartel.  As its new King and Queen, Yaritza (Cristina Rodlo) and Jesus (Augusto Aguilera) are sworn in under oath of marriage, laying out the chess pieces by relocating back to the United States with orders that the Nigerian crimelord Damian (Babs Olusanmokun) be taken out.  

Delaying the opening titles until a dance sequence/shootout, roughly twenty minutes into the episode, already the plot is thickening as the style becomes more heightened in surreal dreaminess and the violence steadily becomes more startling in its extremity.  Let it be said though, the sight of Damian dancing to Prince Buster's Ten Commandments as multicolored neon-fluorescent lights hit his face in an open back alleyway is a most delightful Refn abstraction.

What particularly sets this episode apart from the pack is that we’re finally allowed insight into the head and past life of Jesus and the depraved depths of his connection to his mother as well as his bloodlust for revenge for her death.  Jesus is a near silent character for most of the show and seeing him granted a full-blown monologue filling in the gaps of his back history we’ve wondered about for the first six episodes is more than a little jarring though it’s the first time we get slightly closer to this character. 

The episode also grants equal room for the ever mysterious and dangerous Yaritza to flesh out her character some more, focusing on the partnership with Jesus and how they back one another up.  Late into the episode is a curious sequence where she runs into none other than Martin Jones’ (Miles Teller) girlfriend Janey (Nell Tiger Free) and engages in a guessing game with a startlingly nasty finish. 

Playing like a direct sequel to the second episode The Lovers with many of the recurring Cliff Martinez musical cues from that episode playing out to operatic effect here, The High Priestess scales back the energy of the previous episode The Fool in favor of allowing breathing room for the new leaders of the Mexican cartel to make themselves known to the viewer.  Up until this point we had only really come to know Jesus as a chilly sociopath.  While his aura of cool detachment remains intact here, that we’re allowed to see him open up for the first time is a most rewarding development in the story, even leaving room for sympathy for his plight.

With four episodes left to go in the ever shape-shifting crime saga, Too Old to Die Young is shaping up to be the densest mobster epic in recent memory, Refn’s The Godfather or Goodfellas if you will.  Thus far it has been a wild and elongated ride which at first glance tests the patience of the viewer but having waded through much of it by now, the thrill of the narrative hook once sunken in is a hard one for this longtime Refn fan to shake!

- Andrew Kotwicki