What to Watch Verdict
While a lot of the big story beats are rather predictable, the first episode is bolstered by the impressive ensemble.
* Charlie Cox gives a magnetic performance while barely saying a word.
* While it is easy to predict the twists and turns there are some mysteries left dangling.
* The dynamic within the family and chemistry between the actors.
*Lots of information is delivered without feeling too heavy on the exposition.
*Fills the gap before 'Peaky Blinders' returns.
* It is easy to see where this story is going from the jump.
* Ticking lots of the crime family trope boxes.
This post contains spoilers about Kin Episode 1.
The opening scene of the new AMC+ drama Kin begins with an innocuous candy shop purchase before the same curly-haired young man fires a gun at an unseen victim. This out-of-the-blue course of events tells the audience that first appearances don’t tell the whole story and matters can spiral into violence in mere seconds. It isn’t until the end of the pilot that we discover the target’s identity (and the collateral damage), but creators Peter McKenna and Ciarán Donnelly let the viewer know the stakes are deadly from the off. Set against a Dublin backdrop, the motorbike ride in this opening sequence shows the cityscape and the winding side streets, which gives a sense of the location being fought over by the Kinsella clan at the heart of the story.
First episodes are often bogged down by exposition and character introductions, and Kin lays out the many players involved in this struggle for control over the lucrative illegal market in the Irish capital city in an effective and economic manner. It helps that the main cast is filled with familiar faces who can sell the animosity, close relationships, and strained history that makes up this tangled web. Frank Kinsella (Aidan Gillen) is the de facto leader of the tight-knit group bonded by blood and this is made clear not just because of his tailored coat but because he is the one taking meetings with the drug kingpin Eamon Cunningham (Ciarán Hinds) in his plush building. An unmarked police car is stationed in the underground parking garage and the men in this vehicle do nothing to conceal their identity or the fact they are taking photos of those entering. No one seems bothered by any of this and it is safe to say that Eamon’s vast operation is an open secret.
The issue at hand is another local dealer is encroaching on their territory and Eamon uses this opportunity to remind Frank that his rival only sells product from Eamon, whereas the Kinsella clan sell from multiple sources. Despite a long history, loyalty is determined by exclusivity. “It’s not personal, it’s just the model is changing. You’re either all in with me or you’re not,” he tells Frank when he refuses to do anything about this issue. This is the catalyst that sets the events in motion that will leave one member of this family dead by the end of this opener.
Another event within one of their homes provides the opportunity to introduce the rest of the extended family (and integral members of this business) and the bedroom floor safe full of cash (and a gun) is one indicator as to how successful this operation is. The palatial residence complete with some highly covetable and Instagram-ready wallpaper is another sign of this wealth, and Amanda Kinsella (Clare Dunne) is playing host to the welcome home party held in Michael Kinsella’s (Charlie Cox) honor. Her husband Jimmy Kinsella (Emmett J. Scanlan) is bringing his older brother straight from prison to this small bash celebrating his release, and everyone is eager to see him.
While we don’t know exactly what he was charged with, Michael’s crime no doubt is linked to their line of work, and whatever it was came with a relatively long sentence. There is caginess surrounding the incident, in part as a way to keep the audience intrigued, and because whatever went down is traumatizing. The much smaller house next door is where the specific something bad happened (the bullet hole and Michael’s PTSD support this) and his desire to avoid any illegal business are rooted in the daughter he longs to see. Part of his quiet and withdrawn behavior is due to adjusting to freedom, but there is sadness etched across Michael’s face. When he does break out into a smile it lights up Cox’s face and he is already delivering a mesmerizing and magnetic performance through wordless reactions alone. Everyone else around him is filling in the blanks and it won’t be long until secrets bubble to the surface.
Theory time! Everyone seems surprised that Michael is so intent on seeing his daughter Anna and Amanda goes so far as tell him that maybe it would be for the best if he left her to live a life free from all of this — while she struggles to keep her sons away from this business. She points out that Anna has been through enough and this makes me think that the bullet hole in the wall was from where her mother died — perhaps a very young Anna also witnessed this violence? Michael can’t accept this and instead insists on taking the car washing job that Frank has lined up to push him back into the drug dealing fold. The car dealership is part of the legal side of the business, even if it is used as a cover and a way to launder the money (therefore it is far from legit). From Amanda’s initial caginess around her brother-in-law, it is also apparent that they were once romantically involved. Nothing says awkward family dynamics more than a love triangle and I would even put a small wager on Michael being the father of one (or both) of her sons.
Kin follows similar family dynamics on other crime family shows with multiple sons, such as Peaky Blinders and Animal Kingdom. As with those stories, there is a matriarch figure who has a position of power and in this case, Maria Doyle Kennedy is serving those vibes (and a whiff of Mrs. S from Orphan Black) as their aunt Bridget ‘Birdy’ Goggins. Jimmy Kinsella is thrilled his brother is home and likely has no idea about the tension occurring under his nose. He is an enthusiastic exotic pet (mostly snakes) collector and it feels like Chekhov’s reptile when Jimmy jokingly threatens Michael with one. He seems relatively happy-go-lucky and reliable and doesn’t seem bothered that his oldest son Jamie (Cian Fitzsimons) wants to join the family business rather than go to college. It is early on in the episode that Jamie first has ‘dead man walking’ etched across his forehead but the moment he decides to apply to study law rather than rough up drug addicts that seals his fate. Seeing his dad burn a customer with a hot iron is enough to drain any of the glamour out of this profession, and his mother is thrilled with his change of heart. Unfortunately for Jamie, driving his uncle to the gym turns out to be a deadly error.
Every large family on TV has a hot head relative and this is often the cause of much heartache and violence when drug dealing is at the heart of the story. The Kinsellas are no different and the super jacked Eric (Sam Kelley) is quick to temper and likes to solve things with his fists (or something deadlier). He is frustrated that Frank is dealing with their territory issue through words and giving Eamon more money, which leads him to pull an extremely dumb move. He confronts the competition — this ends in a scuffle — and does a drive-by shooting that puts a target on his back. No one is killed but this irrational act is enough for Eamon to say it is fine to take him out. Eric denies to Frank that he had a role in this shooting (and uses his girlfriend as an alibi) and goes about his merry way. When the police warn him that there is a credible threat against his life he stands there stark naked and laughs in their faces.
Eric changes his car to avoid anyone spotting the vehicle he used in the shooting but someone still manages to locate him at the gym. When Michael and Jamie arrive, they spot that one of his tires has a nail in it and this act is a deliberate way to stop him from speeding off. What happens next isn’t out of the blue, and yet it still made me jump. The gunman from the opening scene sprays a hail of bullets in the direction of the three Kinsellas, hitting the target and Jamie — in media res framing can be hit and miss but works here. While Michael takes his shirt off (I am going to politely refrain from discussing his Cox’s arms and shoulders in detail) to stem Eric’s bleeding he yells out to Jamie to call an ambulance. When he gets no response he runs to his nephew who has been hit in the forehead and killed in an instant. Michael has only been out of prison for a few days and tragedy has already struck and the look on his face reflects the intersection of past and present trauma.
It is highly likely that Eric is going to live and everything that follows will be fueled by Jamie’s death. It doesn’t matter if you choose not to participate in the illicit activities when you are a member of this family, which is essentially what Jamie told his mother earlier as a way to justify his interest in working with his dad. Amanda is complicit as she is the one who cleans the dirty money and now she has paid the highest price.
This first episode hits a lot of familiar beats and it is hard to avoid crime family tropes because this subgenre is a television staple. So while it is easy to foresee Jamie’s death from the early plotting and recognize that the difficult negotiation with Eamon is about to turn very ugly, the cliffhanger ending does make me want to tune into the next episode. A big part of this is the magnetic cast with Charlie Cox serving a level of a quiet wounded soul with tension simmering under the surface that fans of Daredevil will no doubt recognize. The ensemble is packed with fantastic performers and if you are still looking for a show to tide you over until the Shelbys return for the final season of Peaky Blinders then this is certainly an entertaining prospect — I just hope the story beats become less predictable from here on out.
Emma Fraser spends most of her time writing about TV, fashion, and costume design; Dana Scully is the reason she loves a pantsuit. Words can also be found at Vulture, Elle, Primetimer, Collider, Little White Lies, Observer, and Girls on Tops. Emma has a Master’s in Film and Television, started a (defunct) blog that mainly focused on Mad Men in 2010, and has been getting paid to write about TV since 2015. It goes back way further as she got her big start making observations in her diary about My So-Called Life’s Angela Chase (and her style) at 14.