What to Watch Verdict
Some bad parenting choices lead to a frustrating episode that can't help but feel contrived in its tension building.
🦋The few moments of levity between the family are welcome.
🦋Get a sense of Allie and Margot's dynamic.
🦋The cinematography continues to shine.
🦋The quirky hitman.
🦋Bad parenting leads to annoying teen behavior.
🦋Still very few answers.
Teenagers in television thrillers or dramas have a reputation for getting in the way and this demo is particularly loathed thanks to shows like 24 and Homeland. There are some notable exceptions including Paige Jennings (Holly Taylor) from The Americans, although even the teen-turned-spy has dissenters among fans of the FX series. Both Dina (Logan Polish) and Charlie (Gabriel Bateman) have already made maddening choices on Apple TV+’s The Mosquito Coast, which has, unfortunately, put them in the same camp as the Kim Bauers and Dana Brodys of the TV world. The heightened circumstances are not conducive for anyone but adolescent characters always seem to get a rougher end of the discourse (see also Sansa Stark on Game of Thrones) and some very questionable parenting decisions in “Elvis, Jesus, Coca-Cola” once again put Dina and Charlie in a position to fail.
The Fox family have safely arrived in Mexico City after their daring escape in Episode 4 before Chuy (Scotty Tovar) did the smart thing and left them at the bus stop. They have brought him nothing but trouble and he also has to find his daughter ahead of the dangerous people he screwed over — for a second time. After Allie (Justin Theroux) was served an important lesson about how he is actually the America he supposedly loathes, you would think the Fox patriarch would exhibit some humility. Sadly, you are mistaken and his arrogance bubbles to the surface once more as he tries to get in contact with his mysterious Calaca contact who he believes will lead them to safety. Unknown to Allie, not only are they being pursued by the NSA but also an assassin hired by Lucrecia (Ofelia Medina) to get vengeance for the act of insolence in her own home. Did they really think they could escape that compound without serious repercussions?
Posing as a tourist family is the easy part of this whole ruse but perhaps it wasn’t wise to trust that Charlie and Dina would stay cooped up in their hotel room without so much as a snack. The note tells them to “Don’t go out or talk to anyone,” which is unlikely, all things considered. Dina’s curiosity also gets the better of her and the first thing she does is find the nearest computer to look up her parents’ identities on. This is totally understandable and she cannot be blamed for wanting to know more when her parents have told her nothing. All she knows is that her dad worked for the NSA and now he doesn’t. Oh, and whatever came between him and the government agency has led to this ridiculous escape over dangerous terrain. Dina is naive but she has also been raised in a sheltered environment cut off from technology that most teenagers are privy to. The internet cafe she finds (remember those?) is the perfect place to quickly research who the Fox family really is but unfortunately, the NSA has also been banking on her doing this and has planted a “digital buoy” that reveals her location.
What she discovers is devastating as the article claims she was kidnapped when she was four days old, however, the likelihood that this is fake news is high. For starters, the article was buried beneath several other results and for a story that was supposedly national news, it should place higher. The agents are doing everything they can to turn Dina against her parents and what better way than claiming they stole her. The lack of concrete information in the first two episodes is integral to building the mystery but by the fifth installment, the evasiveness lacks plausibility: the intrigue has turned into frustration. Maybe Margot and Allie have hidden a truth that resembles some version of this news story and they don’t want Dina to flee again. However, keeping both Dina and the viewers in the dark for this long leads to resentment at this contrived plot point.
While Dina is playing detective in "Elvis, Jesus, Coca-Cola", Charlie attempts to satisfy his gnawing hunger and makes friends at the hotel. As with his interaction with Hugo, there is a starry-eyed naivety to his behavior and it is hard to know whether this group of gap year students is drawn to him because they can lead him astray. Again, it isn’t Charlie’s fault as his social awkwardness is a direct consequence of his upbringing (and because they were left alone) but after his gun mishap last week, I am less inclined to give him a free pass. Dina is concerned when she discovers he has been drinking alcohol and getting high with his new pals; she is right to worry. When this group starts ragging on America (loosely sounding like Allie’s diatribes), the whole atmosphere shifts and Dina’s discomfort is palpable. She calls them “bourgeois hipster dilettantes” and then storms out. When Charlie gets up to leave, he pulls the gun on them and the trio is no longer laughing. This weapon has yet to be fired but it is only time before someone pulls the trigger.
When the pair leave the hotel once more (because their parents have not returned) they are spotted by one of the children who are being paid to report any sightings of the wanted family — there are flyers with their photo on everywhere. The hitman Bill Lee (Ian Hart) charged with their execution is quirky enough in that he uses a typewriter and is dressed all in black — he looks like Walter White cosplaying as Johnny Cash. The slightly disorienting opening is one of the more outwardly violent moments of the series so far when he slits the throat of a target. This has nothing to do with our story other than showing how effective he is at his job. Using the many children roaming the Mexico City streets to his benefit is one way of showing the poverty and abuses that take place when money is hard to come by. It is purposefully uncomfortable how easily this hitman uses the social-economic situation — it also feels like he has read one too many Sherlock Holmes stories and these are his Baker Street Irregulars. One issue with The Mosquito Coast is even when it is critiquing something it also feels like it is taking advantage of the situation, which I am sure was not the intention but it is queasy-making nonetheless. "Elvis, Jesus, Coca-Cola" is no exception. At each turn, the Fox family evades Bill, through luck rather than being aware that someone is on to them is the reason.
"Elvis, Jesus, Coca-Cola" ends with a near miss as Allie and Margot (Melissa George) are scooped up off the street against their will by a group all wearing orange baseball caps. What led them here is a scavenger hunt through the city looking for the mysterious Calaca, which includes retrieving a phone from a drain, and Allie bristles at this power play. Before this seemingly wild goose chase that has Allie reverting back to his bullish behavior, the married couple has a lovely time drinking coffee, taking in the city — once again, they expected their teenage kids to stay in their room all day. They flirt it up a storm before things get serious and the one benefit of this scene is seeing this couple interacting in a way that explains why Margot is so charmed by Allie. Even earlier when Dina rags on her father for thinking Neil Young is cool there is insight into their dynamic outside of this heightened environment — but these are sadly too far and few between. He exhibits the previous arrogant streak, although he does admit he is nervous about communicating with the group he thinks will lead them to paradise. Instead, they are violently taken off the street after they have proved they are not being tailed (yes they are being tailed).
"Elvis, Jesus, Coca-Cola's frantic sequence is beautifully captured by cinematographer Guillermo Garza, and one aspect of The Mosquito Coast that is always beguiling is the way the landscapes are filmed whether the desert or a bustling city market. The final shot choice of a pair of shoes on a wire is somewhat eye-roll worthy because of the overt symbolism to signify street warfare or some sort of organized crime enterprise. Previous episodes have proved this series is far from subtle. The impressive tension building from last week has spilled over, however, certain factors like leaving the teens to their own devices is a contrivance that cannot be ignored or excused. Every time it looks like this show is about to soar, it stumbles, and it is frustrating how close it comes to hitting the mark. With just two episodes left of Season 1, there are various obstacles to surmount and the Fox family (and after "Elvis, Jesus, Coca-Cola" the audience) could do with a win.
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.
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