Reviewing Amazon Pilot Week: Shane Black's 'Edge'
Sizing up Amazon's new spaghetti western.
This week we’re spinning the tires on the new batch of pilots available online for Amazon’s Pilot Week. We’ve already sized up Christina Ricci’s turn as Zelda Fitzgerald in ‘Z’. Now we’re talking about ‘Edge.’
Corban Goble: Many have theorized that right now, we’re living in the golden age of TV — I’d amend that to call these modern times the golden age of TV availability. As startup-minded TV labs at Amazon and Netflix start spinning their own content outside of the television industry machinery, we’re getting a lot of content, mostly free or cheap through regular streaming subscriptions.
Often the products are a little rough around the edges and imperfect, but that hasn’t stopped programs like Transparent or Master of None from receiving across-the-board critical acclaim. It’s also made for a number of flawed, but charming shows, like the Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle.
For the most part, though, it’s made television that just feels… unnecessary? Characters exist because they have to, it’s a TV show! Lines of dialogue must be said cuz, shit, the characters gotta say something! That incongruous setting featuring a graveyard that doubles as burnt out church grounds that triples as a pumpkin patch, I mean, three birds, one stone! Gotta write something!
“I figured you would figure” — ‘Edge’
The Amazon pilot Edge is one of these shows, in a way that either feels deeply cynical or maybe even slyly hilarious. Its protagonist is a frontier desperado in 1860s Missouri, a kind of catch-all badass that’s outfitted like a cartoon character. (The plot of Edge makes the story of the XBox game Red Dead Redemption look like the Sopranos). Winston texted me to watch it “as soon as you possibly can,” which I did. Winston, tell me a little more about our hero, Edge.
Winston Cook-Wilson: Man, it’s hard to know where to start. His name is Josiah Hedges, and somehow that got shortened to “Edge.” Look, I don’t know — and I don’t know if The Edge knows about it. But anyway, Josiah was a badass and super sincere Union soldier, and returns home to find out that some old army “buddies” gone rogue have come to shake down his little brother at his family homestead. Things get ugly, the brother gets killed, crucified, and burned to an unrecognizable crisp. Edge finds the body, boom, credits, we’re in, classic revenge plotline established.
Most importantly, what you have to keep in mind about Edge — which is created, written and directed by to-the-max action film auteur Shane Black, who penned Predator and Lethal Weapon — is that he’s an unreal TV movie Kurt Russell knockoff with a completely insane hairdo, which obscures 40% of his face at all times. His face is covered in dirt and blood — he growls unintelligibly like Wild West Bane. For the first half of the pilot, it seems like it’s gonna be impossible to get through the whole thing — not only because of how much nonsense the script is packing at such a fast pace (mostly, Edge’s techniques for sniffing out his enemies), but because of how intense it is to have to constantly be looking at that face.
“This is good art” — Edge
How did you feel as Edge really started to unfold, and the convoluted conflict started to reveal itself? It’s extreme from the beginning, but it definitely unfurls slowly, saving plenty of tricks for the last quarter.
CG: Edge definitely had that thing that most pilots have — the inclination to cover as much ground as possible and shed light on every possible interesting character dynamic. We’ve got Edge and Lil Bill’s wife, Edge and the sexy undercover federal agent played by the woman from Chuck, Edge and the stable boy. A dog gets shot in the face in the first minute of the show, and later Edge shoots a horse in the face (this is phrased as a mercy killing, even though Edge shot the horse with a gatling gun in the first place).
There’s the slow slog to establish all of these relationships and Edge’s motivation, but then the whole thing spins off the rails. Edge falls:
When Edge finds the gold stash in the inn attendant’s room — it was his entire arm, lost years ago in a smelting accident — Edge says “well, you’ve got a right to bear arms!” which makes zero sense but I mean, hey, he’s gotta say something there! There’s a ludicrous Wile E. Coyote sequence that involves a cleverly positioned box of fireworks, which again reminds me of any mission in any Grand Theft Auto. A blue pitbull performs quite the stunt in the bell tower to dispatch the sheriff and seemingly avenge the dog shot in the face earlier. There are so many toes and fingers that are just sliced off haphazardly, like the director had half a mind to go full on Drive but kind of wussed out. There’s a soliloquy at the end about Savages — something we know all about — where a Union soldier declares that the South will rise again before shooting two actively working prostitutes (one is male… progressive!).
There is basically zero chance that this gets selected to be the pilot that emerges from the voting — last year’s winner was The Man in the High Castle — but that final scene! I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything quite like that.
WCW: The M.O. with Edge’s grand finale was definitely to broaden out as much as possible conceptually — to open up endless possibilities for the full series which can’t possibly happen. The look, I think, has hints of some steampunky Wild Wild West type of shit. The premonition started when Edge killed approximately 90 people in the town of Seward with a crank-operated tommy gun/cannon — which seems like a steampunk-ass anachronism, but I’m no expert. But when our main villain, Harknett, retreats from the battle with Edge — an unending supply of dynamite is really the main hero — to a smoky, underground club of renegade Confederate fatcats and announces that he’s going to spearhead another Southern uprising, we realize we are firmly in no-holds-barred, alternative history land. If Edge continues, there’s no guarantee that Harknett won’t raise an undead army of skeletal Civil War soldiers a few episodes in.
That would be sort of what Edge needs. Some have appraised Edge, positively, as kitschy, over-the-top ‘80s fun. But there are plenty of times in this pilot when it doesn’t go enough in that direction, and reads like an Deadwood-inspired setup for a bad porn. If Shane Black went to that nth degree and took us further beyond the bounds of reality, Edge could be something for the record books, enough to legitimately win over a Big Trouble in Little China freak like myself. But I don’t think anyone is going to let that happen.
But damn, that Edge ep was a pretty savage ride — still the most fun I’ve had out of the four Amazon pilots I’ve watched thus far.
CG: For me, outside of the ego boost I get from knowing I’m possibly related to Edge — I was born in Missouri and grew up in Kansas — it affirms an old maxim for me. Rain on the scarecrow, Winston, blood on the plow.