Each country and landscape has its kinds of evil that lurk in every society it delves. It’s just on what side one is. Racism is a monster of a problem that haunts America and many countries to date. One has to be the highest level of ignorant to deny this fact. Amazon Prime’s newest offering, Them: Covenant, comes at a time when people are smelling the tea and finally checking their privileges. The show zooms out the lens and shows us the horrors of racism & how it isn’t less of a ghost. But does stretching it for 10 long episodes do any good? Read on.
Cast: Deborah Ayorinde, Ashley Thomas, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Melody Hurd, Alison Pill, Liam McIntyre, Ryan Kwanten, & ensemble.
Them Review: What’s It About:
Set in 1950s America, a family of 4, Henry (Ashley), Lucky Emory (Deborah), daughters Ruby (Shahadi) & Gracie (Melody), after a gut-wrenching tragedy, join the second significant historic migration from North Carolina. Henry, a World War ll veteran, lands a job at an aeroplane engineering firm in East Campton and buys a luxurious house in the same locality. To their horrors, the predominantly white landscape isn’t welcoming and begins the trouble.
Them Review: What’s Good:
Racism as a topic in itself is enough to create tension, and we have already seen the harm it has done to the black community, through various films and shows. Love Craft Country & Watchmen being the most recent examples, filmmakers have now started inducing unusual elements to make the conversation more intriguing and interesting. Them finds its place in the same family and mixes colour discrimination with literal horror showing there isn’t much difference.
What wins for me as a viewer from India, who has not lived the toxic culture of discrimination by colour, is the over-exaggeration of the evil side. And by that, I don’t mean their thoughts about the newly moved black folks, but their ways of triggering them. Created by Little Marvin, primarily directed by Nelson Cragg, and produced by Lena Waithe, Them tries to drive home the point of how horrific and haunting living in a racist environment is. The first trick the white people play is all the ladies surrounding Henry’s house with their chairs and playing their radios at top volume to create a deafening cacophony. You can imagine how irritating living amid such people must be.
Four black folks move in a locality that houses immaculately brightly dressed while folks, with the brightest red lipstick and each hair in place. Tension begins with the word go. Thanks to the opening nightmare sequence, cut to the family moving to East Campton. There is always a breath stuck because the tension is at its peak and it is very much an achievement as it isn’t easy to keep the pressure always up and expect a viewer to not quit the tab.
What works in the favour of Little Marvin in Them is the fact that they introduce a parallel narrative of each family member fighting a supernatural ghost respectively. Basically, we are watching a battle at two levels. First, the white humans vs the family and second, the family with their own ghosts. I for one was more petrified by the former.
And why won’t I be? The supernatural ghosts, at least, have no brains so as to find logic in them. What about the living breathing embodiments of monsters, who host lavish dinners to discuss how to make the black family run away from their locality. Alison Pill’s Betty is a devil who seems to have done mastery in racial slurs as she addresses Henry & family with the most demeaning of them. We know how much hate the sh*t headed white folks had, have and will continue to have for black people. The makers do everything to address this fact.
Oppression is from all sides, just because their melanin content is high, and for some reasons, that isn’t a good thing in the eyes of the crowd that says they have come from someplace worse. Marvin does an amazing job to show how the community is not just demeaned but also used by others for their profits. Be it the Real Estate company throwing them in the pit knowing the outcomes, to yield big money out of it. Or the boss who makes Henry work more but backs off when profit sharing is mentioned. Or in the flashback, when the same Blackman is hailed for finding water underground, is called a thief of his own horse later.
All of this is supported by a team of terrific actors. Deborah Ayorinde as Lucky in Them is what one calls living the trauma. This woman acts with her eyes, and there is no way you cannot be moved when she cries or shouts in pain. Ashley Thomas as the father brings a delicate pride to his performance. He is out there protecting the fragile pride and one jerk, the castle is at risk of crashing. There is honesty to his demeanour. When he bows down in front of people so his kids are safe. Or when he stuffed his mouth with paper towels and shouted so no one can hear him.
Shahadi Wright, Joseph and Melody Hurd bring maturity in their acts which wasn’t expected. For instance, Melody acts like she can see an alien existence in front of her is so natural, that you believe her even when you know it isn’t real. Alison Pill deserves a special mention for being a top-notch evil. Her smirks are enough to cut glass, and the robotic smiles only add on to her dangerous weapon kitty.
The camera work is for the lack of work nicely spooky. The camera captures Campton in sunny light, and bright colours but still haunts when it pans to the white folks looking at the Black family.
Them Review: What Doesn’t Work:
The dragging race of it all. 10 episodes were too long a period to set the show. The two flashback episodes especially could have been shorter parts of two different episodes, because we already almost knew about one, and the other had not much effect on the main plot.
That brings me to the inducing of the ghost element. No doubt the family fighting their own ghosts was a layer I admired and loved, but there wasn’t a single element that connected these supernatural beings to one another. It seemed like the writers had multiple ideas and had seen racism at different levels and ways, that they decided to introduce one pointer each with a different ghost.
Alison Pill’s Betty was a character that was interesting and intriguing. She also has a drop side, and we saw glimpses of it. But that is soon forgotten and suddenly begins a new angle altogether in her story. I didn’t see this coming in the scheme of theme and seemed out of place. You will see.
What was also forgotten was the facade created by the real estate people. A roundtable discussion between the top ‘men’ of the association in episode 5 is one of my favourite scenes in the show. It addresses not just deep-rooted racism but also the se*ist behaviour men showcase to show their prominence. When a male agent in the same room tells the only woman, “don’t f*ck it up by succumbing to the weaker nature of your s*x”, I expected more of that conversation and a powerful answer to it. But sadly the makers soon forget it.
Them Review: Last Words:
It is a great idea to make people understand the problems with their society in a creative way. Them turns out successful in doing that with some flaws. But at the heart of it, the concept is honest, and I would suggest you, give it a chance.