Perpetual Grace, LTD series premiere recap: Eleven


Perpetual Grace, LTD premiered on EPIX on Sunday night. A stellar cast disappears into their warped characters in this neo-noir mystery-thriller. We’ve got the recap!

A lot happens in the opening teaser of Perpetual Grace, LTD. The amount of story that we’re given and left to wonder about is on par with any season two episode of Counterpart. The series premiere, “Eleven,” was written by executive producers Steve Conrad (Patriot) and Bruce Terris (The Assets). It was also directed by Conrad.

He does a great job setting warm visuals. But there’s a chill in the New Mexico air that you can feel. Conrad also gives the actors space to act. There is real emotion and thoughtfulness between lines. There’s genuine reaction and movement in scenes. Conrad doesn’t edit the space out of the frame or scene.

That also helps the viewer. The script is well structured. So is the episode. But the story bounces in and out of timelines. It speeds up and slows down the pace. It’s one of the best series premieres I can remember. But, make no mistake. Perpetual Grace, LTD is a wackadoodle train in slow motion with wobbly wheels that you’re just waiting to watch crash.

A Simple Plan in Motion

The teaser starts with James (Jimmi Simpson) in the passenger seat of a car being driven by Valerie (Dana DeLorenzo). He’s got a faint, reflective smile on his face until the car stops on the side of a sparse, New Mexico highway. When Valerie asks him if he’s ready to do what he’s got to do, James gets out of the car, taps the door handle as a goodbye, and lays in the fetal position on the side of the road. Valerie drives off.

Perpetual Grace, LTD-Eleven-Courtesy of EPIX

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We flashback to when James was a firefighter. He walks into a blaze and becomes overwhelmed. James isn’t overwhelmed by smoke or flames. He just seems spent. James drops his hose and walks out of the building. A firefighter trainee, who happens to have eleven daughters, picks up James’ hose. The next frame is of that trainee’s body being removed from the building. James is in the background. He’s conscious of the situation, but he’s somewhere else.

Flashbacks are in black and white and have title cards. This is helpful because as soon as James’ flashback ends, we flashback to Valerie sitting in the backseat of a car with Paul Allen Brown (Damon Herriman). There’s no one in the driver’s seat. This looks cool and is perfect for this show. There’s a plan being hatched. It requires a drifter and a sympathetic sheriff.

This leads to one of my favorite exchanges in “Eleven.” Paul states that the plan requires a sheriff. Valerie explains that she’s going to a sheriff’s convention in Mexico. Paul asks why Valerie would go there. She says it’s to find a sheriff. Paul says good job and Valerie replies, “Thanks.”

We learn a lot about these characters with zero exposition. Paul knows what a good plan contains, but doesn’t consider how to get what’s required. Valerie is a hardcore pragmatic. She knows what she needs to do to get what she needs. And, she passes up the opportunity to unleash a sick burn on Paul for not realizing it. That might have started some ill will between the two and Valerie isn’t risking it.

Perpetual Grace, LTD-Eleven-Courtesy of EPIX

The third flashback is James and Paul meeting each other at a strip club. The entertainer is dressed up as a fireman. Ouch, James. Apparently, this is supposed to be clandestine because Paul sits three seats away from James. But that means he has to talk loud enough for people to overhear. At one point, any scrap of secrecy is lost when the entertainer sits right next to Paul, but he just keeps on explaining his plan. Again, Paul knows what he’s supposed to do. The problem is in his execution.

As far as the plan goes, it defines the bat-crap-crazy nature of the show. James will have to become addicted to methadone, be found by Ma (Jackie Weaver) and Pa (Sir Ben Kingsley) Allen, be taken in by the Allen’s and win their trust. After that, he will give them information about how to find their estranged son in Mexico. Once in Mexico, the Allen’s will be held in jail by a sheriff for two weeks. In that time, Paul will have his parents claimed dead, inherit their money, and split it with James, who will have assumed Paul’s identity while the Allen’s are in jail.

It works. Trust me. The flashbacks of the teaser are vital to the understanding of the plan. Once you’re in the world of Perpetual Grace, LTD, its warped physics will make perfect sense.

But You’re in a Marching Band

Jimmi Simpson makes the character of James work. Something makes him walk out of that fire. What that is we don’t know. But he completely embodies the concept of a drifter who seems completely out of things until you see that they calculate their every action. At Perpetual Grace, LTD, the Allen’s do bring James back to sobriety. The first time we see Pa, it’s almost a jump scare as he appears in a car window. When we first meet Ma, she looks like Father Merrin arriving at the MacNeil’s residence in The Exorcist. She’s a dark figure with a fedora-like hat. But, unlike Father Merrin, Ma immediately smiles and waves at James.

The plan moves along nicely until Ma asks James where his last stash of drugs is. All addicts have one. James didn’t find this out in his research, apparently. He pulls a Usual Suspects and tells Ma that it’s in between the mattress of the hotel where he was last staying. Ma takes the car to complete her chores and go to the hotel. Of course, there are no drugs there. But James controlled the situation by naming a place he could plant drugs.

He has to walk into town to do it, but he’s committed. James steals Ma’s pearls. He takes them to a pawn shop where we meet Glenn Purdue (Dash Williams). His dad is constantly in AA, so Glenn has to mind the pawn shop instead of going to school. He’s not a pushover, though. Glenn stands pat on an offer of $60 for Ma’s pearls. James takes it, buys drugs, and plants them. Ma finds them. But James has to get the pearls back.

James reenters the pawn shop wearing a stocking over his head. He doesn’t mask his voice. He’s upset that Glenn’s dad isn’t back because that means he’s going to have to knock Glenn out. I mean, if you’re going to do a thing, do it right. After a couple of love taps to the back of Glenn’s head, James finally connects with enough force to knock him out cold.

Later on, James will return to find Glenn on bed rest, but still working the counter. Glenn has changed from his pawned marching band suit to a fur coat and a helmet. James gets Glenn a milkshake and spends some time talking to Glenn about how crappy his dad must be and basically outs himself as the guy who knocked him out cold.

Let’s Enjoy the Earth under Our Feet

The plan is going well. There are some issues, but every road has a few potholes. One of the bigger ones is Sheriff Hector Contreras (Luis Guzman). He has cold feet about his part of the plan. What makes this worse is that the Allen’s are on the way to him. In one long, roaming shot, Hector walks his land. He has a nice house. His kids have multiple bikes and skateboards. Hector calls to them to come outside and spend some time with him. Hector wants to enjoy the life and family that he has achieved. But the kids want to play video games. His wife has covered her entire torso in some kind of beauty face mask mud.

Perpetual Grace, LTD-Eleven-Courtesy of EPIX

Hector, defeated, opens up his cell phone. We see pictures of him with Valerie. She found her sheriff, alright. From the three pictures we see, Hector’s desperation is even more evident. They’re not sexts. It’s just selfies of Hector and Valerie together. She’s holding his revolver in one of them, but they’re wearing the same clothes in all three. These are likely pictures from the sheriff’s convention. Valerie found a guy so desperate to extricate himself from the life he thought he had always wanted, that she can string him along via five-word text messages.

Here’s where things get real crazy. Hector receives the Allen’s at his jail. They believe their son Paul is there. In order to expedite the release, the Allen’s are asked to wait in a holding cell with non-violent offenders. They reluctantly agree. But one violent offender is admitted into the cell and threatens Ma. Pa kills him. With his shoe.

Hector runs Pa’s prints and finds out that Pa is a lethal felon with a rap sheet going back to his adolescence. Paul never mentioned this to James. He had only told him that his parents had kicked him out of the house when he was fifteen because their religious views clashed with Paul’s chosen profession as a magician. Paul also left out the fact that he was a person of interest in the disappearance of a twelve-year-old girl. James finds this out when lawman Scott Walker (Terry O’Quinn) shows up to question the man he believes to be Paul Allen. James is taken into custody.

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That was a jam-packed series premiere. This was clearly the week for Jimmi Simpson to shine. That plus the exciting density of the story kind of prevented me from talking at length about Ben Kingsley and Jackie Weaver’s performances. We’ll talk more about that next week when we find out what happens when James is taken in for questioning as Paul Allen. Also, isn’t Paul Allen the name of the guy in American Psycho that is so white and nondescript that no one is ever sure who he is? Yeah. Perpetual Grace, LTD is a keeper.

What did you think of the series premiere of Perpetual Grace, LTD? Will you be coming back for another week of weird at its best? Let’s discuss in the comments!