Mark Watches ‘Terriers’: Episode 8 – Agua Caliente

In the eighth episode of Terriers, this is perhaps the worst disaster yet. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Terriers.

Trigger Warning: For extensive talk of racial stereotypes.

So, this is going to be complicated, and I acknowledge that off the bat. Yet I think it is as good as any episode to help demonstrate a phenomenon that a lot of shows are guilty of, even when they’re telling stories that are otherwise compelling and thrilling. And that’s what I want to start with: this episode is VERY ENTERTAINING. I keep thinking of how easily and effortlessly the writers make all these pieces come together into that maelstrom of a disaster at the end of “Agua Caliente.” It’s a story based in some serialization – since it relies on knowing what happened in both “Change Partners” and “Ring-a-Ding-Ding” – and one that explores many of the pieces we’d seen from the show before. Is Hank a reliable partner and a good friend? Can Katie keep her secret from Britt? Can Britt escape his past?

The writers pair both Britt and Hank with their respective ex-partners for “Agua Caliente,” though one of them is a willing pairing, of course. Ray has Britt kidnapped to help him escape a cartel deal gone sour, which is perhaps the worst way to get someone to help you do literally anything. But Ray exploits the desperation of the situation in order to compel Britt to do what he does best. In a sense, he gets exactly what he wanted before: to work with his partner again. This involves him and Britt going on the most ridiculous heist yet. Stealing from Lindus was nothing compared to PURPOSEFULLY GETTING INTO A FIGHT TO GET ARRESTED SO THEY CAN STEAL COCAINE FROM THE TIJUANA POLICE EVIDENCE ROOM. And that’s all bad enough, of course, without the fact that the men who Ray got mixed up with are currently stalking Katie, too.

So, that threat hangs over everything, all while Hank compels Mark to come along with him (willingly, I might add!) to Mexico in order to rescue Britt before something terrible happens to him. The set-up is great. The execution is awkward and suspenseful – just as Terriers should be! – and numerous times during this episode, I was on the edge of my seat. And when the whole uncomfortable plot with Katie’s professor becomes entangled in this mess, I was in awe. THIS IS ALL DONE SO WELL. There are so many reasons to panic while watching this episode!

And then there’s the elephant in the room. Look, I’ve lived in Southern California for 20 years. It’s a lovely place for the most part. (Depending on where you are, that is. There’s a myth that it’s all a liberal bastion of progressive perfection; much of Southern California that’s far from the coast is a nightmare. Trust me, I grew up in Riverside.) It is also undeniably a Latinx heavy population, and it has been for decades. I call what we see here the Buffy problem, not because that show originated this trope or phenomenon, but because it’s the most glaring example.

Up until Ray’s appearance and then, for the bulk of Terriers, there are simply no Latinx people anywhere in the show. They aren’t even the non-speaking background characters for the most part. (You can catch one here and there, but representation shouldn’t feel like Pokémon Go.) (Team Mystic here, for the record.) The only person who speaks Spanish on the regular is the white dude. Do Britt and Hank ever go out for street tacos? Fish tacos??? (YOU’RE IN OCEAN BEACH, THEY PRACTICALLY HAND THEM OUT IN THE STREET.) Why aren’t more of the guest stars representative of the population that actually lives where the show is shot?

I don’t think it’s a conscious thing here, and it rarely is. But the insidious nature of how this happens is still there. Thus, the problem becomes even more obvious when we finally get an episode full of Latinx characters – like twenty of them!!! – and literally every single one is either a vicious criminal or a bumbling cop. This is how stereotypes form and why people I know are shocked when they come to California and it is not the white paradise they expect based on what television looks like. Now, I’m not saying this is the fault of Terriers by any means. My point is that this is a pattern that’s all too familiar on television. I mean, I can even see the logic of how the writers and producers and casting directors came to this decision! They knew they had to bring back Ray for this story to work, and Mexico is right there. It’s incredibly close to San Diego, so setting part of the plot in Tijuana is sensible. But the flipside of that is that there’s no consideration given to how all of this looks. Aside from Mark, this story – while entertaining – comes off as Britt’s wacky day in Mexico, all with the proper pastiche to make sure we know that the white characters don’t belong and that Mexico is a scary, bizarre place.

Again, I don’t think anyone sat down to do this, but it’s what went unthought of that bothers me more. This whole series is set in a part of my country that is undeniably influenced and built around Latinx and Hispanic cultures. Food, religion, names… you get the idea. When none of it appears until the writers need something to be frightful and different, it feels suspect to me.

The video for “Agua Caliente” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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