Be warned: spoilers abound below, so proceed at your own risk.
As the first episode of StartUp‘s second season, “Disruption,” gets underway, crooked FBI agent Phil Rask (Martin Freeman), in cahoots with Russian gangsters, coerces a hitman to take the fall for his murder of his former partner, Maddie Pierce (Jocelin Donahue), who got close to Phil. GenCoin, the international banking “crypto-currency” app that was the brain child of Isabel Morales (Otmara Marrero) at the crux of last season’s arc, is about to get some serious backers. Its prime investor Vera (Vera Cherny) suggests to Phil Rask that GenCoin co-founder Nick Talman (Adam Brody) take the fall for his father Andrew’s sins.
Isabel and her family are mourning the loss of her sister, caught in the crossfires of a gun fight at the end of the last season. Ronald Dacey (Edi Gathegi), the Haitian gangster trying to go straight, and Nick offer their condolences and support — but find Izzy wanting retaliatory vengeance from Ronald.
Night falls. At home, Ronald’s wife complains about hipsters moving into the neighborhood. Meanwhile, a paranoid Nick sits with a gun by his coffee table. Phil Rask knocks on his door — he has a warrant for Nick’s arrest for money laundering. Nick lords the fact that he knows Phil murdered his partner over his captor. Phil counters by telling him that a man has been serving time as of that morning for Maddie Pierce’s murder, and in so many words warns Nick not to tango with him.
Current GenCoin owner Alex Bell (Aaron Yoo) chats cagily with an interviewer about the future of the company. Izzy, meanwhile, having slept in her car next to the beach, swims in the surf.
At a spiffy beachside restaurant, Nick dines with an FSU student programmer about a future VR company enterprise. It turns out he’s a busboy at the restaurant while he serves out his parole.
Alex Bell hypes GenCoin to a packed hall at a Miami convention center for “Tech Punch,” while Izzy looks on from the wings. She can’t stomach his ramblings, and storms out into the parking lot, slamming frustrated fists against her steering wheel.
We watch a network of Ronald’s disciples handle a complicated series of distributional transactions, with a network of cops hot on their trail. Two narcotics detectives search a teen, Ricky, who’s been abetting the process. Ricky has swallowed a bag of product, and begins foaming at the mouth.
Izzy pours over notes in a parking lot. The next morning, at the beach, she pulls a Riggs at the beginning of the first Lethal Weapon, holding a gun to her temple before relinquishing.
Nick visits his stepmother (or perhaps his ex-stepmother, the chronology of her relationship with his dad is left somewhat vague), Alice (Anne Ramsay), who bailed him out of jail and has been supplying him with floaters until his court date. He asks her if she’s heard from his absentee criminal father, Andrew.
Ronald’s son Touie (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) proposes some tweaks to the drug-dealing game, a method to streamline the process and avoid police pinching at the street level. Ronald turns him down. Touie flips out, he’s still grappling with an emotional fallout from the double-homicide he committed last season. Ronald struggles to console him. Touie shrugs him off.
Izzy, gun in hand, approaches Alex Bell as he wraps up his time at the convention. She brandishes the pistol on his forehead. The screen cuts to black. Izzy drives to Nick’s house, demands that he take the pistol. She explains that she was seconds away from pulling the trigger, then begins to fall towards the ground. Nick holds her, eases her down and tries to get her to open up. She reflects on a childhood memory with her sister, and explains that she’s been sleeping in her car for weeks. Nick insists that she stay with him. They have yet to broach the topic of their one-night stand hook-up last season.
Nick and the FSU programmer wait in the lobby of a potential investor. A middle-manager type slinks down the spiral staircase above them, explaining that they investigated Nick’s background and, while he hasn’t been convicted of money laundering yet, his spotty criminal history gave them pause.
Ronald picks up Touie from school, and gifts him with Heat tickets. Touie responds by confessing to his father that he has set up a drug transaction system on the dark web, shipping products at premium rates above Ronald’s regular street mark-up rates to clients directly. Ronald contemplates getting Izzy in on the ground floor with this scheme.
At the start of episode 2, “Bleeding Edge,” Nick meets with Phil Rask to discuss Nick bringing his father to task, in the interest of clearing his name. Phil acquiesces.
Ronald corners troubled tech genius Izzy at Nick’s house, and pitches her on his black web drug dealing scheme. She ponders a route towards making his plot tenable, using an encrypted distribution system. In another low-key conference with Vera, Phil Rask is commissioned with keeping Izzy “on a leash,” to intimidate her into staying in line and not threatening violence against Alex Bell on Vera’s campus in the future.
Izzy visits her mother and father (Jenny Gago and Tony Plana) for the first time since her sister’s funeral. They absentmindedly watch a Miami Dolphins baseball contest — until Izzy mentions that the bullet that hit her sister was meant for her. Her mom opts not to acknowledge the statement. Izzy, as is her custom thus far this season, storms out and mourns in her car.
Ronald meets up with one of the narcotics officers who arrested one of his street guys, a man he grew up with. Ronald requests that the officer look the other way while he conducts his business. Ronald offers him up to a 10% cut of his action to leave him alone, but buddy tells him that he can’t be bought.
Phil Rask corners Izzy as she returns to Nick’s house, encouraging her to leave Alex Bell alone. She chastises Phil for acting in blind self-interest, runs inside, and appears to suffer a severe panic attack on the floor. She calls a friend, and requests to “get messy.”
Alex Bell kvetches to Vera, who ordered the botched hit on Izzy that yielded her sister’s death. Vera calls his bluff, telling him to quit if he’s so opposed to her methods.
Izzy, still a wreck, drives to her friend Rance (Joshua Leonard)’s house. They share a beer. He unloads a massive toolbox of drugs, and they indulge in a Technicolor pills-booze-and-coke wide-angle party montage. Izzy passes out by the pool. At the Dacey family home, nightmare recollections of his double-homicide befall the teenage Touie. Ronald consoles him as he sobs. Phil cooks himself a lonely pasta dinner. He obsessively cleans the bathroom tile where Maddie was murdered with bleach, though there are no visible signs of blood anymore.
The next day, Nick approaches Alice again and feigns panicked overtures to her to help him find his father before outside forces do. She finally acquiesces. His father has taken residence in Panama. She doesn’t recall the name of the city, but she visited it with the elder Talman and gifts Nick with a picture from the experience. Izzy awakens in a hungover haze, and discovers Rance exploring drug purchasing via the dark web method that Ronald had proposed to her. Inspired, she heads to Nick’s house and begins outlining equations on a whiteboard. She smokes copious amounts of marijuana and is off to the races.
Nick flies to Panama, armed with the picture and a prayer. He finds a tour guide, who ID’s the location in the background of the old picture, and the search for his father commences. His initial efforts are fruitless. He lands in a hole-in-the-wall watering hole. Invariably, this is where his search finally takes a turn for the better.
In the shower, Ronald relays his fears of the law to wife Tamara (Kristen Ariza). Izzy discovered a route onto the dark net that’s completely anonymous — she proposes to create an entirely new dark network, making it wholly full-proof. It’s Izzy’s dark net, “Araknet.” Even if the NSA had their software, they wouldn’t be able to identify his IP address, she claims. He needs to invite his team onto the network to see some results.
Nick follows directions from the local bar tender towards his dad’s beachside Panama hideout. Finding the door open, he enters. Music is playing softly in a distant part of the house, though Nick can’t locate his father for a bit. When he finally does, he is confronted by an unfortunate hiccup (and a great ending button for the episode): the fate of his father is less cheery than anticipated.
As the curtain opens on episode 3, “Early Adopters,” Nick and Alice attend a morbid event. His father’s old pal Wes Chandler (the very welcome cast addition Ron Perlman) greets him, and passes him a business card. Wes, a billionaire businessman with a somewhat shady past, offers to buy Nick dinner at some point. Nick returns home with his father’s ashes, to Izzy’s surprise.
Vera still wants Nick behind bars before GenCoin launches, and wants to ensure that Izzy will not pose a significant future threat. Ronnie begins to take the “Araknet,” contained in a baggie of flash drives, to the streets, as Izzy observes its spread.
Ronald hypes Araknet to an eerie skinhead sect. His network is 100-strong already and still growing. Ronnie explains that the site is wholly secure. At the Dacey home, Touie tells Izzy that he wants to help her on the tech side of the rapidly-growing Araknet scheme. She gives him a link to some online self-teaching programs.
Nick pitches Araknet, the new de-centralized network, as a new encrypted internet for millions, not just criminals. He wants to be the CEO of a new, globalized Araknet. He tells Izzy he could get them financing, at the level of the millions that Izzy needs, within three weeks.
Phil Rask visits his daughter Finley (Ivana Mendez) at a jewelry fair. Finley tells her father that her mother thinks he’s unwell, and that she should steer clear of him for a while. In a surprising twist,
Nick finally gets that drink with Wes, pitching him on Araknet — free from corporatization or government interference. They’re not even financed yet. He boldly promotes tech genius Izzy as his “secret weapon” — at which point we cut on action to Izzy huffing lines and imbibing at Rance’s pad. She’s pitching Rance on working for him. Rance has heard this song-and-dance before, having worked for three free months with GenCoin. She promises to absorb his debts and give him a stake in the company in exchange for his coding services. He agrees so readily that the viewer hesitates. Rance moves in with Nick and Izzy.
Ronald meets up with enforcer buddy Emmanuel (Fredrick Bam Scott) at a family barbecue. “E” registers his complaints with Ronnie about them involving white criminal organizations in Araknet. Tamara explains to Ronnie that all of his enforcers have been talking trash behind his back, upset with their relative piece of the pie. Ronald retaliates to Tamara, in no uncertain terms, that he views Araknet as his new way out for their family. The relative success or failure of Ronald’s street crew is ultimately not part of his long-term plan.
Izzy, Ronald and Nick schedule a video conference schedule to consult with a Swedish coding couple, called Guizer, for tech insight. Nick mentions as an aside that he’s considering partnering up with them. The couple has created their own encrypted dark web-esque program along the same lines as Araknet (although they don’t know that our team has created Araknet yet), so Nick figures a partnership could be in their best interests. The couple quickly explain that they can’t provide any insight into future coding, as they signed an NDA and sold their code to Axis and Alex Bell, the team that screwed Izzy, Ronald and Nick out of GenCoin.
Episode four, “Loss,” opens with Izzy flipping out about Guizer. Izzy needs to bring her team together, she has a Northern California coder, Stella (Reina Hardesty), in mind for her encryption help. Ronald, meanwhile, needs to build up his base on the ground floor with Miami’s local gangs. Nick is heading to Wes Chandler’s island in the Florida Keys to lock in Araknet funding. Ronald struggles to convince gang crews elsewhere to accept Araknet (he has a discouraging phone call with an Atlanta connection).
At Wes’s farm property, Nick meets a comely young woman named Mara (Addison Timlin) who tells Nick that she’s Wes’s daughter. Nick is convinced that Wes, who’s dodging Nick’s calls, has blown him off. But it turns out he was just vetting Nick for a day. Nick wakes up the next morning to find Wes prepping breakfast. Wes asks Nick if he and Mara slept together, claiming he was just making light conversation.
Izzy slips into a coding class that Stella, her former Stanford classmate, is teaching. She abandoned a project with Stella four years ago, who holds a serious grudge. What this project was is unclear, for now.
At school, Touie discovers that his secret is out, that his classmates know what he did. And that there might be certain social perks that come with the Dacey family’s neighborhood standing. In a moment of relative brevity, as they drive home from school, Touie tells Ronald that his crush, Rochelle, has finally taken a shine to him. On the drive, Ronald finds that one of his crew buddies is conducting distributional business on the side, on a street that the group called off. They exchange blows, and even though this associate has maybe 50 pounds on Ronald, Ronald prevails because he’s the star of the show. He pulls a gun on his compadre, sees Touie glaring at him in the car, and leaves before things escalate.
Wes and Nick fish. Wes explains that Nick’s father helped Wes move the money to purchase the property. At dinner that night, Wes tells Nick that he wants to pass on financing Araknet — though they’ve barely spoken about it to this point (Nick has tried numerous times to give Wes a full-fledged presentation, but Wes has been putting it off). Wes doesn’t think Nick is ready, then shares a terrifying college anecdote with Nick. Wes doesn’t think Nick is willing to “go all the way.” He still sees a scared kid.
Izzy hacks into a private party invitation Stella is attending, and finds a series of college friends greeting her and congratulating her on GenCoin. She approaches Stella and we realize that Stella wasn’t just Izzy’s former business partner. They were lovers. This is what we in the business call a twist. I think Crackle registered our criticisms of its excessive sex scenes, and thus limited us to a scant single sex scene across its first four episodes — Izzy and Stella get hot and heavy, and it’s a doozy.
The next day, Nick makes to depart. Mara approaches him and requests to hear more about Arachnet.
Stella, we discover, is engaged to a man. She lingered in Northern California for him, and claims to be content with her life as a teacher and research. In bed, Izzy jumps on what she perceives to be a lack of professional fulfillment in Stella’s life to pivot from personal talk to an abrupt pitch on Araknet. This moment is delightfully uncomfortable to watch, as Stella leaves Izzy’s rental room in a huff. Izzy returns home, dejected.
Touie heads out to a party, targeting Rochelle. Ronald gives him some sage advice. Touie flirts with Rochelle and they discuss career goals. He finds himself approached by an antagonizing party attendee. Touie talks up his “dark net hustle.” They share a blunt. The antagonizing adolescent patron talks severe smack against the Dacey family. His buddies encourage Touie to fight. What happens next marks another big moment in the show’s narrative, one which I will leave for you to discover — until I review the next few StartUp episodes on Wednesday, at least.
Overall, StartUp‘s first four episodes back mark a strong return, and the advent of Ron Perlman — who like, Adam Brody, isn’t just a performer on the show, but also a producer — injects the show with some great heavyweight acting bona fides. Wes Chandler immediately becomes the show’s most intriguing figure and coolest character, a mysterious and morally murky shark. Perlman is just the kind of grizzled presence that StartUp didn’t realize it was missing before.
Season 2, Episode 1-4 (S02E01-04)
StartUp streams on Crackle
Alex Kirschenbaum | Contributor