Be warned: spoilers abound below, so proceed at your own risk.
The crown jewel among the original content of Crackle, Sony’s free streaming service (their answer to Hulu, essentially) is unquestionably creator Ben Ketai’s tech/crime drama mash-up StartUp. Now, in the middle of the show’s second season, it continues piling on the grief. We’ve got a big character moment to unpack. Hopefully you’re all caught up to this point…
So as you’ll recall, at the end of episode four, “Loss,” Ronald’s troubled teen son Touie (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) engages in a fist fight with an antagonizing high school classmate at a backyard party. Though he finds himself winning the fight in its closing moments, his antagonizer elevates the conflict by pulling out a pistol and shooting Touie twice in the stomach. Touie collapses onto the ground, blood pooling beneath his body. At the end of the episode, it’s somewhat unclear if Touie is dead or merely, as Billy Crystal would say, “mostly dead.” Prospects sure look bleak, but on television, you never really know until they show you the coroner’s report. Kelvin Harrison Jr. has a tendency to over-emote, opting for intense dynamic shifts in his performance, so that he is either shy and retreating or broad and histrionic. That said, Harrison does possess a fundamental charisma that can still shine through, even during his more melodramatic moments. If this really was Touie’s last gasp, it was an epic way to go, gamely played and staged.
At the start of the second season’s fifth episode, “Pivot,” we verify that, yes, Touie did indeed die during the thrilling conclusion of “Loss,” marking the third family member (along with Izzy’s sister and, at the end of episode two this season, “Bleeding Edge,” Nick’s father Andy Talman) to transpire during the show’s first fourteen episodes. Pretty soon they’ll be running out of supporting players to kill! A few weeks since the events of “Loss,” Izzy and Nick deposit a sympathy bowl of home cooked food outside an unresponsive Ronald’s front door, as the latter stews in front of his television set.
The next day, Izzy blasts horrible, grating Matrix-esque rap-rock through her noise-canceling headphones as she codes. In the adjoining room, her coding buddy (and their company Araknet’s only employee) Rance discovers that Guizer, Araknet’s direct rival among a fast-emerging new wave of dark net transactions, already has 4,000 viewers during their first hours online. Nick decides to call Wes Chandler’s daughter Mara (Addison Timlin) — a character who should be on high alert, considering who’s died so far this season — about securing potential financing for additional support staff to expand Araknet in a hurry. Izzy and Rance decide to steal Guizer’s “cypher,” to subvert their success by using Guizer’s own software to propel Araknet to the next level.
The Dacey family home is, understandably, severely on edge as they mourn Touie’s murder. Ronald has told a dozen eyewitnesses not to report Touie’s murderer to his buddy in local Miami law enforcement, Jules (Dayo Ade). His friend senses that he is planning to strike back on his own terms, and warns him that their friendship won’t prevent him from a proper police response.
A coder tells Vera that the GenCoin tech team has noticed a dip in Guizer’s decryption speed whenever they add a new user — a flaw in Alex Bell’s code.
Nick takes Mara out to dinner. It’s a borderline date, a topic that Mara broaches indelicately. They discuss aggressive power handshakes. When confronted by a fancy restaurant, Mara requests that they instead try a greasy burger joint. Nick proves to be more than happy to oblige her. Mara recommends Nick reach out to some of her father’s enemies for Araknet financing.
Ronald wanders aimlessly through Touie’s empty room, as we deal with a lot of delicate, floating handheld camera work. Ronald’s wife Tamara (Kristen Ariza) enters, begging Ronald to kill the boy who murdered Touie. Eventually, he meets with his entourage.
Rance and Izzy park outside an Alex Bell-owned cafe, Bean and Blunder Coffee, planning to steal the company’s cypher. Bell arrives early, but Izzy, waiting for him across the street, spots Alex in time to alert Rance. Rance hacks into the coffee shop’s computer — because Alex pays for his own coffee with his phone, Rance is able to use it to hacking into Axis (Vera’s company, owners of GenCoin and Guizer)’s company wireless. This scheme is a bit convoluted, and tough for us tech philistines to understand. But somehow, they’re able to infect their team with a virus.
Nick confers with one of Wes’s rivals, Monica. Wes gives him a buzz; the conversation piques Wes’s interest — Monica has made Nick an offer, which he floats to Wes. Wes hems and haws; he thinks that the FBI investigation into Nick will be an issue for financing.
Phil Rask is still scrubbing on his bathroom floor. Vera tasks Phil with handling Izzy, in the wake of her infecting Axis’s software with a flippant virus. He greets her outside Nick’s house, she’s been smoking a cigarette, and hardly sees surprised to see them. Phil picks her up and they drive for a while, as Phil shares a sinister anecdote with her. They meet Vera’s sinister Russian enforcers.
It turns out that this, too, was all part of Izzy’s plan. The Russians want Izzy to fix the virus, and eradicate it from their software. As she does this, she connects Rance to Axis’s wi-fi so that Rance can lift their software’s cypher. I have to say, I did not see this elaborate a scheme happening, and Ketai and co. do a dynamite job of keeping us at just enough of an arm’s length to be intrigued but a bit confused.
Ronnie abducts the teenager who killed Touie, to appease Tamara. Clearly, the abduction was done with reticence. He’s tired of killing, and he thinks that he’s been doing it at her behest. This is a test. At first, Tamara tries to leave. Then she tries to coax Ronnie to do it. Instead, he drops the gun. Jules, the family friend, had told Ronnie that if he killed Touie’s killer, he’d spend the next 20 years in jail. He leaves the pistol with Tamara, the killer teenager strapped to a chair, and walks away. Tamara doesn’t do the deed, as Ronnie expects.
Alex Bell is freaking out as Vera and her squad oversee Izzy’s virus fix. He opts to leave Axis HQ, rather than be privy to whatever Vera and her squad are planning. After the crisis is reverted, Vera’s men stuff Izzy’s head in a bag and move her to an off-site location.
I have a hunkering that Phil Rask, that morally ambiguous FBI agent who sold his soul to clean his record, who scrubs the marble tiling of his condo every night in the hopes of cleaning his conscience, might be Izzy’s best chance at a rescue from the clutches of Vera, Axis, and Alex Bell.
As the next episode, “Liabilities,” kicks off, we find ourselves traveling with Izzy while day breaks. We are in a secluded forest location, and she soon finds herself being escorted by one of Vera’s armed Russian thugs, wearing a Steven Seagal goatee, into a clearing in the woods. Izzy, her hands bound behind her back and her feet tied together, is forced to the ground. The baddie cocks the trigger of his gun — but then (I called this) Phil Rask arrives. All of a sudden, he has killed Vera’s enforcers — but has also taken a bullet to the stomach. He manages to free Izzy, who resolves to drive him to a hospital.
Phil tells Izzy that he needs to drive them to a safe location, because if they actually check in at a hospital, the police will be involved, and Vera will track Izzy. Phil somehow manages to drives away of his own accord and Izzy, covered in Phil’s blood, wanders into a thrift shop and, sans cell phone, calls Nick.
Nick rescues Izzy, and (rightfully) chews her out for hacking into Axis and escalating their relationship with Alex Bell and Vera’s Russian mafioso to the point of almost getting herself killed. She calls Rance from Nick’s phone and requests that he move their hard drives, computers and material ASAP to Ronnie’s house.
Ronald, meanwhile, glares at the empty chair where his son’s assassin once sat. The boy’s fate remains unclear. Izzy and Nick arrive at his doorstep. Rance, materials in hand, leaves the materials with Izzy — she requests that he head home and wait for next steps. Ronald, like Nick, is not happy with Izzy’s foolhardy hacking, even though it was used as a means to an end to (successfully) steal Guizer’s cypher.
Alex Bell flies home to Greenwich, Connecticut to visit his folks and work from home.
Izzy cleans herself up, still freaking out. Ronald asks about the whereabouts of Rask. Izzy, like us, doesn’t know if he survived. Ronald’s plan is to send his family away to Tamara’s sister’s house, a secure location (why a blood relative would be a secure location, safe from the hands of Vera and her genius cyber-arsenal, is a mystery to me). Nick proposes that Araknet (now, predictably with funding from Wes Chandler) become the new Guizer, so that the Axis mobsters need them alive.
Vera and her brother Bogdan confer, after her brother has located the site of Izzy’s botched murder. They discuss the possibility that Ronald was the assailant. Vera elects (foolishly) to call in Rask. For now, only Izzy is a target, she doesn’t want to conduct a war with Ronald’s Haitian crew if it isn’t absolutely necessary. On the other end of that phone line, we see that Rask is clinging to life in a local hospital, his phone out of reach. But he’s still alive.
Ronald levels with Izzy — if she does something as stupid as she did with the virus ever again… there will be hell to pay. Vera’s man-bun-sporting brother Bogden (Konstantin Melikhov) and a few of his assailants arrive on the scene, as Izzy and Nick stash themselves. Bogden offers a truce: they’ll forgive Ronald for his (wrongfully accused) murder of their men if they surrender Izzy. Ronald can’t comply. And so Bogdan promises he’ll be back.
Ronald loads up on weapons. Ronald wants to be honest with Wes about Izzy’s errant transgressions. Nick’s concerned that, you know, telling their new millionaire (billionaire) angel investor that his company
Stella, hanging out with her boring, safe fiancee, finds that Izzy called her (from Izzy’s laptop). The next morning, with the hubby-to-be still asleep, Stella buzzes her back. Izzy, for some reason, is completely honest with Stella. She tells Stella that, at her moment of reckoning, all she could think about was apologizing to Stella.
Stella, as is her wont, freaks out and ends the conversation. In the kitchen moments later, Stella’s insanely boring fiancee Brad excitedly shows her that one of their dream houses has become available.
Alex Bell returns to Axis. He has figured out the speed hiccup.
Ronald, Nick and Izzy meet with Wes, ready to tell him everything. Ronald, because he’s not in a place for BS’ing, explains the entire story to Wes. Wes excuses himself from the table and hops on his phone as our team flips out. Because Ron Perlman is a producer on the show, we know that there is no way Wes’s story ends now.
Stella leaves Brad a farewell note. Thank goodness. She takes a ride to the airport, and I think we know where she’s going.
Wes escorts Nick, Izzy and Ronald to a new locale — their new office, a bit of a fixer-upper overlooking the ocean. No one will ever look for the gang here, Wes asserts. He tells the team that they will be living with them on the island until the issue with the Russian mob bows over. Wes takes Ronald aside, and asks him if he can protect Izzy. He wants Ronald on board as essentially an underground enforcer for Araknet, the life Ronald has been trying to run away from.
Things are really cooking with gas now. The final four episodes will shed some light on the gang’s latest venture. I’m looking forward to seeing how things shake up. Wes Chandler and Stella, two very intriguing new additions in this second season, are finally all-in with our main team. It’s exciting to speculate about where these relationship will go from here.
Season 2, Episode 5-6 (S02E05-06)
StartUp streams on Crackle
Alex Kirschenbaum | Contributor