From Dusk Till Dawn Season 1 Review “Let’s Get Ramblin’ ”

In the latest episode of “From Dusk Till Dawn,” Robert Rodriguez made a welcome return to the directing fold after ceding the reins to “Blair Witch” helmer Eduardo Sánchez for an episode last week. Joining him was brother Marcel, who did the scripting, with some firm nods to Tarantino’s source material, in “Let’s Get Ramblin’.” This was arguably the best episode yet, and certainly the most go-for-broke action-packed one thus far.

The episode revolved around the Gecko brothers planning their next move after the situation last week, which left Seth’s ex-wife Vanessa holding a cop and various people at a Big Kahuna Burger hostage while he made his getaway. After Freddie showed up and got the info he needed from her after defusing the situation pretty handily by pointing out the likelihood of her ex being killed by his own crazy brother, it was off to the Dew Drop Inn for a good old-fashioned shoot-out.

We got two exciting, slam-bang action sequences for the price of one in this episode, and it went a long way towards proving that Rodriguez is still one of the best there is when it comes to staging scenes like this. First up, we saw a flashback of Freddie back in the day when he was still being mentored by Earl McGraw, played by Don Johnson in full-on gunslinger bad-ass mode. Busting in on a house where a girl was being held against her will by two gun-toting thugs, McGraw made short order of the both of them, tagging one right in the chest, and another in the neck when he tried to blindside Freddie with an axe.

The blood-spurting that resulted was pretty glorious, and unexpectedly repeated in equally epic fashion later on in the episode, as Freddie had what I think might have been a hallucination brought on by Richie’s “sacrificial” knife, seeing the thug that almost killed him speaking cryptically about said knife before once more spraying blood all over the poor guy. The Rob Zombie-esque thug also made an appearance at the hotel, during the big showdown with the Gecko brothers, which was spectacularly filmed.

I loved the scene where Richie was kicking in doors of one hotel room after another to get back to his brother. Actually, the whole thing was pretty exciting and the most intense sequence in the show so far, I thought- even more so than the opening episode’s shoot-out at the store, and that’s saying something, because that was pretty great, too.

The aforementioned writing was also strong, too, both acknowledging the source material (i.e. the bit with Scott about Bruce Lee and how a gun works and “You don’t look like Bruce Lee no more”) and writing in a similar style (i.e. the bit about giving a performance that was “Tony”-worthy) without going too overboard with it, as was sometimes the case in previous episodes. Sure, pop culture-friendly names were dropped, but this felt a bit more organic than before, though I will say that Zane Holtz (Richie) fared slightly better than D.J. Cotrona (Seth) with the material at hand.

His Richie is much more unnerving, especially as he goes from surprisingly heartfelt and relatable (the early stuff with Katie by the pool) to psycho (the stuff with Scott) to…shall we say, gifted? I mean, it certainly seemed like he could see the future in a limited fashion (the stuff about moving the RV), as well as read people (especially Katie) with surprising accuracy, at least when he’s not hallucinating too much, in which case his crazy reveals itself a little too much, as in the scenes where Katie came on to him. Holtz really is kind of nailing the part, I must say.

Not that Cotrona is terrible, just that the seams show a bit more with his style, like he’s trying a bit harder than he needs to in order to seem cool. With Clooney, the role was more effortless, and it made you forget he was commonly known for “ER” at the time. I have no preconceived notions of Cotrona, though I’ve seen him in a few things, notably the short-lived “Skin” with Olivia Wilde. Yet, I can always feel him acting here, and when you’ve got stylized dialogue, a la QT, tone is crucial. So far, Holtz is getting it better, but maybe Cotrona will grow into the role like him in time.

Getting better all the time is Madison Davenport as Katie, who was really the main focus of a lot of the non-action elements of the episode. As she struggles with the new info she’s getting on her dad and trying to puzzle out what really happened, her character is deepening and becoming richer, much more so than the original role in the film ever did.

I’m getting the sense that it might have actually been her mother that slipped, in terms of abusing drugs or alcohol, and her dad is covering it up to preserve her memory to the kids. She did say in the flashback that Jacob “saved her life.” It could be by being her sponsor when she decided to get straight. Maybe she actually caused that accident by her erratic behavior after slipping. Note also that they said Jacob wasn’t under the influence at the time, which we previously thought he was, plus Ritchie said it wasn’t migraines she was having in the flashback we saw. I like that new wrinkle to the story, which also deepens the material on a level not in the original film.

Overall, I’d say that’s the chief difference between the old film and the new series: it feels more real and believable this time around. Sure, we’ve also got the less believable elements, like the supernatural stuff, but even it is treated in a matter-of-fact fashion, without resorting to the cartoonishness of some of the original. Not that I don’t love the film, but if you’re going to turn it into an ongoing series, you need the material to be a little more relatable and deeper, and the show is managing that nicely, and without seeming like its stretching the material too far.

Of course, the real test will be when it gets to the more overt vampire stuff at the club in Mexico. That’s when the film really gets super-cartoon-like, almost like a completely different film than what’s come before. That’s one of the things I love about it: it’s like two movies for the price of one. Yet what works there might not work in a series format, so it will be interesting to see how they handle that part of the story. Will they play it straighter? Or will they turn it into more of a horror-comedy like the original?

That will have to wait, as the next episode would seem to revolve around the Geckos and Fullers getting themselves across the border. That should make for another kind of intense than we saw on tonight’s episode, a more claustrophobic one. As it stands, though, this was my favorite of the bunch so far, and I can’t say enough about the two bravura action set-pieces we got here. Well-played, Mr. Rodriguez.

What did you think of “From Dusk Till Dawn” this week? Did you love the action stuff, too? What was your favorite scene? What do you think of the cast? How about the writing of the show vs. the writing of the movie? Any theories on what really happened with Jacob and his wife? What else do you think they will expand in the future? How do you think they’ll handle the bar stuff? Shoot your mouth off below, but watch out for your neck! See you next time…