There’s no mistaking Michelle Dockery’s new character on TNT’s Good Behavior for Downton Abbey’s Lady Mary. In her first scene, a lowly diner manager orders Letty (Dockery), an even lowlier waitress who is out on parole and struggling with her sobriety, to clean the restaurant’s toilets. Downton Abbey fans be warned: only Maggie Smith performing such a menial task could be more visually shocking.
Down on her luck after losing this wretched-but-legitimate waitressing job, Letty quickly returns to her more lucrative mode of self-employ, namely stealing from an upscale hotel while disguised as a wealthy patron. Donning a series of wigs, she slips in and out of the guests’ rooms and fills her enormous handbag with designer clothes, jewelry, cash, and liquor. This scheme seemingly works until Letty witnesses a man ordering a hit on his wife, beginning the ever-worsening series of events which leads to Letty’s introduction to a higher class of criminal underground.
Juan Diego Botto plays Javier, the menacing Argentinean assassin who takes Letty into his keeping after rescuing her from an overdose. There’s something of Jean Reno in Léon about him, a character with a villainous career redeemed somewhat by an act of apparent charity. Certainly, Javier uses Letty controllingly to fulfill his murderous goals, but nonetheless he might be the most positive influence in her life. As pieces of his backstory come to light and as his better intentions come into focus, it becomes simpler to look past his chosen profession.
The show is the edgiest to come out of TNT’s recent revamp, and a well-timed distraction from the world at large. It would be simple to imagine the premise turning into a cliché caper, but Dockery and Botto provide sufficient depth and chemistry to avoid feelings of a retread. Lusia Strus and Terry Kinney round out the cast as Letty’s mother and parole officer, respectively, and provide for interesting points of comparison with Javier. All three make their unique impressions on Letty, but whose influence will win out remains to be seen.
Good Behavior focuses on characters doing just enough good and showing just enough humanity for audiences to cheer them on despite their vicious flaws. Certainly, any moral conflict in the mind of the viewer is greatly eased by the attractiveness of the show’s two leads, a rational disconnect that Letty touches on in her description of a novel she tells Javier she’s writing. Letty describes her novel’s main character as a beautiful conman whose ending is uncertain, but tragic and humorous — the story is a lie (part of Letty’s plan to save the woman whom Javier plans to kill), but the ending Letty imagines may prove to be prophetic. Everyone gets caught eventually, but, as the title implies, enough good deeds might help to mitigate the karmic and/or legal punishment.