I have been suffering under an oppressive, nameless dread for seven days now and I blame Jodi Balfour.
I’d been wanting to watch the new Cinemax crime series called Quarry but missed the first episode when it premiered in September. It took months for my PVR to collect all the episodes so I could binge-watch it once it was complete. I love crime stories. I live and breathe Elmore Leonard. I like returning Vietnam vets becoming hitmen. I knew what I was in for.
Currently, I am an often Amazon Top 50 erotica author dealing primarily with cheating wives and infidelity. I am cold, calculating, sociopathic…or at least try to be. I elicit responses. Responses are not elicited from me. I’m supposed to be inured. There have been a few times I’ve written something that hurt my own heart, splash-back as it were, but nothing has ever got to me like the first two episodes of Quarry. I was not prepared for this hurt. Seven days later, New Year’s morning, I was washing dishes, softly crying at the sink. Still affected. Wondering when I would shake this.
To relieve some of the heartache the show gave me I’ve been trying to break it down and examine how it was so successful at selling me that infidelity. It hasn’t worked and there’s a good chance I’m talking out of my ass here but I will relate my boring analysis to you nonetheless.
The writing is excellent, the structure is perfect. Camouflage and subterfuge drawing me away from returning soldier finding his wife-with-another-man-standard-trope. They address that right up front. Nope, that’s not what this show is about, let’s clear the table right away. It’s the standard storyline of every returning soldier tale but not this time.
Mac comes home, travels the dark foreign halls of his home…where’s Joni, his wife? Not with another man as music and lighting may suggest. Of course not. She’s skimming the swimming pool he built with his own two hands. A powerful symbolic gesture. Joni is unadorned perfection. Their reunion is stirring and his wife’s joy will touch your heart.
This brings me back to Jodi Balfour, the actress who plays Joni, Mac’s (or Quarry’s) wife. She is the success behind the most impactful cuckolding I’ve seen depicted. She didn’t do it alone—the writers are superb, costume and set dressing is top notch, direction on point, etc. Yes, she’s beautiful, I get it. That’s not it. Trust me. You can find a lot of beautiful people.
I’ve seen infidelity depicted before. I’m a grown up. I’ve never cheated, nor been cheated on, to my knowledge. It usually has no effect. And the infidelity wasn’t completely obscured, I did see it coming. This hit harder than I’ve ever felt.
It was this actor’s casting and performance and the application of some finely honed dirty details that ran something through my heart and left me unable to shake an uncomfortable malaise.
Jodi Balfour creates an intangible intimacy, a bond. She becomes something of tremendous value, apparent even to the audience. Something enormous to lose. Anybody can fall off a ladder, Jodi Balfour puts us on a roof. She creates scale. She’s following the well-written script but she conveys more than words through expression and charm. Doing in trembling eyes and carefully held mouth what takes me pages.
She embodies a universal aspiration. She becomes what anyone would want in a significant other. Whether you’re a man or woman, whether you’re in love with the opposite sex or the same sex, she shows us what we all want as human beings from someone we love. We all want someone we love to look at us the way she looks at her husband. Someone who will make love freely, passionately, smoke some weed on the couch with us, be a positive hang, stand naked by a kitchen sink and watch us watch them, and do it with glowing ardor.
She builds a careful, pretty dollhouse we then get to see smashed down by the scuffed boots of truth—the reality she shared all that wonderful charm with a co-worker while she was left alone. White and black, light and dark. One making the other more extreme. And like I write in my books, there is a female-centric balance. In real life no one is usually a villain. We’re human. No one cheats to harm another if they love them, and she loves Mac. She proves it. No matter how hard it hurts sometimes infidelity is only a result of suffering.
I don’t want to comb through this thing too carefully, but I’d like to illustrate some highlights…
A scene where she is confronted by her illicit lover. We can’t hear words very well. We see her over his shoulder. She conveys so much. Fear, a desire for it to be over, knowing it should be over but you can see it in her expression, her posture. It isn’t over. God, then she surrenders, comes to him in a heartbreaking way. Passionate and carefree, clamping herself to him, legs over hips, peeling her top off. True female desire and abandon. Her husband witnesses the whole endeavour. Her union with her lover is painfully similar to the display we saw when Mac returned from Vietnam.
After an agonizing buildup, the final scenes of the first episode are the most powerful. Joni is confronted with the enormous consequence of her transgression. Her face tells volumes as she slowly, painfully, becomes aware. She fights everything, wanting it to not be true…she shows shame, horror, fear, worry, pain. Truly an incredible sequence.
This actor brings a consummate, passionate approach to the role. A deliberate desire to commit emotion to the performance, to deliver the subtle, the aphonic; to live the character and teach that character’s secrets in the simplest movements. As a result, merely the mention of the show Quarry now makes my chest tighten.
I can’t rave about this show enough. This is just the attention to detail on the shape of an infidelity. That’s why I am talking about it, it applies to me because of what I write. Everything in the show is treated with the same attention, rendered though in flat, unforgiving, brutal and realistic matter of fact.
Life is suffering, life is ugly. We have to struggle for beauty. Quarry is coolly conscientious of that maxim. When people are shot we’re shockingly aware of the truth that bullets cause tremendous trauma. War is insane. The last episode of the season has a very blunt, flat-faced, Kubrickesque depiction of a disastrous skirmish in a Vietnamese fishing village. Shocking and brutal. This show is about consequences, truths, and the aftermath. When your wife sleeps with another man it won’t be simple tab A into slot B. It will be passionate, dirty; she may record the sound of her lover bringing her to orgasm on compact cassette for his later delectation.
Quarry is not renewed yet for a second season but I imagine it will be. I think it’s safe to say it will. It hits its target audience very well, gives them what they’re looking for. Got to be expensive to make, but it is wholly worth it. If it is not renewed I will legit throw a tantrum. I have prepared a vase of flowers to hurtle against a wall in dramatic flourish if I don’t get my way.
This is beautiful belligerent art about scale and impact, about life, death, ugly human existence, the struggle for breath and beauty, and no useless expiation or whimpering. Hard hitting and merciless.