August 28, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “The Divide”


Hardly anyone in America watched THE DIVIDE this summer, and it wasn’t because the series was some kind of bleak, off-putting experiment in reinventing the form of television drama, taking pleasure in alienating all but the most esoteric viewers.  On the contrary, the series was a big-tent crime melodrama that energized its traditional format with writing and acting that was a sharp step above the norm.  It could easily have aired on ABC, where it was far superior to that network’s recent, similar efforts like Betrayal, and for that matter the latest seasons of Revenge.  But The Divide was marooned as the first original scripted effort on the We network, an outpost so remote that DirecTV, for one, doesn’t even provide it with an HD feed (and which lacks the cachet of a Sundance Channel).  Even the show’s largely favorable reviews couldn’t draw an audience to a drama that fell into a familiar genre and didn’t feature any prominent above-the-title names.

Last night’s season finale was in keeping with the overall excellence of the series.  Written by series co-creator Richard LaGravenese (the screenwriter of movies like The Fisher King, Behind the Candelabra and The Bridges of Madison County, he wrote a large share of the Divide scripts himself) and directed by Larysa Kondracki, the hour was a slow boil toward a surprisingly violent conclusion.  Christine Rosa (Marin Ireland, for whom this would have been a star-making performance if there’d been an audience to see it), a fiercely committed not-quite-attorney at a Philadelphia public interest legal clinic that worked to free convicts from death row (where her own father dwells), finally fell into bed with her most passionate cause, the recently (but just provisionally) freed Terry Kucik (Joe Anderson, also superb).  He’d been wrongfully convicted of the rape/murder of a black family 11 years earlier (in fact, he’d been the daughter’s innocent boyfriend) that was actually committed by dissipated, drug-addicted rich boy Eric Zale (Billy Magnussen, doing wonders with one of the story’s more cliched roles).

Zale’s role in the crime was covered up by the city’s police commissioner Isiah Page (the always-wonderful Clarke Peters), a black man who allowed the white murderer of a black family to go free because he thought having Eric’s tycoon father Stanley (Kenneth Welsh) in his pocket was worth the injustice.  A hallmark of The Divide has been its mature, complex view of race and class, and also of the tortured relationships between parents and children.  Along with Christine and Terry, the show’s other major character is Philadelphia District Attorney Adam Page (Damon Gupton), the commissioner’s son whose wife (Nia Long) works for Stanley Zale, which tangles Adam thoroughly in bonds of family and morality.  Trying to redeem himself, Adam hired his brother-in-law Bobby (Reg E. Cathey, like Peters a veteran of The Wire) to, along with Christine’s cop boyfriend Danny (Adam Rothenberg), try to trap Eric Zale, but it all worked out much more bloodily than anyone had imagined.

Along with the stars, The Divide made room for a great many vivid supporting characters, from Adam’s angry poet son Trey (Jahmil French) to Christine’s weary boss Clark (Paul Schneider), to her wealthy grandmother (Jane Alexander), and Jenny Butler (Britne Oldford), the only survivor of her family’s murder.  There was more texture to all these people than TV soaps usually find room to provide.  The writing also provided an effective mix of plot turns and character examination, with a pace that wasn’t Shonda Rhimesian rocket-fast, but moved at a compelling clip.

It’s impossible to tell whether The Divide has any chance to be renewed.  Certainly by most conventional ratings-based measures, the show was a failure, not even managing to hit a 0.1 rating in 18-49s.  However, we don’t know whether those viewers were more upscale than We’s norm, or if the series brought new viewers to the network in a way We might find valuable.  Whether We will consider The Divide to have accomplished its goals on some level is something only the network knows.  Certainly on the basis of quality, The Divide deserves to pick up its multiple cliffhangers and continue telling its story.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."