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The Latest Violent Thriller is Headed by Abigail Spencer on 'Reprisal'
December 6, 2019  | By David Hinckley

In a world where pretty much every disagreement is settled by brute force between large angry men, Doris Quinn might not seem like a fit.

Slightly built and perfectly put together with every hair in place, Doris (Abigail Spencer) seems more like the stereotype who would be out for a mani-pedi while her fella takes care of the loose ends back home.


Any man or woman sucked into that delusion about Doris could pay a serious price in Reprisal, an intense tale of family, vengeance, morality, violence, and gender parity that launches Friday on Hulu.  
Reprisal, which runs ten episodes, could have slid comfortably into the popular niche of testosterone-fueled action dramas like Strike Back or Sons of Anarchy and Mayans.

It gets redirected by Doris, whose perspective makes it a different story and whose strategic planning guides its course in ways that the menfolk don't always foresee or appreciate.

In the spirit of a growing army of hands-on women, like Cobie Smulders Dex in Stumptown or Maggie Q in anything, Doris gets hands-on when it's situationally appropriate. In a show with this much lethal violence, let's just say everyone gets a turn.

Violence is never more than a few frames from boiling over in the Reprisal world, where law and order feel like a distant abstraction. Folks here work things out on their own, and it's always instructive how much action writers can fit into a drama when they don't have to spend time on red tape like due process.

Doris, specifically, is working out some family issues, mostly because in her family, "finishing school" meant learning how to finish off your half-dead enemy with another round to the head.

Even with those parameters, her brother Burt (Rory Cochrane), leader of a gang called The Brawlers, eventually went what Doris considered too far.

When she pointed this out to him, he reacted badly. Now, some years later, Doris is ready to pull the trigger, so to speak or maybe not so to speak, on calling Burt to account.

Terms like femme fatale and noir have been tossed around in describing Doris and Reprisal. They're accurate.

When we meet the older Doris, she has already employed seduction skills to maneuver herself into the position where she can implement her long-term plan. She has married a very rich man, Tommy (Ray McKinnon), who now is dying and wants to leave her his lucrative business, which naturally has a shady side component.

That plan hits a little hitch when one of Tommy's silent partners, Mr. Graham (Ron Perlman), persuades her to sign it away. Perhaps as a nod to the growing power of women in shady enterprises on TV shows, he does so exactly the way he would have convinced a guy. In any case, given what we know of Doris, we suspect this could be a short-term victory.

It's a dead certainty it will lead to bloodshed, though almost anything anybody does on Reprisal will likely have that effect.

Spencer plays Doris brilliantly, with lovely little hints of a conscience and vestigial principles that have long been locked in the cellar because the world outside is such a cruel, harsh place.

At the same time, in the spirit of femme fatales throughout history, Spencer makes it clear that Doris often enjoys her work. While she doesn't delude herself that her life has been good, she sees herself now as evening scores with people who have been worse.

Watching Spencer morph from Timeless to Doris Quinn may be the most dramatic role change on television since Michelle Dockery stepped out of Lady Mary's Downton Abbey gowns into the blue jeans of a reckless, neurotic con artist on Good Behavior.

Spencer's change, like Dockery's, works. We don't admire everything about Doris. Sometimes we don't admire anything. We still want to watch her plan unfold because she's right. From what we can see, the people at whom she's pointing her guns really are worse than she.

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