Abigail Spencer Seeks Revenge in Stylish Hulu Saga ‘Reprisal’

An underestimated woman uses her nonthreatening nature to her advantage in Hulu’s “Reprisal.” Veteran TV actress Abigail Spencer is pitch perfect as Doris Quinn, an outwardly prim and proper woman who in a previous life was Katherine Harlow, the sister of a big time gang leader, Bert (Rory Cochrane), who dragged her from the back of a truck and left her for dead. Now, years later, she’s out for payback, and more, with help from a colorful cast of characters. 

Although it is being billed as a noir of sorts, “Reprisal” doesn’t exactly fit the criteria for that genre. It’s more of a saga, like a gritty, stylized version of “Revenge.” Doris’ present-day story begins with the death of her kindly older husband, Tommy (Ray McKinnon). Before he has even taken his last breath, his adult son Colin (Michael Esper), who is clueless about his stepmom’s past and what she is capable of, coerces her into signing away the restaurant business she helped build with assistance from his gangster associate, Big Graham (Ron Perlman). Colin is a small fish in the grand scheme of things, so after she deals with him, Doris hits the road, determined to seek revenge on those who almost killed her.

In the beginning, “Reprisal” is like a puzzle of sorts, and it takes a few episodes for the pieces to come together. One has to be somewhat patient to see it through, but the stunning visuals and action scenes help keep the viewer interested. A key ally of Doris’ is Ethan (Mena Massoud), a former restaurant employee of hers who accidentally killed a guy while defending her honor. She has him infiltrate Burt’s gang, the Brawlers, without telling him her endgame, and he joins the 3 River Phoenixes, the errand boys of the criminal organization, and learns the ropes from Matty (Rhys Wakefield) and Johnson (David Dastmalchian). She also gets help from a pair of skilled hired guns (Craig Tate and Wavyy Jones) whom she stumbles upon almost by accident while looking for some muscle.

Other important but merkier characters include Witt (W. Earl Brown), a thug associate of Doris’, Bash (Gilbert Owuor), an efforcer who’s getting too old for this malarkey, and the enigmatic Joel (Rodrigo Santoro), Burt’s right-hand man who wants to maintain peace with the rival gangs no matter what the cost. Joel’s relationship with his little girl is used to humanize the “bad guy,” who is high up on Doris’ shit list.

Although different in tone, there are some similarities between “Reprisal” and another Hulu series, “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The two shows share a producer, former NBC president Warren Littlefield, and some similar themes concerning femininity. Like the handmaids, who survive by being submissive and keeping their heads down while secretly plotting, Doris plays the role of meek little lady, sipping tea and speaking in a soft voice, in order to get the men she’s up against to let their guards down, making it easier for her to strike. Some of the best scenes involve Molly (Bethany Anne Lind), Colin’s mousy wife whom Doris takes under her wing who goes on to surprise herself with what she is capable of. Other ladies who get by masquerading include Meredith (Madison Davenport), Burt’s daughter, a burlesque dancer who has agency and an agenda of her own, and Queenie (Lea DeLaria), the highest-ranking woman in the Brawlers who alternates between a feminine and masculine persona. 

Reprisal” season one begins streaming Dec. 6 on Hulu.