‘Ripley’ Recap, Episode 6: Some Heavy Instrument

‘Ripley’ Recap, Episode 6: Some Heavy Instrument



Some Heavy Instrument

Season 1

Episode 6

Editor’s Rating

4 stars

Photo: Netflix

As we open on “Some Heavy Instrument,” the sixth episode of this eight-episode season, it’s clear that we’ve arrived at the end of the second act, which, in screenwriting speak, means that shit has officially hit the fan. Everything must now fall apart. The couple must break up, and the lie must be revealed. Our hero, who is really more of a villain, must lose all hope.

By the time the story has moved along two eventful, twisty-turny acts, it’s pretty rare for a new character to emerge. But in the middle of the night in Rome, Inspector Ravini gets a dispatch that sends him to a dim-lit street just past the walls of the Colosseum, where the police have found Freddie Miles’s corpse shoved into a Fiat 500. Inspector Ravini is — delightfully — like a cartoon detective, fully equipped with a great face, a thick but tidy mustache, and a no-nonsense attitude. He scolds the rest of the authorities for touching the car and other general incompetencies not even a full minute into his first appearance. He enunciates every word and uses his creepy smile like a weapon: we hardly ever see him bare his teeth, but when he does, it’s vile. I love him immediately. His arrival in the story is great news for us and a massive problem for Tom.

Not that he knows it yet: for now, Tom is casually passed out on the couch, as if he’d actually had a night of drinking with Freddie and was just too tired to move to bed by the time he left. Dickie comes to him as if in a dream, bloodied and dripping wet still, having just emerged from the deep ocean and walked on shore: “Tom,” he says sweetly, “I swam.” His warmth brings a faint smile to Tom’s serene, sleepy face like he’s just been reassured. He might have been thinking to himself that the whole Freddie Miles affair was a bump in the road and that the luck befitting a bachelor of his stature would cloak him again, protecting his peace from the intrusion of the world at large. Not, he will find out if Inspector Ravini has anything to say about it. He’s already tracked Dickie Greenleaf down — through the car rental agency where Freddie had gotten his Fiat and then through his room at the Excelsior, the same hotel where Tom-as-Dickie had at first planned to stay in Rome. In Freddie’s palatial room, a boy named Max sleeps peacefully on the canopy bed. Inspector Ravini wakes him up by poking him with a pen as if he were roadkill.

As the Inspector moves through the facts — the forensic doctor determines that Freddie had been killed with two blows in the head, dealt with a heavy instrument — Tom relaxes into his Dickie routine. He’s not too worried about Freddie’s death because, instead of buying the newspapers, he merely reads the headlines, though he’d been in the habit of pouring over them ever since he sank the boat in San Remo. Like any narcissist, Tom assumes that everyone shares his interpretation of the world; he can’t understand why anyone, let alone Dickie, could stand to be around someone as despicable as Freddie. Nobody could possibly care that he disappeared, and when the police inevitably found him, the story would be so easily explained away by Freddie’s drunken recklessness that worrying is useless. When he books a weeklong trip to Palermo, it’s unclear if he’s trying to escape from the crime scene or reward himself for a well-done job. He has just packed his suitcase when the phone rings. Characteristically, he doesn’t pick up, and characteristically the landlady sends the visitor up anyway. It’s Inspector Ravini, come to throw everything into disorder.

Being interrogated by the Inspector is showtime for Tom. He has rehearsed his lines all night. The Inspector, who doesn’t have any reason to suspect Dickie other than that he was the last one to see Freddie alive, is tough, sensing that there is something fishy about the whole thing — game recognizes game. If, the previous night, the conversation between Freddie and Tom was a cat and mouse chase, the exchange between Tom and Inspector Ravini is more like a ballet. They move in harmony and toward the same direction, but the route is dramatic, punctuated by rhetorical pirouettes. After establishing his story — Freddie came over, drank a lot, then left around nine; Dickie went out for a short walk at midnight; they were friends but not close friends and hadn’t been in touch for a few months — Tom starts asking some leading questions. Might Freddie have picked up someone who robbed him? He’d often have relations with strangers that might be considered “unsavory.” When the Inspector asks him to clarify what he means, he is crystal clear: Freddie had relations with men. It’s another one of those half-lucky, half-calculated Ripley moves that is confirmed by the boy the Inspector had found passed out on Freddie’s hotel room bed.

Earlier in the season, I brought up the idea that Tom is committed to this grift because he wants to live a tranquil life of privilege, buoyed by the allowances that the world makes for a man with a trust fund and a dream. But in “Some Heavy Instrument,” the notion of this quasi-universal desire— who doesn’t want their life to be as easy as Dickie’s? — as his main motivation starts to waver. Might Tom actually be after revenge? Leading up to Dickie’s murder, Tom had felt provoked by Dickie and Marge’s constant allusions to his sexuality, and Dickie’s compounded comments about the acrobats and Tom’s obvious crush on him finally pushed him over the edge. In the aftermath, having not only triumphed over Dickie’s judgment but, in fact, found a way to resize it through his own lens, he might be trying to turn what was said about him into the truth about them. He paints a picture of Freddie that makes him out to be what, in the mid-century, was called a sexual deviant, and Inspector Ravini seems to buy his story. With Max in his bed and his implications about Bob Delancey, Zaillian suggests that Freddie was involved in the queer community; and while Tom certainly knew that being queer didn’t make a person evil, he also knew that Inspector Ravini, along with Marge and the Greenleafs, might hold that view and that he’d be smart to manipulate it to his advantage. Inspector Ravini stops Tom from going to Palermo, at least for now, and tells him he’d better pick up the phone next time. (The phone isn’t the only neglected object in the apartment — the whole time while Inspector Ravini sat in the living room, Freddie’s blood-soaked scarf stained the bathtub. Freddie, by the way, is not the only one bludgeoned in the head with that ashtray. Zaillian returns to it repeatedly as the conversation goes on.)

The first notice of Freddie’s murder in the newspaper turns into an unexpectedly wholesome moment between Tom-as-Dickie and the landlady, who, after expressing shock at Freddie’s death, admits that he “wasn’t very nice” to her. As Tom kicks into a more operative gear, moments of true emotion become sparser, so there is something genuinely touching in the way he tells her Freddie wasn’t so nice to him, either. And speaking of people who are not nice, here is Marge, who we haven’t seen in a while. She’s by the beach writing in her little journal when she sees people in Dickie’s boat. Even Giulio, the boat keeper who sold Dickie’s boat through Carlo through Tom, feels compelled to tell Marge the truth in the face of her bitchy insistence: it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that Dickie might have left Atrani for good without factoring in Marge in his decision-making. She goes home and writes Dickie a strongly worded letter.

As we move along toward the end of the episode, the walls really start to close in on Tom. Max, from Freddie’s room, calls to talk to Dickie: he wants to meet up, but Tom improvises a visit from the Inspector and stands him up the next morning at the lobby of the Excelsior. The police at San Remo have found the sunken, blood-stained boat and tracked the rental down to Dickie and their hotel, where Tom Ripley was also registered as a guest. Marge is trying to get a hold of the police in Naples, and the Inspector has come back to see Dickie. Now he is actually pissed that he won’t answer the phone.

In light of the developments with the boat in San Remo, the Inspector is also looking for a man by the name of Tom Ripley, who has seemingly disappeared into thin air. Among assurances that Tom is a wonderful person — if disgusted by Freddie Miles — Tom-as-Dickie explains he’d fled Atrani because of his ex-girlfriend, Marge, from whom he is trying to escape. Even though “Dickie” insists that he and Tom returned the boat they’d rented in San Remo, Inspector Ravini lays out the facts: the boat was found sunk and blood-stained. One man is dead and one is missing, and Dickie Greenleaf was the last to see them both. Tom pretends to be incensed by the accusation, but the Inspector is careful about not using all of his cards just yet: he aims to keep Dickie on his side by allowing him to go to Palermo, as long as he keeps in touch about where he’s staying.

But the course hasn’t fully corrected for Tom. Just as he is about to get the hell out of Rome, the phone rings again. It’s Marge, and she’s downstairs. He has no choice but to put on his Tom Ripley outfit and blow his cover. They have one of their familiarly awful conversations in which they are both trying and failing to conceal their hatred for one another. Tom tells Marge that Dickie freaked out about his involvement with the police and his proximity to Freddie’s death, so he just left with a suitcase. Boarding the ferry to Palermo, this is perhaps the closest Tom has actually been to being Dickie — they are both, or one and the same, in deep shit. 

As things spiral out of Tom’s control, “Some Heavy Instrument” is the episode that best sustains the suspense that befits Tom’s actions. The enrapture that Zaillian had sacrificed for a moody tone comes back with a vengeance; this is the strongest episode of the season yet, for the way it keeps a controlled balance between humor and gravity and confidently advances the plot with the breathlessness of a thriller. If by the end of episode five I’d been slacking in my seat, kind of waiting for the murder to be over, by the end of episode six I’m dutifully propped at the edge of my seat again, ready to witness the sparring between Inspector Ravini and Tom Ripley with a spectator’s twisted glee.


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