In the standard cultural and popular nomenclature, widows are black. But it is likely appropriate that ABC’s newest drama, which premiered its first two episodes Sunday night, is entitled Red Widow. For the show deliberately eschews black-and-white dichotomies, in its overall execution and particularly in its scrutiny upon the eponymous widow, who enters the business of drug smuggling as a means of attempting to extricate her children from a mess created by her extended family.
Radha Mitchell plays the central character, Marta Walraven, a suburban housewife with three children who has been content to accept tacitly the illegally acquired funds provided by her husband Evan (Anson Mount), himself a small piece of a larger operation presided over by her father Andrei Petrov (Rade Šerbedžija). As the series starts, Marta pressures Evan to back away from their tenuous illegal way of life, but just as he is about to do so, he is mysteriously gunned down in front of their home. Seeking an escape for her children from these dangers, Marta comes to believe that the only way to extricate herself fully is to finish the job Evan and her family had started; she thus places herself in the employ of the cold-hearted drug boss Schiller (Goran Visjnic), a man even her father fears.
With an early March premiere, Red Widow is obviously a mid-season replacement show (farewell, 666 Park Avenue), and with mixed reviews, its future is uncertain. What I find intriguing about the series initially is the ways in which it explores the theme of generational sin. In the Torah, God claims, “I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me” (Exodus 20:5, ESV. Cf. also Exodus 34:7, Leviticus 26:39-40, Numbers 14:18, Deuteronomy 5:9, Psalm 109:14). Yet in the exilic prophets, that emphasis changes; Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 18 both depict a setting in which each person is accountable for his or her own iniquities. While the theological details of this shift in understanding are myriad, the two polarities in part likely represent a reality that we all intuit instinctively: that while every person is an individual agent who bears individual responsibility, family and cultural contexts can create conditions under which choosing the just or righteous course of action is made disproportionately difficult. For an individual trapped in this setting, moral and ethical decisions can become increasingly complex and unclear.