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Episodes 5 & 6 of 'The Dynasty' are a Very Tough Watch

Like I said last week when AppleTV released Episodes 4 and 5 of "The Dynasty," my worst fears for this series were realized when it spent more time airing old grievances from Bill Parcells in the mid-90s and Drew Bledsoe getting benched in 2001, then reduced the best back-to-back seasons in NFL history, 2003-04 to two plays and a couple of sentences of exposition. "The Patriots won the next two Super Bowls and officially became a Dynasty. Then? Spygate happened …" 

I mean, no one's looking for a sanitized, Disneyfied version of 20 tears of triumph and controversy. Not even me. This franchise lapsed into hyper-relevance for the better part of 20 years. It found itself front-and-center of American pop culture. And got discussed everywhere from late night talk shows to SNL to actual newscasts more than any team in any sport. And it wasn't all because they were so super awesome no one could get enough of them. That is not lost on me. 

So I went into the next two installments expecting the story to be even darker and more negative. And holy smokes, was I not disappointed. Episodes 5 and 6 combined have all the charm and joy of a Dostoevsky novel. But are harder to enjoy.

Though to be fair to be fair to the producers, since these ones start with Tom Brady getting knocked out for the season in 2008 and end with Aaron Hernandez hanging himself in a jail cell in 2013 (to circle back to Dostoevsky, sort of Punishment and Crime), it's not like they could give the the tone of Wizards of Waverly Place

What I can hold against them though, is the whole editorial bent of this thing seems to be making Bill Belichick out to be an incorrigible asshole, while giving him either no credit it all, or grudgingly giving him a fraction of a percent of what he deserves. At times it's so anti-Belichick, it laspes into self-parody. If you running against him for a political office, your campaign couldn't come up with an attack ad that makes him look like more of a corrupt scumbag than he does for certain stretches of The Dynasty.

By way of example, when Brady was lost for the year, it's back to Bledsoe airing grievances about how in that moment, Brady realized that he could lose his job the same way it was handed to him. Once again ignoring the tiny, insignificant point that making Brady the permanent starter in 2001 was one of the all time best decisions in the history of sports. That's not even hyperbole. It's objective fact. And it took balls. But this show seems to assume it's somehow still controversial. 

Then we get several voiceovers including, though not limited to, Mr. Kraft, Tom Brady Sr. and Alex Guerrero (like any Patriots fan wants to hear from the Yoko Ono of the Dynasty), sort of protraying him as cold and heartless when it comes to injured players. How he just moved on as if Brady Jr. wasn't a part of the team any more. I mean, I remember that day well, and I missed the part where Belichick of the Uruk-Hai started carving up Mordor Orc Brady's body yelling, "Meat's back on the menu, boys!"

It seemed to me that he focused on the task at hand, which was getting his team to rally around Matt Cassel. The good news is, Episode 5 gives us plenty of that. With locker room scenes we've never seen before. Belichick reminding the room that in 1999, Kurt Warner came in for Trent Green and won a Super Bowl. Plus Brady-Bledsoe. Then after winning the next week saying, "Cassel hasn't started a fucking game since 7th grade" and giving him the game ball. And overall, it does acknowledge that going 11-5 with Cassel - while adapting the offense to his skill set on the fly - was one of the great coaching jobs of all time. 

Though there's no putting a shine on the dirty sneaker that was the 2009 season. Even I will agree that was the most underachieving, unlikeable team of the Dynasty Era. It's familiar ground to anyone who watched the Belichick episodes of A Football Life. Correctly pointing out that the 2008 team lost key veteran to retirements and trades, leaving huge leadership vaccuum in their wake. It skips the details like the time four players showed up late for meetings due to a snow storm and were sent home. And how Adalius Thomas publicly bitched about it, ignoring the obvious fact Brady got to the stadium with plenty of time to spare despite the fact his wife had a baby the day before. But that's all borne out by footage of Belichick ripping his team a new cornhole in the meeting room for its garbage attitude and lack of mental toughness. And of course we get the infamous clip of him telling Brady on the sidelines (at New Orleans, when Drew Brees had arguably the best single game passing stat line in NFL history), "I just can't get them to play the way I want them to." 

But it's the next episode where things get truly grim. In a very real world sense. It has it's moments of hilarity. Rob Gronkowski, bless him, telling the story of getting "already in trouble" five minutes into his Patriots career:

But stay through that for the smirk on Belichick's face as Gronk is on TV wearing a Patriots helmet and chest bumping guys, like he's asking, "What we've gotten ourselves into with this guy?" Hysterical. 

The Hernandez stuff though? It's like watching the second act of a True Crime documentary. To the point you find yourself waiting for the victim "had a smile that could light up a room" cliche to drop. Because this episode is very much a True Crime doc. Which again, I'm not complaining about. How could it be anything else? It's not like you can argue, "Sure, everyone talks about how Hernandez murdered Odin Lloyd in cold blood. But no one ever mentions the two touchdown game against Houston.

But it makes for a very difficult 40 or so minutes. Listening to teammates like Deion Branch struggling to find the words to describe what it's like to work with (and mentor) a guy who turned out to be a murderer. Brandon Lloyd trying to process all of Hernandez' strange moods. Wes Welker describing his bizarre behaviors at practice. And the toughest part of all, a camera and mic picking up a conversation on the practice field where RKK is telling Belichick what a fine, decent young man Hernandez is. It's surreal. Not only that the footage even exists. But also to realize anyone really thought of him that way. And practically all of us did. 

Of course every Revisionist Historian on the planet now says otherwise. The Captain Hindsights will all tell us they saw how this story was going to end when Hernandez was getting on Urban Meyer's watch at Florida. To hear them tell it, Hernandez' Combine interviews went like:

Q: "So what are your career goals? Where do you see yourself five years from now?"

AH: "Well, I'm a big homicide guy. I'm really, really into taking human life, which I do not value. I plan on fatally ashooting two guys in a car outside a nightclub and then going all 'execution style' on a friend in an industrial park. Also, I hope to make the Pro Bowl." 

But I for one said a hundred times, whoever passed him that bong and got him to drop to the 4th round of the draft deserves a medal. Mr. Kraft admits he was "duped," and I'll raise my hand to that as well. The team can admit to making a mistake in drafting him, which the Krafts, Ernie Adams, and Belichick all do. But at the same time, the league is full of guys who were considered "troubled" or came with "character questions" who grew up, straightened up, and got their shit sorted out. This one particular guy turned out to be irredeemable. And a monster. And became a dark, dark chapter in this two decade saga I hope we never have to revisit again. 

So watch it if that sort of real world horror is something you're interested in. Many people are. For me, I'm just hoping the remaining episodes will have more fun and less awfulness. But I don't have my hopes up.