Playing the Game of Silence
Written by PTC | Published May 7, 2016
A surprisingly subtle show worth any adult’s time – though not for kids.
At first glance, there isn’t much silence in Game of Silence. In fact, NBC’s new drama is chock full of the lack of silence – the main characters’ experience as boys in the brutal Quitman juvenile penitentiary, the violence employed by some of them against the perpetrators in the present as men, and the often exasperated arguments between the characters about how to handle the unraveling of events. Yet beneath that, Game of Silence is completely about silence: the silence of the main characters after their release from prison; the silence the perpetrators enforce on others; and the silence of the society that let it happen. Game of Silence is a subtle show, one in which the worst of the violence is left to the imagination. It is a show worth any adult’s time – though probably not their kids’.
Despite the TV-14 rating which, no matter how adult the content, the broadcast networks assign to every show, Game of Silence is undoubtedly a show for adults, due to both subject matter and subtlety. In fact, it is the commingling of these traits that make the program so worthwhile. At a time when gratuity is the method of choice, even for network television, Game of Silence seems to work hard to keep the potentially worst acts of violence off-screen or implied. This simultaneously allows them to validate their TV-14 rating, while making the show even more intense. It is an old trick to keep the monster off screen as a means of building terror, but it’s one that in recent years has been lost.
Game of Silence has so far employed this trick well. For example, most of what happened at Quitman to the main characters – Jackson, Shawn, and Gil – that prompts their desire for vengeance is never shown. Yes, the audience is given glimpses of dorm room brawls, or the guards picking sides or, in one disturbing sequence, of one of their peers being burned by chemicals.Yet, these are not shown gratuitously, and don’t rise to being beyond some punching for the most part. Rather, the truly troubling experiences they have are never shown, and the characters have a hard time even speaking of them. In fact, Shawn and Jackson state that they vowed to never speak of them to anyone after they were released – in yet another example of silence. For a network known recently for shows that depend on the overt depiction of violence, like Hannibal and Aquarius, this subtlety is a heartening return to good storytelling, and one that, if continued, would make Game of Silence a great show.
What must be to kept in mind, however, is that there is potential is there for the show to become very graphic. Already, the character Terry, an old rival of the main characters at Quitman who now runs a drug ring with ties to the old warden, has been the perpetrator of the most violent scenes – the murder of Boots in a prison shanking, and the murder of a co-conspirator in a shipping container. There is also Gil’s murder of a man by shooting him in the head, which leaves as little to the imagination as possible. Scenes like these, along with the overall subtle intensity and adult themes, demonstrate why the show is clearly not children. But it would be too bad if these became the norm for the show, rather than the exception. Such increased violence could perhaps even push the program into Hannibal territory – violence so extreme that it would make one wonder how it can be allowed on broadcast TV at all.
Until that happens, however, Game of Silence employs subtlety to great effect along with that other staple of successful dramas – the web of secrets. All of this together make it worth a viewing for those wanting to experience a tense drama, but most likely for after the kids are asleep.