Skye Warren, Annika Martin, Molly O’Keefe...TNT?! It sounds strange to put a cable network on a list of effective, engaging, go-to dark romance authors, but here you have it—because TNT’s Good Behavior, based on novellas by Blake Crouch, absolutely fits the bill! Letty Raines (Michelle Dockery) is a con artist, meth addict and alcoholic who lost custody of her son. Javier (Juan Diego Botto) is a controlling, meticulous hit man with a face like an angel. And they can’t live without each other. From the less-than-rosy protagonists to the shades of dominance and submission, Good Behavior is a good bet for anyone who likes hard-luck plots and hotter-than-hot pairings.
In the first episode alone, it’s clear that wild-child Letty needs rules—that she is completely incapable of impulse control. She can’t hold down a steady job, she’s an expert at the five-finger discount...and she winds up hearing a contract killer, Javier, setting up a hit and can’t resist getting involved. Long story short, Letty’s good intentions don’t quite translate into sensible actions—and that’s something that carries through the series and cements why Javier becomes such an important figure in her life and her heart. Because he cannot, and will not, let her spiral out. There’s a gut-wrenching moment at the end of the pilot when Javier discovers Letty at rock bottom—stoned out of her mind and ready to die—and he basically takes ownership of her. As an angry hit man whose job got botched because of her, he could easily kill her and walk away. He can’t. Kudos to Juan Diego Botto, who imbues the scenes with equal parts disgust and admiration. “You do not get off that easy,” Javier says to Letty. “You work for me now.” He effectively tells her she’s his...and we know he’s just as much hers.
As an avid reader and TV junkie, I was blown away by the BDSM undertones—hell, overtones—in Javier’s decision to “kidnap” Letty and keep her with him.
Javier: “You took $50,000 from me, so, yes, you are my prisoner.”
Letty: “There's still the $18,000 in my bag. Why don't you just take it and let me go?”
Javier: “Because you're obviously worth more to me than $18,000.”
Letty: “Why?” (her cell phone rings) “That's mine. Can I answer it?”
Javier: “No. You will do only what I tell you to do. Nothing more.”
He starts setting boundaries and guidelines for her, and though she chafes against them, we see they actually help. Somewhere in there is a strong, fierce, capable person who can get her life together, but she needs someone to curb her worst decisions and be there when she falls. One hilarious example a few episodes later is when Javier writes Letty a list of instructions before he goes off to prepare for a hit: “1. No drugs. 2. No booze (wine ok, two glasses). 3. No stealing. 4. No TV. 5. Just kidding about #4.” Guess how well Letty does with that list? She’s very much an unwilling, bratty submissive who hates being told what to do — think Nora Sutherlin from Tiffany Reisz’s Original Sinners series if she’d continued her youthful crime spree instead of turning to writing.
I’m not a huge fan of alphahole Doms, but Good Behavior pushes all the right buttons—making Javier as exasperated as he is controlling and injecting humor alongside the darkness. And it wouldn’t be a romance novel without the hero giving of himself, too. We see that as the series progresses. This tightly wound assassin has vulnerabilities and flaws, and he needs Letty to remind him that he deserves to live and love. There’s a gorgeous turning point in their relationship as the show goes on, where Letty offers him a refuge—and I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t yet seen it. Trust me when I say that the seven-episode journey to that moment is worth it. It’s that deep-sigh of contentment you get from the best in romance...though, because it’s TV, you know they’ve still got a long, rocky road ahead of them and not a neat and tidy HEA.
But that’s not an unfamiliar concept for fans of dark romance or BDSM romance, because roadblocks and conflict and personality issues are often built in. No one thinks Joan and Max from M. O’Keefe’s Burn Down the Night are going to settle down behind a white picket fence—fence your jewelry, sure, but that’s about it. Similarly, Javier and Letty are not built for domestic bliss. Though they long for family and crave stability, they’re not people who can sustain that kind of life. What they can sustain is the thrilling, twisted, erotic connection that makes darker romances so compelling and that makes Good Behavior one of the most engaging new shows on television.
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Mala Bhattacharjee is a longtime pop culture writer and the former News Editor of Soap Opera Weekly magazine. She also writes contemporary romance as Suleikha Snyder. She loves romance, genre TV and movies, Bollywood and single-malt scotch. Follow her on Twitter @badnecklace.