by Osamudiamen Joseph
At 35 minutes, the third episode, An Old Enemy, is the shortest in the series.
And this is where the pacing issues in The Return of the King become evident. Scenes overstay their welcome, lingering like unwanted guests at a dinner party. Different plot threads scattered throughout the runtime fail to coalesce into a cohesive story. There is a lot of telling and not enough showing, and even then, the telling is either vague or uninteresting.
In the 2018 movie, even though many things were happening all over the place, the audience was able to stay grounded in the narrative because of the eponymous protagonist; because of how the writing, directing and performance worked together to construct a complex, compelling character. Eniola was the audience’s surrogate as the movie travelled through the mean streets of Lagos and the seedy underbelly of Nigerian politics. They sympathized with her despite all the bad things she had done, because they were aware of her motivations and could relate to her struggles. They saw the injustice in a woman being tagged overambitious, ungrateful and discontented for daring to have the same aspirations as her male counterparts. The audience wasn’t told who Eniola was, they were shown; with every challenge she faced and every conflict that was brought her way, a portrait was embedded in their minds of just who this King of Boys was.
However, in this sequel, there isn’t enough of that. Which isn’t to say that crime dramas always have to be intense character studies complete with flashbacks and gratuitous shots of the protagonist gazing into a mirror whilst losing (or reaffirming) their grip on reality. But character should, to a large extent, shape plot and vice versa. Inception (2010) is a high-concept sci-fi thriller but at the center of its wildly beating heart is Cobb encumbered with his guilt and his one desire: to go home and be a father to his children. Simulated dreamscapes where time screeches to a halt and cities that fold in on themselves are wonderful to behold but without a compelling character to lead us through the world, these elements amount to little more than empty noise.
The synopsis of An Old Enemy is as follows:
Dapo Banjo receives a package and a call from his anonymous source. He has a hard time believing the information but he prints it anyway. A meeting between Alhaja Eniola Salami and Reverend Ifeanyi further explores the idea that Eniola is still grieving and self-flagellating, emotionally this time. Like she says to the Reverend with tears in her eyes, “I don’t think I have ever felt peace in my life, not even in my sleep…I am tired of everything.” She wants to be a better person but her enemies won’t allow that. The 6-minute scene hits a brick wall when the Reverend tells Eniola that although the peace that God gives is “free,” he also recognizes those who “support the work” which is corrupt preacher-speak for “if you grease these palms with the right amount of cash, I’ll get about interceding on your behalf to God posthaste.” At this revelation, Eniola face falls and you honestly feel sorry for her. All this woman wants is to rest and find peace but just like in the first movie, a greedy man is standing between her and her goal. Sola Sobowale’s acting prowess really shows in this scene. As it’s not the kind of scene that requires her signature over-the-top acting, she has to rein it in and sell the audience on the reality of a woman at her wits end, one who wears a mask in public while turbulent waters roar beneath the surface. There’s a lot of social commentary here as well, with Reverend Ifeanyi standing as a representative of greedy religious leaders who are mirror images of the same politicians they are supposed to be polar opposites of.
However, there is a sword of Damocles dangling over this scene. Something doesn’t feel quite right. After watching it a second time, it becomes clear as day: why is Eniola here, now, asking for remission of sins? Is she tired and ashamed of the life she used to lead as the head of the crime syndicate not only in Lagos state but across the nation? Is she truly sorry for all the lives she ended and all the corruption she engaged in? If yes, then why did she, mere minutes after landing on Nigerian soil, announce her intention to run for governor? She hadn’t even seen where her children were buried yet. She hadn’t seen Ade Tiger or Odogwu who she made king in her stead. One interesting thing about that scene is that before she made the announcement, her campaign manager, Mr. Fashina, tried to stop her. This means that was not the original plan. Surely such an announcement could have waited till the next day. For some reason though, known only to Eniola, it didn’t.
Every scene that follows is colored by that announcement, including the one where she is at the cemetery weeping for her children. If she truly regrets her past actions which led to their demise, why did she immediately plunge herself back into that world the moment she returned? It was shown in the first movie that the world of politics and the world of crime are one and the same. Aare Akinwande might as well be seating with them at the table and Makanaki could very well be senator.
While in the first movie, all her wants and desires were clear, in this sequel Eniola’s motivation is all over the place. In the previous episode, against Ade Tiger persuasions, she refuses to call Odogwu Malay, to organize the table. Even in this episode, her campaign hits a brick wall and it is not until Mr. Fashina informs her at length that they cannot continue in their current state and expect to win, that she decides to meet with the president to strongarm him into announcing her as his party’s Lagos state gubernatorial candidate. One would think she’d have had a plan way before she landed in Lagos. After all, while she was abroad, she pulled the right strings to get the current president into office. Eniola has always been calculating and astute, and the way she is portrayed in the sequel sometimes, is inconsistent with those qualities.
The highlight of the episode is the scene where Eniola walks in on a meeting being held at her campaign office. As part of the solution to get the Alhaja ahead in the polls, one jittery member of the team offers a suggestion: they announce that Eniola is engaged to be married. The intention is to create a sentiment of structure and stability in the eyes of the public and endear them more to her. The moment the words leave the woman’s mouth, everyone present (and even the audience at home) recognize that it is complete nonsense. If the feminist slant of the first movie was not clear, Kemi Adetiba spells it out for us here in Eniola response: “I have built numerous businesses on my own, taking care of myself and my and family with no man holding my hand and today, you’re all sitting here telling me that it is not good enough. Why? Because I’m a single woman with no children and people will find it difficult to see me as the next governor of Lagos state, o ma se o.”
And she‘s right. It’s a pity indeed.
The episode ends with a revelation: Makanaki is back, and he’s brought a sword wielding woman with him. He’s supposed to be the “old enemy” referenced in the title- Eniola’s old enemy. Seeing him emerge from the shadows, bathed in smoke and red-green neon lights, it’s hard not to remember the lines spoken to him by Eniola from the first movie: “I swear, that I, Eniola Salami, will stretch her hands over your dead body.”
There’s a saying that if you’re going to attack a lion, you’d better make sure it’s a deadly blow. I presume this is because a wounded lion is not something anyone ever wants to contend with. At this point, the audience is most likely asking this question: now that Makanaki has returned from the dead, what does that mean for Eniola?
Also, what other twists do the filmmakers have up their sleeve?
If this was a movie as originally intended, this point would be the first act break, and in the next scene, our protagonist would be crossing the threshold into uncharted territory. But this is a miniseries. Still, four episodes is plenty of time for things to go south.