A circle technically has no beginning, so it’s tough to know where to start with Ed Solomon and Steven Soderbergh’s new Max limited series Full Circle.
Here’s what the series tells us: Mrs. Mahabir (CCH Pounder), the matriarch of a Guyanese crime organization operating out of a sham insurance office in New York City, fears a curse hangs over her family. It couldn’t possibly be karma for years of human trafficking or murdering her clients to collect their insurance money. Instead, her spiritual guide lays the blame at the feet of some murky business dealings in her family’s past with now-renowned celebrity chef Jeff McCusker (a ponytailed Dennis Quaid) and his daughter Sam Browne (Claire Danes). To balance the cyclical scales, Mrs. Mahabir resorts to revenge and orders the kidnapping of Sam’s teenage son. But the young Guyanese men she brought to America to serve as her hitmen botch the job and kidnap the wrong teenage boy, sending everyone’s lives and secrets into chaos.
With more than enough storylines to go around, Full Circle occasionally binds itself in knots doing them all justice. But for the average viewer, it may not matter what’s going on because their viewing experience is plagued by a nagging question –– what the hell is Zazie Beetz’s job?
The Atlanta actress plays badge- and gun-toting Melody Harmony, a reckless postal inspector for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) who is attempting to investigate Mahabir’s organization. Yes, you read that right. She works for the law enforcement arm of the mail service, a job that hasn’t gotten much TV screen time. But what does a postal inspector actually do?
Based on how aggressively Harmony is running her investigation by Episode 4 (the final two episodes drop July 27), she seems to teeter on the fringes of the USPIS’ official job description. The agency defines an inspector as someone who investigates “any crime with a nexus to the mail.” These crimes include mail theft, mail fraud, financial fraud, identity theft, robberies and burglaries of postal facilities, assaults and threats on postal employees, investigations of dangerous and prohibited mails, narcotics, cybercrime and more.
USPIS also states that postal inspectors protect the safety of postal workers, facilities, and operations in the event of criminal interference, fraud and disaster. They work to prevent postal crimes that could jeopardize the delivery of mail, and are credited with the safe transport of valuable goods such as America’s gold supply to Fort Knox and the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian. In Harmony’s defense, not every postal inspector is going to have Hope Diamond-level duties.
With all that in mind, this begs another question: why did series writer Ed Solomon make Harmony a postal inspector –– of all law enforcement professions –– to investigate Mrs. Mahabir?
Well, to start, she isn’t supposed to be investigating Mahabir. As explained by her increasingly frustrated boss Manny (Jim Gaffigan), she was actually assigned to the case of a college student mailing fake IDs to teens. But one of Harmony’s guiding principles is an almost pathological defiance of authority, and she is desperate to prove Mahabir is engaging in one of the broader concerns of the USPIS – human trafficking and drug operations. The agency works with local, state, and federal counterparts to bust these operations, extradite suspects and thwart potential terrorism plots.
Harmony initially goes rogue to track the movements of Xavier (Sheyi Cole) and Louis (Gerald Jones), the latest Guyanese residents recruited under false pretenses to work with Mahabir’s nephew Aked (Jharrel Jerome). Through the first four episodes, the two men come to terms with the reality that the American Dream they were promised is nothing but a life of crime –– and they aren’t alone.
Natalia (Adia), Aked’s fiancé and Louis’ sister, was brought over before her brother to begin what she thought was a legitimate path to becoming a licensed masseuse. But she’s a few steps ahead of her brother in the realization she was procured as an indentured servant and Mahabir’s personal masseuse.
Harmony is on the right path in her crusade to single-handedly take down Mahabir, even though she faces a number of personal hurdles to get there –– her abrasive investigative style, her crumbling relationships, her Borderline Personality Disorder. But a story like this needs a Melody Harmony. It needs the person who sees themselves as a maverick for the cause of justice, ready to blaze a trail into a situation and break it wide open, no matter the collateral damage.
Maybe that’s why Solomon chose to give her the badge of a postal inspector, a profession that is largely free of preconceived notions on behalf of the audience. For decades, we’ve watched stories of police detectives and FBI agents on television. We’ve come to see ourselves as experts in the boundaries of these jobs and recognize when their fictional counterparts push them, for better or worse. But without a collective knowledge about the USPIS, Harmony gets to operate outside our understanding of her job and that seems to be exactly where she wants to be.
The final two episodes of Full Circle hit Max on Thursday, July 27. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Hunter Ingram is a TV writer living in North Carolina and watching way too much television. His byline has appeared in Variety, Emmy Magazine, USA Today, and across Gannett's USA Today Network newspapers.