Brownie Harris/TNT

Good Behavior: The Killer Beside Me

TNT’s thoughtful antiheroine drama plunges ‘Downton Abbey’ star Michelle Dockery into the world of contract killing

A night of chasing wine with cocktails and minibar spirits divides the personification of feminine enchantment that Letty Raines (Michelle Dockery) can be from the falling-down-drunk mess that she often prefers to be. Before leaping off the wagon, Letty looks like the kind of woman who only exists in photographs, adorned in a delicate, white-and-yellow dress designed to be barely there and not a hair astray in her blonde bob. The next morning, she’s still plastered, tumbling into the dirt in front of the house of the innocent woman she’s trying to warn. Now wigless, Letty needs to inform the suburban mom inside that her husband has taken out a contract killing against her, but first the grifter gets on all fours in the mud to make herself vomit out last night’s swill so she can walk something resembling a straight line. Letty probably knows better than anyone that elegance is easily faked if you know how to do it. What she can’t counterfeit, no matter how many self-help affirmations she listens to, is a sense of control over her life.

Dockery retains quite a bit of her Downton Abbey patrician aloofness, but her North Carolinian character — based on author Blake Crouch’s Letty Dobesh series — is developed compellingly enough to make up for the actress’s incomplete move into Grubtown. A recent parolee who needs to stay sober to regain custody of her young son, Letty — or rather, her confidence game — attracts the attention of handsome hitman Javier (Juan Diego Botto). The auspicious first three episodes of Good Behavior (TNT), debuting with a two-parter on Tuesday, November 15, rivet as the tense and thoughtful antiheroine drama slowly builds the relationship between a lonely assassin and the self-loathing woman he recruits against her will — and out of a quasi-suicidal meth dive — to become the best criminal she can be.

Good Behavior doesn’t fully retreat from Javier’s bleak amorality — we grow to care for his victims, even as the jobs-of-the-week feel a bit rote and familiar. (Crucial to the series’s grimy reality, Letty only owns two wigs, and we see her re-wearing the high-end clothes we see her steal, the second and third times looking gaudy when accessorized with her stringy, sweat-damp hair and anxious sadness.) But we probably have to somewhat overlook Javier’s this-is-what-I’m-good-at shrugs to fully enjoy the show’s main pleasure: the shifting relationship between Letty and her new boss/warden/mentor. They’re teammates when they need a mom who crashes into the back of their car to drive off, lest she and her two little boys spot the two dead bodies in the trunk that now won’t close. They’re closer to the husband and wife they feign to be when they shop at the supermarket and she picks up trash bags, latex gloves, and gummy bears for Javier (“the ones in the [hotel] room are $12,” he complains). They’re also two horny, friendless people who know they’re beautiful, young, and seductive when they want to be. Fresh and unique, theirs is exactly the kind of slippery and restless alliance TV’s serialized storytelling is best suited to spin.

We don’t learn too much about Javier in these early outings, but it’s enough for now that we know he’ll just roll his eyes at Letty for rebelliously hiding out in a gas station bathroom for the better part of an hour playing games on her phone. The longer Letty allows Javier to push her into his vision of self-actualization, though, the further she gets from reuniting with her son, as her too-forgiving parole officer (Terry Kinney) reminds her. But Letty’s also the type of craver who twitches when she sees something expensive that she wants. Less obvious is how much longer she can deny her complicity in these murders, how much further she can keep booze and drugs from wrecking her new life, and how much Javier's affection is genuine, and not just an attempt to use her. The outfits are splendid; the uncertainties, more so.