DISCLAIMER: This recap of the Central Park episode “The Shadow” is laden with spoilers. You’ve been warned. Proceed at your own peril.
Welcome back, parkgoers! This week’s episode of Central Park was a mite disjointed. While I’m always game for more Bitsy, I’d rather see her have more Odd Couple-esque adventures with Helen. To me, they’re a package deal. Stanley Tucci and Daveed Diggs play so well off of each other. Essentially, “The Shadow” is presented in two acts: there’s Bitsy’s story and Birdie’s silent vignette. This episode didn’t pick up for me until Birdie’s segment.
Clearly, the Central Park Powers That Be were attempting to channel Pixar’s Up by showcasing a heartbreaking story that ends in, well, death. Think Carl and Ellie’s montage. You know the one. But it’s not all doom and gloom. It was refreshing to get a glimpse of Birdie in his natural element without fulfilling his “narrator” duties.
Ready to delve into “The Shadow”? Let’s get to it.
Now, we open with our peerless narrator, Birdie (voiced by Josh Gad), doing his thing. He introduces a story that transpired the previous night. No, it doesn’t include the Tillermans this time. Apparently, they weren’t involved in anything of import.
A robbery took place at the Brandenham Hotel. Bitsy (voiced by Tucci) and Helen (voiced by Diggs) meet Hank (voiced by Henry Winkler), a detective who’s on the case. He believes the said robbery is reminiscent of the elusive thief called “The Shadow.”
The Shadow wreaked havoc on Manhattan’s luxury hotels 56 years prior, surreptitiously pocketing prized jewels and the like. Bitsy laughs it off, citing that The Shadow was merely fabricated by the press. Cue loads of scathing Bitsy one-liners. And Bloody Marys.
Then, Hank reveals his connection to The Shadow. He was a youngster at the time, but he remembers watching his superiors work the case — the case that was never closed. Despite currently being on the brink of retirement, Hank resolves to close The Shadow case himself. Bitsy is aghast. Does he really think that the same perp from 56 years ago is at it again?
Later, Bitsy fesses up. As it turns out, she was actually The Shadow. Bitsy was a young girl who always faded into the background. Her opulent parents never paid her any mind. Thus, she resorted to petty thievery for rushes of dopamine. But that soon evolved into stealing expensive jewels. Bitsy expanded her exploits to other lavish hotels in the city. It was “Agatha All Along,” but Bitsy!
Now, it’s time for Hank to do some confessing of his own. He knew she was The Shadow. In fact, he stagged the earlier robbery to lure her in under the guise of finally “catching” the enigmatic thief that’s been on the loose for over five decades. Hank discloses that he spotted young Bitsy in an elevator snatching up a wealthy woman’s lipstick. He was mesmerized. Over the moon. Cue a sweet song about young Hank and young Bitsy dancing!
But Hank eventually married, and he never got to reveal his feelings to Bitsy or call her out for being The Shadow. Hank’s happy. Inexplicably, this irritates Bitsy. Well, Bitsy just wants everyone to be miserable because she’s miserable.
Next, it’s time for Birdie’s “A Thing on Strings”! We see our busker busking away in the park. He lays his hat at his feet for change while he plays beautifully arranged violin pieces. By the day’s end, he collects his money and wanders home … wherever that is. The sun rises, and he does it all again. Over and over.
Then, while playing, he encounters an elderly woman with her caretaker. The said woman smiles at him. She’s enthralled by his performance. Birdie continues on. Every day, the woman and her caretaker come to the park to watch him play. That is until one day arrives and she’s not there. Just her caretaker, by his lonesome. It’s obvious that the woman passed away.
Meanwhile, we see a montage of the woman and her family finding out that she’s sick. Soon, she becomes bedridden. Her caretaker opens her window. She hears Birdie play. Thus began the daily treks to the park to listen to our narrator pluck the strings of his violin. The caretaker leaves after explaining what happened. Birdie looks utterly forlorn.
Later, Birdie’s sitting on a park bench. He doesn’t feel up to playing. However, he musters the energy to do so and a little boy becomes entranced by it. He happily dances along to Birdie’s song. It’s as if that elderly woman’s infectious zeal for music was transferred into the little boy. Or it’s her spirit living on. Please excuse me while I go sob uncontrollably.
Overall, “The Shadow” should have been separated into two episodes. I understand the objective — to present two characters whose respective stories are seldom shown without the Tillermans — but I think it would have served Bitsy and Birdie better if these were split into two installments. The “vignette” style would work better if there were more than two segments, in my opinion.
In addition, Birdie’s tale is easily the most memorable. The most touching and thought-provoking. You never know how your talents will affect people, even those you don’t know personally. I hope we see more of Birdie.
While “The Shadow” doesn’t particularly flow from one act to the next, its latter half makes up for it. Side note: give us a Bitsy/Helen road trip plot, you cowards!
New episodes of Central Park are available to stream every Friday, only on Apple TV Plus.