Jeremy Renner (L) and Taylor Handley star in "Mayor of Kingstown." Photo courtesy of Paramount+
NEW YORK, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- Taylor Handley says his character Kyle McLusky is still struggling to cope after the murders of his older brother and several of his fellow law enforcement officers in Season 2 of the crime drama, Mayor of Kingstown.
"He's in a world of pain right now," the 38-year-old actor told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.
"Kyle is deferring his trauma, one situation after the other. Not the most healthy thing to do, but it's the only thing he knows how to do in order to survive and keep going."
From co-creators Taylor Sheridan and Hugh Dillon, the Michigan-set show follows Kyle and his fixer brother Mike (Jeremy Renner) as they work with cops and criminals alike to maintain some semblance of order and justice in Kingstown, Mich., a town where most people either live or work in the local prison system.
Season 1 began with the robbery-related execution of Kyle's brother Mitch (Kyle Chandler) and ended with Kyle narrowly escaping a bloody prison riot where dozens of inmates, corrections officers, cops and even National Guard members were slain.
Now airing Sunday nights on Paramount+, Season 2 sees Kyle leave the local police force to become a Michigan State Trooper, while he and his pregnant wife Tracy (Nishi Munshi) are living with his mother Miriam (Dianne Wiest,) a college professor who also teaches at the prison.
"I think he's a little confused by his new job," Handley explained.
"Kyle is just massively confused, in general. Having been a good soldier his entire life and done the things that were suggested to him and having wound up here, full of grief, full of guilt, full of shame after the prison riot and how he responded or his lack of response," the actor added. "Kyle is really having a crisis of faith this season."
He's not the only one still reeling from the events of Season 1.
"Miriam went through her trauma with the idea that she was going to lose another son," Handley said. "In Season 2, I think she just wants the best for her sons -- as long as they are alive and healthy, I think she is doing well."
Kyle's job and his inability to process and express his feelings are straining his marriage to Tracy, but real love keeps them together.
"What you're going to see is one person really struggling and the other person being the stand-up advocate for him," Handley said.
"In a sense, it is really unhealthy and, at the same time, it's admirable, really, what Tracy does this season by sticking with Kyle and sticking up for him in all he is going through."
The dynamic between Kyle and Mike remains the same this season as it was in the last.
"They've got each other's backs, no matter what, and that's what I love about those brothers," the actor said.
Previews of coming episodes suggest Iris (Emma Laird), a young former prostitute Mike feels fiercely protective of, might be moving in with Kyle, Tracy and Miriam.
Asked if the family will be "adopting" Iris, Handley laughed and said: "I don't think so. I think that is a bad idea! However, bad ideas are the things that happen in Kingstown and that's what makes it fun to watch."
Given the choices the characters make, it is difficult to pinpoint who the moral compass or voice of reason is on the show.
"It's up to the audience's judgment and their perception. Who do they identify with the most? That's what is so interesting," Handley said.
"You have so many different characters who are going through different things and, in the real world, that's kind of the same thing, too. Everyone's got their stuff that they are dealing with. We deal with it the best that we can, the best we know how to deal with it."
Handley hopes the show starts discussions among viewers about crime, power and corruption.
"At the end of the day, it is entertainment, but it doesn't shy away from shining a light on the darkest corners of humanity and, hopefully, people can take something positive away from that and maybe make different choices in their own lives," he said.
"I think that Taylor and the team really ask those questions and have some answers and they do it with real class."
It would be understandable if the McLuskys grew tired of the violence and misfortune of Kingstown and are headed for greener pastures.
"I've thought about this a lot. Is it a fool's errand to try to save this town? Should Mike just skip out and let this town decompose because it is a fool's errand?" Handley mused.
"But, at the same time, they have roots in this town. They have history in this town. This town is called 'Kingstown,' therefore, in my mind, it's a town that was founded with the idea that we were all going to be kings," he added.
"There is a legacy, there is a history with this town and the McLuskys are so deep-rooted. How do you let a town just decompose and dissolve in crime? While it may not be the healthiest choice, it is Mike's choice and it is his cross to bear and it's the family's cross to bear. It's everyone's cross to bear."
Renner, 52, has been in the headlines recently because of a horrific Jan. 1 snow plowing accident that left him with a crushed chest, head injuries and more than 30 broken bones.
"All of the news coming from his camp is very positive. We are so grateful and just wishing him a healthy and quick recovery," Handley said.
"He is one of the most generous and most giving actors and just a solid human, just a great human being. We couldn't really ask for a better No. 1 star of the show. He's so respectful in the way he operates. He's a normal dude. Just a cool dude."