Generally, the people who make films and television series will show you things that are important, things that you, the viewer, should be paying attention to because they’re going to play a part somewhere along the line.
One Dollar (or $1) does this with its main premise – a crumpled dollar bill, easily identified for us by the sequence of numerals inked on it by hand with a blue marker, which changes hands between the citizens of a small town outside Pittsburgh. Like pass the parcel, when the music stops (metaphorically), the story shifts its focus to that person.
The thing is, if you’re wise to magicians’ misdirection, this can get distracting, because for eight of the 10 episodes, it seemed to not mean anything and the viewer can grow weary of following the damn money. Because we’re supposed to, right?
Actually, yes, because things suddenly change direction and perspective in episode nine, in a way that requires you to think back to everything that has happened thus far. It’s a bit of a mind-bend, and ultimately confirms this is a well-thought-out series.
“These smaller side stories give the show an indie movie-like texture about people trying to make it in America.”
In the first episode we meet steel mill worker Garrett Drimmer (Philip Ettinger), a single guy with a cute-as-a-button little girl. He gets a mysterious phone call late at night, and goes off to do we-don’t-know-what.
Again there is the “look here” device with his bloody handkerchief, which will only be revisited much later. The following morning, mill workers arrive to a scene of bloody carnage – but no bodies. The next important clue is that all this blood came from seven sources.
The investigation of this crime isn’t as prominent to the story as you might expect, but it does impact on various lives, and how those lives are connected to others.
The concept is a solid one; think Short Cuts (excellent film by Robert Altman inspired by nine short stories and a poem by Raymond Carver) and Crash (2004 film which won numerous awards including the Oscar for Best Picture, and 2008 TV show starring the late, great Dennis Hopper).
The extensive cast of characters includes detective (private, but he only ever refers to himself as “detective”) and former cop Jake Noveer (British actor Nathaniel Martello-White), who has chronic insomnia but still falls asleep at the most inopportune moments.
In the actual police department there is Rook (Níkẹ Uche Kadri) – a rookie, surprise – who bears the brunt of her partner Chewy’s (Joshua Bitton) “ball busting” which is not-even-thinly-veiled racism, sexism and toxic masculinity.
Mill boss Bud Carl (John Carroll Lynch) is clearly up to no good in more ways than one. Watch him.
It’s true that if you are looking for it, confirmation bias is easy to find. TV Guide’s Liam Mathews discussed the show’s various sub-plots saying, “The writers are much more interested in the vignettes that build out the town… These smaller side stories give the show an indie movie-like texture about people trying to make it in America.
“They’re sort of like short films within the bigger show, and they contain much of the show’s best writing and acting. They would be better if they didn’t have the unnecessary dollar bill gimmick connecting them all, but it’s not that distracting.”
The dollar bill is eventually explained, but a shallow dive on the internet tells us nothing about the bloody gloves. The self-driving car, however, which is a running gag throughout the series, is a reference to Uber’s vehicle that made its debut in Pittsburgh at the end of 2018.
One Dollar will not be renewed for a second season, but the ending is entirely satisfactory.