I've got to be honest, reading the pilot script for WGN America's Scalped was a bit of a slog. Largely emotion free until close to the finish, it just didn't grab me much, and there's zero of the 'Rez Noir' from the book (which was half the reason to read). That said I can see how this blank canvas might be remoulded by a talented crew on the business end of this script for a cable TV channel.
Scalped is the story of Dashiell Bad Horse, and his harrowing journey back through the Rez. It isn't for the feint of heart, and it certainly never minces its words. The comic book by Jason Aaron, R.M. Guéra, Lee Loughridge, and Phil Balsam, is one of the finest examples of the medium, a modern noir, a Rez Noir.
Doug Jung (Banshee) has written a script that just seems to tell a few events that happen without really delving in to personal motivations or any feedback on the actions that the cast of characters are taking. This is fine if you want to ensure that particular beats are covered during the airing of a first episode, however I don't see this being a situation where an actor will pick it up and say "How could I say no to this script?!"
I will say, however, that Lincoln Red Crow does get a lot of face time here. Which is a strong look for the show, as that's a massively conflicted, and important, character right there. There's a telling statement from Taylor Jergens ("Jergens") towards the end of the book (that helps with a one-two punch of the only evocative moments in this) which helps establish the duality of that role that Red Crow has, and what it means. It's about the requirements of leadership, and the terrible things that one has to do in the name of your community. It's a punch, but the real punch comes shortly after it, and smashes it all to pieces.
Getting back to the lack of feeling throughout the screenplay, let's take a comparative look at some images from the first two pages of the book. Here you're immediately aware of the calm potential of Shunka, and Dash's rash nature. You are very quickly clued in that it's not just here that Dash is causing trouble, it's blatant exposition, but it's not heavy handed, and it's succinct.
Then we have the scene where Dash meets Gina, here actually (to quote Spider-Man) does touch you in the feels, but I can't help but feel like the scenes from the book would have helped there, too. There the Casino is not yet built, there Gina is part of a charged atmosphere at a protest against the casino.
This heightens things, it is an already dramatic situation, and Dash, being a dick, makes it even worse. Bad Horse, now a cop, arrives to handle the protest that's got messy and potentially violent, in mixing both these powder kegs it really kicks off, and it's not pretty, which really serves to amp up the book at that point.
We're seriously discussing a comic that had one of the best first issues of the last couple of decades here, and if that wasn't enough, I don't really feel like I've gotten in to the biggest spoiler from the book that there is. On the very last page, Dash is revealed to be an agent of the FBI. This means that throughout 23 pages of bloodied brawling, scalping, and tribal mob enforcement, Dash is never seen as someone with any redeeming characteristics at all. He's an asshole, and the whole book is nearly spent telling you this, however it still pauses one the secondary characters and lingers longer on Lincoln Red Crow giving you a dark, quiet, menace, an obvious (so you'd think) face to the evils of the land. In true noir style, everyone's awful, and will only cycle downward. You get that, you get that so completely with that first issue, and at the very death it also sets you up for the book going forward, both emotionally and thematically.
So when I read this script, and how they handle these machinations, I read something that gives the equivalent of a fade out, the reveal having very little impact on the page. Actually, it had so little impact I genuinely missed it the first time around. Again, I'm sure that talented directors and performers will bring this as alive as is possible, but the book was always amazing at delivering a cliffhanger, something that I hear television kind of likes. The book is one of the few series that have been able to kick me in the guts so consistently and driven me to tears for what the characters on the page go through. It's brave, I fear this (not literal) fade out is not particularly brave.
So, anyway, that fade out, we see Dash in Red Crow's office, finally being taken in to the crew, and then it cuts to the reveal, elsewhere with an anonymous agent trying to call him but being ignored. It's subtle, and it's too subtle I feel. It ties back to an earlier phone call in a bar where Dash is catching up with a childhood friend/squeeze. In the book we spend a page and a half with two FBI agents driving out into the desert, they're talking up Red Crow, building his legend more, and that Nitz finally has a way in. He's ready to bring those bastards to their knees! They reach their destination, it's a dramatic, dark, dusk light, and they make one last sweep of the area before they meet up with DUH DUH DUHHHHHHH … FBI SPECIAL AGENT DASHIELL BAD HORSE!!
I dunno, I guess I just need a little more oomph from what I see on a page, this didn't have that, it wasn't even implied. I also don't see where the noir will come in to it. Which, frankly, really makes me slouch a little, being that it's such an important reason as to why we're here in the first place. But I need to find some positives here, and I think we can definitely say that Jergen's conversation with Red Crow, and Dash's with his mother are strong touchpoints to lean on there. The latter effectively making the whole episode feel more like a slow drawl, a creep, akin to the Preacher pilot/premier episode (which I liked a lot!). I don't know how good this will turn out to be, but based off of this, I think it's going to be some effort. That said, reports are saying that it will have a predominantly Native American cast, which is amazing news, so there's hope yet.
Scalped is coming via WGN America sometime in the next year or so.