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Why Max McLaughlin From The Defeated Looks So Familiar

There's no shortage of mystery at the heart of Netflix's new algorithm-friendly series "The Defeated," which blends historical drama with edge-of-your-seat murder investigation.

Originally known as "Shadowplay" in Germany, where it premiered last year, "The Defeated" follows New York cop Max McLaughlin as he moves to Berlin in 1946 and teams up with the inexperienced Elsie Garten (Nina Hoss) to help rebuild the American sector of the city's police force in the aftermath of World War II. The lawlessness and opportunity for criminals call to mind the similarly divided post-war Vienna of director Carol Reed and author Graham Greene's "The Third Man," where the racket in question involved Orson Welles' presumed-dead Harry Lime selling diluted penicillin to doctors and hospitals on the black market. Max and Elsie, on the other hand, are hunting a serial killer, as well as Max's brother Moritz (Logan Marshall-Green), who is taking post-war justice into his own hands by killing former Nazi party members.

But it doesn't take a great detective to figure out where you might have seen Max before. Actor Taylor Kitsch has done films and TV shows big and small, but some of those roles really stand out from the pack. 

Taylor Kitsch was one of the big breakouts on Friday Night Lights

There's a good chance this first item might be the one that jogs your memory about Kitsch, who played a key role on NBC's much-loved but little-watched classic about a small-town football team (okay, two small-town football teams) in West Texas and the teens and adults whose lives are intertwined with them. On a series that served as a launchpad for loads of young actors, accelerating the careers of Michael B. Jordan, Jesse Plemons, Jurnee Smollett, and Adrianne Palicki, among others, Kitsch was arguably its biggest breakout star (other than perhaps Connie Britton).

Kitsch, a former hockey player, played Tim Riggins, the hard-running, hard-drinking fullback of the Dillon Panthers. Riggins was, in many ways, the heart of the show, the place where good intentions –– both his and other people's –– meet the complicated mess of real-world desire and upbringing. (For instance, sneaking around with your best friend's girlfriend after he's paralyzed in a freak football accident.) 

Kitsch admitted that "Friday Night Lights" was a great early gig for him because of his comfort in improvising — something the cast did a lot of on that show — and a natural affinity for the character that made it easy to go to the places the scripts required Riggins to go. "If I had nothing going on in the brain, I could just shut down," he told The Off Camera Show in a 2018 interview, "And it would be Riggins." This isn't to say there wasn't some learning curve. "I didn't even know where Texas was," he joked, referring to the time when he got the call that he had landed the part.

Taylor Kitsch went to Mars as John Carter

"John Carter" wasn't Kitsch's first film role. He had small parts in "John Tucker Must Die," "Snakes on a Plane," and "The Covenant" in 2006, the same year "Friday Night Lights" premiered. In 2009, he played Gambit in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," but if that's the project you remember him from, then that's unfortunate because we're pretty sure Hugh Jackman, Ryan Reynolds, and everyone else who appeared in it would rather you just forget that it ever happened.

But "John Carter" was meant to be the film that launched him into a new stratosphere of stardom. It was his first lead role, top-lining one of the most expensive movies Hollywood had ever made. "John Carter" was the first live-action effort from Andrew Stanton, the director of "Finding Nemo" and "WALL-E," based on the classic early sci-fi efforts of Edgar Rice Burroughs. But whether due to a disappointing critical reaction or a confusing marketing campaign, the film's box office returns disappointed, and its planned sequels were shelved.

But Kitsch has consistently said that he doesn't regret his work on the film at all. In 2019, he told The Hollywood Reporter that he was seeing an uptick in interest in the film, or at least in people approaching him on the street about it after it had landed on streaming. "I guess people who watch it now for the first time can take a lot more away from it than people did at first," Kitsch said. "It's always flattering, and I learned a ton on that movie. I honestly don't see it as a failure."

Taylor Kitsch got sunk on Battleship

"John Carter" was only the first of Kitsch's big-budget blockbusters in 2012. That summer, he re-teamed with "Friday Night Lights" creator Peter Berg for the director's military science-fiction board game-inspired blockbuster "Battleship."

"Battleship" sees Kitsch's Lieutenant Alex Hopper and crew do battle with a fleet of alien spaceships in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii. Alex is undisciplined and on the verge of a court-martial, but ends up taking command after aliens devastate the American fleet and formulating a plan to fight back and sink their mothership.

"Battleship" was largely panned by critics, but its bigger issues were at the box office, where it had the misfortune of opening just two weeks after the all-conquering box office titan "The Avengers." The film made just $65 million at the U.S. box office, and while it did better overseas, it still proved to be a money loser. The one-two punch of "John Carter" and "Battleship" wrecked Kitsch's career as a blockbuster leading man for the time being.

Taylor Kitsch was on the case in Season 2 of True Detective

Despite the above failures, Kitsch soon found an alternative path as a character actor and co-lead in still-prestigious projects that didn't come with the expectations of a $200 million budget. In 2015, he starred alongside Colin Farrell and Rachel McAdams in the second season of the HBO crime anthology "True Detective," playing California Highway Patrol officer Paul Woodrugh.

Woodrugh is undergoing a personal crisis, haunted by his actions in combat and confusion over his sexuality. He's riding his motorcycle without headlights at night when he discovers the body of Vinci city manager Ben Caspere (Bo McCann) on the beach with his eyes burned out, setting the central mystery in motion.

Woodrugh works with detectives Ray Velcoro (Farrell) and Ani Bezzerides (McAdams) to uncover the complex plot of embezzlement and fraud that led to Caspere's murder, but winds up shot and killed by crooked cop Lieutenant Burris (James Frain) in the show's penultimate episode, an outcome Kitsch told Variety was sad but appropriate. "I think it's true we tried to martyr that character. He never got to come out of the closet," he said. "Just the life he led, he was always in the shadows of his own self. I think that was also a beautiful part to play as well."

Taylor Kitsch played a cult leader on Waco

In 2018, Kitsch went back to Texas to take on the real-life role of cult leader David Koresh in the Paramount Network miniseries "Waco."

The series tells the story of Koresh and his Branch Davidians, who were in a 51-day standoff with the FBI and ATF in 1993 that ended in the deaths of 76 cult members in the compound. As Koresh, Kitsch had to find the balance between charm and megalomania. He played someone who was able to recruit such a large number of followers (and convince them to give him the amount of control that they did over their lives), but also willing to hold out against the agencies seeking his arrest for that length of time. 

Some critics thought the series worked too hard to make the cult leader a sympathetic figure, but the reviews largely praised the acting, particularly Kitsch's performance, with New York Magazine calling him "quietly charismatic." The series' writing fared less favorably in their estimation, with the show failing to weave together its multiple storylines into a satisfying whole.