Monday, 17 January 2011

'HUMAN TARGET' 2.9 & 2.10 - "Imbroglio" & "Cool Hand Guerrero"

Monday, 17 January 2011

After an unsteady start, season 2 of Human Target's really starting to rock! These two episodes eclipsed last week's double-bill very comfortably. A few more episodes of this caliber and the show's edging into must-see status, which is quite an achievement for a series I was considering giving up on five episodes ago.

"Imbroglio" spun a familiar scenario for action TV shows, as it was essentially Die Hard at the opera. It's incredible how many shows use that '80s classic as a template (not least Chuck, which showrunner Matt Miller wrote for previously), but the results are often robust and entertaining. In this episode, Ilsa (Indira Varma) accompanied her sister-in-law Connie (Olga Sosnovska) to a lavish opera house to see La Traviata, only to find Chance (Mark Valley), Guerrero (Jackie Earle Haley) and Winston (Chi McBride) have decided to join them, as Chance was intrigued by a 15-second hack the opera house's computer systems suffered recently. His suspicions are proven right, when masked terrorists pour into the building, seal the exits with plastic explosives, and announce they're holding the wealthy audience for ransom. However, Chance doesn't think their plan is so modest, particularly when Winston (who's safe outside in a surveillance van) picks up signs of drilling in the building's basement.

This was a great episode of the show, even if the storyline followed some predictable beats; Winston locking horns with an asshole FBI Agent (Daren A. Herbert) over the handling of the crisis, Chance doing his best Bruce Willis impression to defeat hackneyed Euro-villain Eli Rosko (24's Carlo Rota). But there's comfort in familiarity, and Robert Levine's script found freshness in the details: like a fantastic scene with Chance trapped in a flooding chamber, trying to explain to Ilsa how she can help him escape (topped with a laugh-out-loud moment with Ilsa attempting to clobber a henchman over the head with an oversized metal pole.) The balance of action, comedy and drama was deftly handled throughout. I particularly enjoyed seeing Guerrero strapped to an upright gurney once captured by the villains, Hannibal Lecter style. He even bit someone.

In-between the opera hijinks, it was also great to see Ilsa Pucci continue to blossom. Her character felt like an irritating third-wheel when this season began, but her occasionally frustrating naivety is now diluted by a significant amount of pluckiness and playful humour. Varma's chemistry with Valley also seems to be improving, after a noticeable upswing in "Communication Breakdown", and it was nice to see the actors mix well together. The shock climax of the previous episode, with Ilsa killing a man in self defense, thankfully wasn't forgotten about here, with Chance's guilt over not managing to spare Ilsa's innocence fuelling a tender scene near the end.

Overall, "Imbroglio" was a slick, entertaining, coherent and amusing episode from a show that's finding form. It played to the show's strengths, with good action and an ensemble that were all given opportunities to shine (ignoring the fact Ames was conspicuously absent, again.) It's a pity the week's villain was so passé and Connie Pucci didn't get much to do, beyond realize Ilsa's extraordinary business venture isn't to be sneered at, but those are relatively minor issues. For the majority of its time, "Imbroglio" was a kinetic hour of fun that succeeded as a great Die Hard imitation.

WRITER: Robert Levine
DIRECTOR: Steve Boyum
TRANSMISSION: 14 January 2011, Fox, 8/7c
If "Imbroglio" was in deference of the hostage drama subgenre, "Cool Hand Guerrero" paid respect to jailbreak movies. In another terrific episode, Guerrero was framed for the murder of a drug-runner friend he was helping escape to a new life with fake IDs. Amusingly, his friend's corpse was planted in the trunk of Guerrero's prized Aldo, during a rare period when Guerrero didn't already have an incriminating body stashed in there.

Thrown into a Louisiana state prison, lone wolf Guerrero wasn't best pleased when Chance and Winston arrived to prove his innocence, especially as he's already working on an escape plan. The episode thus split its time between Guerrero's exploits in prison (beating a thug senseless in-between reading Stephen King's It), Chance's investigation into who framed Guerrero, and an attempt by master thief Ames (Janet Montgomery) to pick the lock of a suitcase found in Guerrero's office locker, which may hold the key to why he was framed.

Giving Guerrero the spotlight worked very well, with the episode managing to avoid revealing too much about his character to totally destroy the sense of mystery the show loves to play with. Instead, it spent time making you realize just how reclusive, mysterious, strange, and fiercely independent Guerrero is. He's a man who finds it impossible to accept help from others, even people he regards as friends. "Cool Hand Guerrero" wisely didn't end with Guerrero having gone soft with a big group hug, but moments of surprising emotion burst through the cracks.

In particular, the reveal Guerrero has a young son was nicely handled, with Chance doing his friend a favour and giving Guerrero a snowglobe to pass on for his boy's birthday. The Chance/Guerrero relationship isn't something Human Target highlights very often, probably because Guerrero's played for black comedy that's tough to penetrate. It's far easier to write the brotherly affection between Chance and Winston, or the sexual frisson that exists between Chance and Ilsa, but this episode proved there's value in seeing Chance and Guerrero as dysfunctional buddies. Lest we forget, they were comrades-in-arms back in the days when Chance was a less than savory character, so there's a feeling both men bonded over shared horrors, and Guerrero has found it harder to adjust to this new life.

Overall, this was another fine hour of thrills and spills, casting light on the show's inscrutable Guerrero (first name indeterminate.) A shootout in a Gun World store was darkly amusing (trigger happy customers!), guest star James Remar (Dexter) put on a southern drawl as the villainous prison warden, the storyline did an admirable job giving everyone something to do, and the touches of humour were very well judged (such as Ames's belief Guerrero's ubiquitous fish food contains deadly poison.)

WRITER: Matt Whitney
DIRECTOR: Craig R. Baxley
TRANSMISSION: 14 January 2011, Fox, 9/8c

  • Over the past few weeks, Human Target was moved from its Wednesday night slot to Fridays, to avoid presidential speeches. Predictably, its ratings dropped by around 24%, to sit at an average of 4.7 million. However, that rating's actually pretty good for a Friday, so maybe Fox will be encouraged to move Human Target there permanently. Ironically, Fridays is when the show was originally set to air last year, before Fox showed faith in the series by delaying its premiere and finding a Wednesday timeslot. Also, Fringe is due to continue its third season on Fridays this week, so it'll be interesting to see if it does similarly well.