I have to give credit where credit is due to Hostages this week: In “2:45 PM,” something finally happened.
It might be hard to tell, but I’m actually quite fond of ridiculous, over-the-top drama, provided it goes somewhere substantial. There’s no law saying television has to be serious. But as a viewer, it becomes tedious when it’s not even really all that entertaining. A lot of entertaining television can be pretty terrible, but I’ve noticed that often, we are most entertained by that which challenges us or inspires our curiosity. At the very least, let us be surprised. We might know that there is a twist coming up, but don’t tell us what the twist is, right?
Hostages has been supremely bad at laying out and then following up with suspense, which is essentially a combination of mystery and pacing. I keep coming back to the awful soundtrack of the show because the score gets to the crux of the problem—there is no actual suspense, so Hostages is producing it with audible manipulation. It’s struggling to find a way to engage its audience, and the last few episodes have been a testament to just how unsuspenseful a show can be.
In “2:45 PM,” the show offers us a far more coherent plot arc, starting with Dr. and Mr. Saunders fighting over his escape plan, and ending with the realization of the plan—which ends on a cliffhanger that is a little predictable, but not too predictable. Brian’s plan is to get the family on a bus to Canada. He’s mobilized the kids already, tasking them with getting the GPS chips out of their shoulders and escaping from school without anyone noticing. He’s got a strategy for pulling out his passports and accumulating some cash. Brian is not a likable character—Tate Donovan seems to be cast in roles precisely to be nice-looking but untrustworthy—but he gains a lot of credibility in this episode, somehow managing to successfully bring the whole operation together, even as Ellen is trying to squirm out of it.
If Hostages' issues could be boiled down to one problem, it is that Toni Collette’s Ellen Saunders is consistently wooden—difficult to care about or root for. She has a kind of deer-in-headlights vulnerability that is appealing, even in this episode, but ever since the pilot she has been written to rely on her victimhood for the audience’s sympathy. It’s one thing to feel compassion for a victim; it’s another to feel pity, and that’s what Ellen inspires, more than anything else. She seems continually unable to help herself. Even here in “2:45 PM,” she is on the verge of sabotaging the mission more than once, unable to shake herself from the thrall of captivity.
But the best part of the episode is the last 10 minutes, when, in quick succession, Brian attacks the rookie kidnapper Kramer and starts a car chase, while Ellen grabs the passports and cash and discovers that Brian intended to sacrifice himself all along so that she and the kids could escape. Oh yeah, and along the way she tells off Brian’s mistress (who is also his office manager, and who is upset by this). Meanwhile, the kids bloodily fish chips out of their shoulders and toss them in a baggie in a random’s backpack, sneaking out during a faked bomb threat to make it to the bus station.
That’s right—what I’m trying to say is that for once, I was proud of these crazy Saunderses, with their ingenuity and tenacity and loyalty to each other. Ellen still needs a lot of work, but even she is growing a spine, and the kids mercifully set aside all self-indulgent whimpering about secret drugs and secret pregnancies to channel their inner badassery.
Apparently in response to their newfound courage, Duncan Carlisle musters some of his own—making good on his threat and shooting Brian while Ellen watches via videochat. (It is not a videochat program that really exists, which always looks terrible on television.) He doesn’t kill Brian, but the episode ends with Jerry Bruckheimer’s name flashing bleakly across the screen just after Ellen sees the gunshot, and has to decide how! To! Save! Her! Family! And also to create enough material for 12 episodes! It’s madness, I tell you, madness!
There are still such major issues with the show’s foundation that it’s unlikely Hostages will ever rise above a C. I could have done without the subplot about Duncan’s wife (which presently are so vague they’re just patronizing) and the flashbacks to Ellen getting the job (which are supposed to establish the Saunders marriage and instead feels like filler). The production values of this show are stuck in a palette of gray and beige in an effort to establish the seriousness of the situation, and the kids are entirely too melodramatic with each other, in a way that has no childlike innocence or play to temper it. But the back half of “2:45 PM” is probably the best this show can be.
- I was dreading the teen pregnancy plot, but its one reference in this scene was nicely played, with the daughter in the school nurse’s office. (Though it was strange that the school nurse assumed Morgan would keep the baby.)
- “I don’t smoke pot, Morgan.” (dramatic pause) “I sell pot.” Drama!
- The promo for next week almost undid all of the goodwill I currently have for this show. It is absolutely bonkers. Next week is going to be a doozy.