It wouldn't have solved every problem with the character, but I'm at a loss as to why Ames isn't a former co-worker of Chance's. She could have been his replacement after he quit—Armand Assante is evil enough to train a teenage girl to kill people. Chance could have intercepted her during a mission and decided to take her under his wing as yet another way to atone for his years of murder and general villainy. It would have given us more of a stake in the character, and, more importantly, given Chance and the others a reason to keep cutting her all this slack. In tonight's episode, she nearly fumbles the one job she's assigned, and while her fumble is made with the best of intentions, it's another reminder of how we've never been given a good reason to give a damn about her, let alone any justification for what she's doing on the team. If Chance had a stake in reforming her, I could buy her not getting fired. As is, instead of taking the steps to creating an internally consistent world, the show simply assumes we'll be fine with it. I mean, other action shows have crazy hot chicks. Why not this one?
The "show don't tell" maxim is an old one, but it applies here; Human Target would work considerably better if it took the time to define its relationships without simply jumping to the end point and assuming we'll follow. Ilsa and Chance are stuck in a will they/won't they pairing, even though we never saw them getting to know each other, Ames is busy Cousin Olivering her way through storylines, and we're supposed to care because we've seen other series with elements similar to these, and that, apparently, ought to be enough. That's a bad place to start from, building dynamics based on cliché without bothering to distinguish them from the cliché. "The Other Side Of The Mall" did nothing to alleviate these problems. In fact, it made them worse by adding in some hollow Christmas cheer (does Target really need an Xmas episode? Especially one that grafts the holiday on as pointlessly as this one?), and providing us with our most irritating Target of the Week to date. It was disappointing all around, and the low point of the season so far.
Meet the Applebaums, harbingers of banal suburban bliss. Richard (John Michael Higgins) recently wrote an anonymous letter to the FDA about his company, and now, he's convinced that everyone he works with knows, and that they're going to take steps. At first, it looks like he's right, when a jeep full of thugs runs him and his family off the road. So Richard, Rachel, and their son, Joel, pay a visit to Chance and Friends, looking to hire some protection to keep them alive through the holidays. This leads to a lot of never-funny gags about squabbling families, dorky teenagers, and book clubs. Chance and Guerrero hang out with Richard at work, Winston helps the lovely wife Rachel with her computer problems (seriously? If there'd been some acknowledgement of the stupidity of this moment, it might've been hilarious. "Excuse me, Mr. Bodyguard person? As I am financially solvent and quite white, I naturally assume any menial in my employ is capable of any work I require. Once you've found my notes, open this pickle jar and see to the trash."), and Ames tries to get Joel laid.
The Ames/Joel plot gets the most attention here, for some reason that largely escapes me. (And, I'm assuming, the writers.) Sure, we eventually find out that Joel's the one responsible for the chaos. There's a computer virus that was planted on his laptop via a free game; the virus was designed to help the bad guys hack into the servers at Richard's office. Joel didn't realize this, but he was so annoyed when he realized the game had nuked his computer (which means it wasn't a very good virus, since it seems like this sort of operation would only really make sense if it went incognito) that he followed the game back to its host and gave them a virus instead. This is treated as amusing, but not particularly impressive. Except it is impressive, and apart from a general air of dorkiness, we hadn't gotten any indication that Joel was some kind of under-the-radar genius.
So the plotting isn't great, and Ames pushing Joel to woo a girl who's obviously into him isn't much of anything. The lead bad guy is hilariously generic, a guy with white-blond hair and a vaguely Germanic accent who could have wandered in from any of a dozen '90s direct-to-TV action movies. And, of course, there are the repeated, increasingly painful injections of holly and jollity. "Mall" wasn't wretched television. It had bad spots, and most of the humor was best ignored, but the overall impression it left was, well, no impression at all, really. There's a difference between trying to recreate the magic of the action-adventure shows of the '80s, and simply copying them note for note. Target has gone from the show MacGyver wanted to be to the show it generally was. That's not good. And it doesn't look to be getting better any time soon.
- "I'm literally in Hell." First of all, no, you're not. Second of all, Chance is supposed to be a gifted infiltrator and killer. That he'd be irritated or bored at an office job is believable enough. That he'd start complaining about either of those things on his first day undercover, in a subplot that lasts all of three scenes, is just dumb.
- Wow, those Applebaums really roll with the punches. In one scene, they're desperately begging Chance and the others for help, and the very next morning, they're acting like nothing happened. Sure, Richard and Rachel fight, but none of them appear to be all that concerned with what happened earlier. (Also, why the hell is their front door unlocked? Either Chance and the others broke in, or Richard assumed that, since his family was originally attacked in their car, they'd only be in danger if they got in the car again.)
- Happy holidays, everybody! See you next year. (Unless you're also reading the Star Trek: The Next Generation recaps, in which case I'll see you tomorrow.)