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Hunted - "Snow Maiden"

I watched the whole season of Hunted in two big gulps, and I think that was definitely the best way to approach the thing. I’m a firm believer in slowing down TV watching most of the time, but there are some shows that just work far, far better when you watch them in big chunks. I can’t imagine trying to keep track of all of the plotting on this show from week to week. Because of the vastness of the storyline and the ensemble, I had this experience where it would take me roughly half of an episode to get into the story before I simply settled in and followed along. Having to do that every week—instead of twice—would have been incredibly irritating, I’m sure.

That said, I don’t know if I got everything about this show. I got the vast majority of it, and I ended up greatly enjoying it, so I suspect that it was one of those shows where you didn’t have to understand everything that was happening to enjoy yourself. But there were still points when I wondered just why the fuck something was happening or why the characters were behaving the way they were. Generally, the show was on to the next thing quickly enough for me to be fine with it, but it still left me a little discombobulated every time it happened. For instance, there was a moment in episode five (I think?) in which our heroine, Samantha Hunter, talks to a contact in a museum. Said contact points out details in a painting that are meant to point to a secret organization called Hourglass, which is apparently an ancient conspiracy that was built up around five powerful families that vowed to someday take over the world. Now, they basically have by building up the world’s five largest corporations, and they’re working to… do… something.

I felt that way a lot of the time throughout Hunted. Now, I suspect the Hourglass reveal was a bit of a misdirect, since the following three hours didn’t have much to do with it and were mainly concerned with wrapping up the season-long plot. (It’s also possible the reveal was meant to point to a larger mythology the show would have developed in the seasons to come. It was, after all, from The X-Files’ Frank Spotnitz.) Yet it was also completely, completely crazy. I have an allergic reaction to conspiracies in fiction, because I find them dramatically unsatisfying, but this one was so over-the-top that I had to sort of admire it anyway. Five families decided to take over the world and eventually did? And they hid evidence of this in a painting? Was Spotnitz reading Da Vinci Code again?

So much of Hunted played out that way to me that I more or less just gave up trying to understand how all of the various subgroups were related and rolled with whatever was happening in the moment. The reveal in last week’s penultimate episode—for my money, the best of the series’ run—that Polyhedrus (one of the aforementioned corporations) had killed the residents of a village who were standing in the way of the company's dam construction by somehow poisoning them with gas that would appear to be a natural toxin was powerful and potent, both because it let the characters realize the bastards they were working for and because it was so small-scale that you could totally see a conspiracy to rule the world tossing it off like it was no big deal. It’s a popular theme of spy fiction that those who work within the “game” are all morally compromised, but episode seven did an excellent job of showing just how true that was for the gang at Byzantium.

Last night’s finale wasn’t quite to that level, but it was still very, very good. The final two episodes of the season, in fact, pulled so much of what was wrong about the earlier episodes into shape that I’m all but certain Spotnitz and his writers would have created a truly awesome season two had one been picked up. (More about this in the stray observations.) My favorite thing about the finale was the way that it played out almost as a small character drama. All along, this has been a story about a multitude of mysteries and deceptions, but they’ve usually been grounded in believable character moments. Samantha adopts an identity meant to con the son of a criminal, then gets him to fall for her. (In general, the twists in this relationship were my favorites in the season.) Samantha’s old boyfriend—the father of the unborn child she was carrying during the Tangiers attack that kicked off the series—turns up again, and the two resume sniping at each other. Deacon prowls the edges of scenes, scowling and threatening. And Rupert Keel has a debilitating disease that, nonetheless, doesn’t keep him from seemingly trying to play all sides at once.

All of this came down to the wonderful sequence in the Turner home when Jack attempts to drown Samantha, and the audience remembers that, hey, the show established she could hold her breath for a really long time in the pilot, and maybe that will come in handy, and… then she shoots out of the tub and advances on him to kill him, even though she’s been poisoned. The series’ large-scale action sequences were impressive, sure, but I was most pleased every time it turned its eye toward something smaller and more intimate like this, the characters getting in each other’s faces and dealing each other emotional pain, even as they were dishing out physical pain as well. I’ve seen complaints that the finale sidelined Samantha a little too much, or took away the “strong female character” hook that made her such an appealing heroine, but I disagree. I found that pushing her to the very brink of death, then showing how she still got the job done, even if was to be her final action on this Earth, was a very satisfying conclusion of her character arc.

I don’t know what everything means, honestly. I don’t know why Samantha’s death was faked, and I didn’t entirely understand the flashes of childhood memory that were meant to tie everything together. (In general, I found the interest in Samantha from her childhood sort of preposterous. It worked on Alias, because that had a more fanciful bent, but I’m not sure it ever worked here.) I don’t know just what Keel’s ultimate plan was, or what Aiden was up to, or what was going on with some of the interpersonal relationships. But I, ultimately, didn’t care. Even in its weakest hours, Hunted was a lot of fun to look at, and in its best hours, it was smart, muscular genre TV of the sort that doesn’t always come along. What with Homeland and all, a female-led spy show could have felt redundant, but Hunted’s greatest strength was its ability to keep the audience constantly entertained and always guessing.

Finale grade: A-
Season grade: B+

Stray observations:

  • Because of their most recent project, I found it very amusing to have both Stephen Dillane and Patrick Malahyde playing men that Samantha falls into weirdly twisted paternal relationships with.
  • I’m ashamed to admit that I had this weird hope Samantha and Stephen would end up together, impossible and preposterous though that may have been. I thought she had way more chemistry with him than with Aiden.
  • The animation that opened the finale was absolutely gorgeous.
  • I praised Melissa George back in my review of the premiere, and I continue to think she was a surprising delight in the role. I can see why Cinemax wants to continue working with the character and actress.
  • So this show wasn’t picked up for a second season by the BBC, which scuttles the plans to follow along the hyper-complicated, serialized storyline the series was developing, as well as the plans to send Samantha to a new European city with every season. (Next season was to have been Berlin, according to Spotnitz.) However, Cinemax sees something they like in the show, so they’re working with Spotnitz to cut the budget enough to produce a second season on their own. Unfortunately, that means it’s likely to be the end of the heavy serialization of the show. (See Spotnitz’s interview with Alan Sepinwall here.) It’s definitely the end of the show’s European location filming and the big production values that made season one so sumptuous to look at. I’m hopeful the show can reboot around the character of Samantha, but losing the ongoing storyline may be a deal-breaker for me.