I spent the past week dreading this episode. The trailer for it clearly indicated that it would involve the team in an effort to help save an imperiled child, which would be bad enough if it was just going to tug at the heartstrings of blameless viewers who just wanted to relax and have a few laughs on a Sunday night before returning to the salt mines in the morning. But the thought of a bedridden little boy was also guaranteed to remind Nate of the son whose death he was unable to avert, which in turn destroyed his life before it ultimately set him off on this unsavory-crusader-for-the-poor-and-defenseless kick he's been on for the better part of four seasons now.
This would inevitably result in flashbacks, long and sweaty shots of Timothy Hutton gazing longingly at liquor bottles, a renewed determination to deliver sledgehammer dialogue and engage in sneering exchanges with heartless moneybags villains about why Nate keeps on fighting the good fight, etc. As it happened, it was a diverting episode, one that I had a pretty good time with. Most of what the trailer seemed to threaten would go down did go down, but this episode ended up being notable for how completely it summed up both what this show does right when it's good and what it does wrong when it's bad. Or to put it another way, when it was good, it was pretty funny, and sometimes, when it wasn't good, it was even funnier.
All the action played out in a Cincinnati airport, with our heroes, in between flights, making their entrance bitching about what they'd just been through during a caper in "the Emerald Islands," where Eliot did a lot of cool stuff that we will never be privileged to see and Hardison faked a volcanic eruption. (To the best of my limited geographical knowledge, the term "Emerald Isle" refers to the fields of Ireland, but the use of the name is necessary here for the sake of a small joke involving Parker, so what the hell.) Then, Nate looks around, and using the Terminator-style zeroing-in super-vision that will come in handy again before this hour is over, he notices a woman swiping a cooler. Somehow, he detects that she is pure at heart and gently confronts her, telling her that he can tell she's not a professional thief, though he does compliment her on how smoothly she executed her switch.
Actually, her switch looks like garbage. Which is fine, since the woman, who looks as if she just missed out on being Rachel Dratch, isn't meant to be a slick pro of the highest order, like our heroes. She's a nurse who's been forced to steal a cooler containing a human heart earmarked for the aforementioned ailing little boy by villains who have taken the precaution of abducting her daughter. (Two imperiled kids! Our cup runneth over.) But all through the show, the team members keep doing things like stealing badges and clothes and performing masquerades, and most of their handiwork looks like garbage, too. Maybe this is the fault of a director who figures that us clueless rubes sitting at home wouldn't be able to follow the action if it were actually quick and smooth enough to trick the eye.
The best bit of physical business in the episode actually plays as a joke on the idea that the team is always doing something fancy and balletic. When they see one of the kidnappers walking around with the daughter, you think, why don't they just snatch the kid? Then, a second later, that's what they do, with Parker grabbing the little girl and running like hell, disappearing past the right side of the screen, while Eliot, bursting out of the nowhere from the left, sandbags the kidnapper. It's staged as a deft piece of slapstick, defter than you'd guess these people (the cons and whoever's doing the directing and the editing) would be capable of, after all those ham-handed shots of hands clumsily taking items away from bit players trying their best to make it seem natural that they're not noticing that someone's picking their pockets. This is a comic-book adventure show, not a documentary on street grifting. It's okay if the rip-offs look good without ever seeming plausible.
Still, if the details of the cons weren't dazzling—despite the promise of seeing the team members forced to think on their feet, with a tight deadline and without Hardison's usual arsenal of tech gear at their disposal—it was kept light and playful enough to take the curse off the dying-child gimmick. All the heaviness was instead channeled into Nate's antagonism for the bad guy, a selfish, cold-blooded defense contractor who wanted the heart for himself—maybe for a transplant operation or maybe just for the last meal of his werewolf dreams. "You know what I love about this country?" the swine said at one point. "It's that I can get the best health care money can buy."
Appalled at the man's wickedness, Nate called him up and really read him the riot act, in a speech full of "God help you"'s and "I will make it my mission in life to..."'s In the end, Rachel Dratch Lite had her daughter back, the kid in the hospital had his heart, Hardison proved that he had the stuff to get the National Weather Service to call in a phony tornado alert even without his fancy gear, Eliot got to dress up so that he looked like a male stripper dressed as an airline pilot, and Nate got one last chance to talk to the bad guy as if he were Dirty Harry or Dirty Harry's liberal brother who supported health care reform. "I didn't kill you," he said, after the bad guy told him he had. "God killed you. I just made sure it took."
- A lot of priceless throwaway lines in this one. My favorite may be Parker, after she's rescued the little girl, whispering something to her that sounds like, "A little taser I carry with me wherever I go..." Enough of the others are related to the unseen Emerald Isles caper to make you wonder if it would be more fun to just spend an hour every Sunday watching the team ramble on about what they've just done before the show started than to actually watch them do anything.
- The defense contractor is played by James Tolkan, whom I've been nervously waiting to see turn up on this show since it began. The bald, overbearing Tolkan, who was a familiar face (and whose voice was an equally familiar, grating New York honk) in movies during the 1980s and early '90s, has always given me a touch of acid reflux, but Timothy Hutton must like him, because he played a guest role in just about every episode of Hutton's old Nero Wolfe series that I saw and even directed a couple of them. Maybe 17 years ago, on the set of Iceman, Tolkan gave Hutton a quarter for the soda machine, and Hutton's been playing the lion to his Androcles ever since.
- According to the trailer, next week's "summer finale" marks the return of Jim Sterling, played by Mark Sheppard, or, as I like to call him, "the supercilious man's James Tolkan."