Leverage: “The Queen’s Gambit Job”
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Leverage: “The Queen’s Gambit Job”

 Tonight's wrap-up to Leverage's "summer season" was perfectly pleasant late-August entertainment, and pure time-killer. It just skipped along, and ended on a cheeky, friendly note, with no cliffhangers or anything else that might leave you with some unresolved tension. As for the hints that cropped up throughout this season of a big honking plot involving the shadowy mystery man who stopped being especially mysterious a few weeks ah, no mention whatsoever was made of it or of him. Because I am slow, it only now occurs to me that this may be part of somebody's master plan to lure viewers back to this time and station in three months, when the show returns with a batch of new episodes in November, when pickings are usually less slim this time of year and it may be harder to persuade viewers to settle for the mild pleasures offered by Nate and his merry band.

Not that those mild pleasures aren't some kind of accomplishment, especially when Mark Sheppard is on the premises. Sheppard was back in his recurring role as James Sterling, Nate's former friend and  mind game king. Sheppard is an actor who is well regarded by many people, a startling number of whom apparently work as casting directors on shows I like, but I'm afraid that the best thing I usually feel like saying about him is that he has excellent taste in shows to stink up. He may be growing on me, though. I didn't mind him much during his reason run on Supernatural, and he's more tolerable here than he's been on Leverage episodes past. After reappearing on Nate's doorstep in the middle of the night, so as to reestablish what a mysterious hombre he is, he sucked our heroes into a plan to liberate a MacGuffin that was under heavy guard in the mythical Middle Eastern country of Kazhistan, whose name is displayed on a news site towards the end, just in case someone watching the show misheard it as "Kazakhstan" and an international incident resulted. 

The setting was a chess tournament--"prom night for nerds", as Sophie called it-- thrown by the villain to show off the skills of his teen-prodigy stepdaughter. Whatever other moral lapses this fellow might be guilty of, the show was quick to establish that he was not the world's most selfless and devoted parental figure, so, given the boundaries that Leverage has established in the past, an ending that involved his charred corpse hanging from a meat hook would have counted as an unambiguously happy one. (The bad daddy was played by Tom Amandes, a familiar TV actor who plays a child therapist known as "the Bob Dylan of Asperger's" on Parenthood. Amusingly, he used pretty much the same soothing tone and inflections when he was talking about the need to exploit his daughter that he has when counseling Adam and Kristina on how to keep Max out of his pirate costume.) The plot involved Nate entering the tournament and ending up sitting across the table from the daughter, though, perhaps because of time constraints, the show fudged the numbers on how many game she won through skill and cunning and how many times he required the services of Sophie to freak out his opponents, so that they had to be carried out of the room by security guards and tested for rabies.

The plot also involved throwing Eliot and Sterling together as often as possible, usually in tight, enclosed spaces. (Like the Jonathan Banks character on Breaking Bad, Sterling, to his partner's impatient dismay, has the whole "sit in the car thing" down to a science.) Maybe Sheppard was a little easier to take than usual because he and Christian Kane had a rapport; it wouldn't be too much of a misrepresentation to say that they made a cute couple. The show even got a laugh out of the not exactly minty-fresh approach of showing them arguing over the finer points of the Kennedy assassination. Still, even at their cutest, they had nothing on Parker and Hardison. In years past, Beth Riesgraf, as Parker, has dominated the show's brightest moments, so it only balances out things a little that Aldis Hodge, as Hardison, has pretty much run off with this past season. But it was still nice to see Riesgraf get to claim some territory back in this episode. She was very engaging in a scene where she donned a pink beret and pretended to be a French photographer. This entailed making some facial expressions I've never seen her make before, maybe because being poker-faced and talking with a goofy accent just don't go together. She even got to do that thing where she snorts as she laughs, which is more fun than anything she does when hanging from the ceiling by wires, and is also probably cheaper and takes less time to shoot.

That said, the show continues to be more vague than it needs to be about how far their relationship has progressed. Hey, I get it; anybody who used to watch Moonlighting gets it. Suggestiveness and flirtation, especially on a TV series, can be sexier than seeing a couple of actors crash into each other all over the furniture. But knowing how successful Hardison has been in getting past Parker's emotional armor would help make it less sticky when she says things like, "Quick and light, that's how I survive. You slow me down, you kill me," so that he can then tell her that she used to have feel that way because she used to be alone, but now she's part of a team, and "I got you, girl." As it happens, Hardison was literally slowing her down, by strapping her into heavy, weighted-down boots that made her lumber about like Frankenstein's monster. There was a really sweet moment when they danced together, ostensibly because he needed to help her get over her frustration at not knowing how to move in the things--those, despite being one of the best-thought-out scenes this season, it wasn't the haymaker romantic moment it could have been, because Leverage doesn't really seem that comfortable dealing with romance. That's a shame, because some of the actors seem ready to go to town with it, if given the chance. Come back in November and keep your fingers crossed for them.

Stray observations:

  • Parker: At least I got to jump off a building that was like eight other buildings on top of each other!"
  • Hardison: "Don't I die in Plan M?" Nate: "Usually." Hardison: "Usually? How many plans do I die in?" Nate: "C, F, and M through Q."
  • At a climactic moment, while Nate was still playing in the chess tournament, and Eliot was trying to smash his way out of a sealed room, Parker, who was of course connected to Hardison via an ear piece, asked him to hum to her, as he'd done when they were dancing, to help her better get the hang of clomping around in those big fershlugginer boots. In the end, I can't help having some love for a show that attempts a big, dramatic 24-style moment by cross-cutting between a guy smashing, a guy staring at a chess board, a woman clomping, and a guy humming.

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