Last year, Leverage produced a lark-y couple of episodes that divided the team up by gender, with the guys working one impromptu case at the same time that the gals were working another. Tonight’s “summer finale” consists of back-to-back episodes that again break the team up, this time according to who’s sleeping with whom. The first episode has Parker and Hardison, along with Eliot, encountering a threat to homeland security right after completing a job in Washington, D. C. In the follow-up, Nate and Sophie attend an art auction that turns into a heist thriller that turns into a murder mystery; here, the fifth wheel thrown in to keep them company is Mark Sheppard, returning in the role of the Interpol agent Sterling, who’s your basic-issue Mark Sheppard character, a sneery little guy whose preening sense of superiority doesn’t seem to be based on much. (Maybe it’s just that I seen so much of him that I can’t help but get used to him, but Sheppard himself is starting to grow on me. But before I see him again, I hope he shaves.)
This is actually a smart way to put a pin in the first half of a season, not so much because of the gimmick, but because of the way the episodes themselves define the schizoid heart of Leverage. I’ve enjoyed this season as much as any run the show has had in its four-year history. That’s because I like my Leverage light, swift, and playful, with a maximum of flirting and wisecracking and a minimum of angst, righteous indignation, and attempted suspense over the prospect of pointless suffering brought down on the heads of millions of innocents, and when I say “a minimum,” I, of course, mean, “none.” Unfortunately, “The Rundown Job” was directed by the show’s executive producer, Dean Devlin, who has it in his head that Leverage is meant to be an intense, pulse-pounding thriller full of glamorously struck poses, gritted teeth, and attempted Bruckheimerisms.
This is the first episode that Devlin has directed himself since the previous season finale, which, by my count, was the last episode that sucked. It’s fun to think about the cast and crew adapting scams from old scripts to distract him and lure him away from the set so they can show the audience a good time. “God, it’s good to finally be back. Okay, everybody, I want six cameras on the van when it explodes so we can cut together multiple views of the fireball while everyone is slowly walking away from it, and… oh, man, I’ve got to take this call. Mr. Malick, it’s an honor to talk to you. I was thrilled to hear how interested you are in working on the show. Well, officially, we killed off Nate’s father last season, but if that’s the part Mr. Walken is dead set on playing, I’m sure the boys in the writers’ room can figure something out…”
Alerted that someone is trying to arrange the assassination of the head of D.C.’s 911 emergency system, Eliot, Parker, and Hardison prevent the hit and connect with Adam Baldwin. Baldwin is a Colonel who used to hire Eliot to “get his hands dirty” in the name of protecting this great nation from the kind of enemies you just can’t defeat with a bunch of namby-pamby civil libertarians looking over your shoulder. Other officials who would come in handy in the case of a major crisis hitting the city have been dropping like flies, and Baldwin suspects that some terrorist attack is imminent; he briefs the three amigos and sends them off to do his advance work for him. They quickly discover that a crackpot scientist—one of those nuts who is trying to alert the population to the dangerously flimsy state of the government security system by bringing down the apocalypse—is planning a comeback for the Spanish flu that will leave 150 million people dead.
This episode feels off right from the beginning, starting with everybody’s hair: Eliot is sporting a Jack White do, and Parker, who got to star in her own episode last week looking adorably housebound with an injured foot, has long, thick tresses that seem to have their own light source. She’d fit in just fine in a shampoo commercial, but when she has to hang upside down or do one of those balletic-maneuvering-between-laser-sensors numbers—a cliché that NTSF: SD: SUV burned to a crisp last week—you wonder why nobody offers to lend her a scrunchie. (She couldn’t very well have packed one herself; her skintight black outfit, which has a piece cut out at the top to showcase the network of straps underneath, makes her look like Black Canary. She also has, this week only, a very un-Parkerlike tolerance for PDAs.)
For the first 15 minutes, I held out hope that it was a deliberate self-parody, and the whole thing was going to be revealed as a fan-fiction tribute by some worshipful onlooker, but no such luck. The clichés that are dutifully and humorlessly trotted out include one of those asshole politicians who tags along on one of Baldwin’s raids so that he can nag him, as precious seconds go by, about getting a warrant, and, yes, multiple views of an exploding shack as the extras surrounding it run for cover. There’s also a scene in which the bad guy loses his gun but nobody thinks to pick it up, just to make sure he can retrieve it if he wants to. This actually happens again in the second episode of the night, so maybe a case can made for that as part of a running theme.
The second episode (directed by Marc Roskin, who did this season’s hockey and D.B. Cooper episodes) is much more companionable, with Nate and Sophie goofing around on the estate of a dead gazillionaire who had amassed a collection of works by (get this!) “Jean Mettier, the greatest artist of the French retro school.” It’s not dazzling enough to explode the memory of what comes before it, but Timothy Hutton and Gina Bellman get enough of a Nick-and-Nora vibe going to wash the taste out of your mouth. (Bellman is especially funny convincing the dead man’s faithful manservant that she was close to the deceased. “I’ll always remember the time he sent me 500 red roses and a troupe of balladeers for my sweet 16,” she says. “That was the mister,” wheezes Jeeves, “romantic heart but weak in the end.”) The show returns in November. With any luck, Dean Devlin will be too busy sitting in a café in Bangkok, waiting for Mr. Pynchon to arrive so they can discuss his spec script.