Last year’s season premiere of Leverage opened with Eric Stoltz speaking into a video camera from the other side of the great beyond. Somebody must have decided that a tradition was in the making, because tonight’s episode begins with video camera footage of some dude speaking to reporters outside a courthouse, but unlike Stoltz, he’s obviously still alive because he’s clearly the bad guy: The hat framing his oversized, baby-faced head makes him look like Jack Abramoff on the run from a TV-crew lynching party. The little girl working the camera looks into the lens and says, “It’s not going well, dad,” and then a woman yells “Murderer!” at the guy in the hat, and he says, “Not according to the court, Ma’am.” Right there, you know you’re looking at the classic Leverage combination of blameless victims and smugly untouchable villain: the rich guy who the powerful interests protect, and the family left to grieve whoever this asshole has written off as collateral damage. God, it feels good to be home.
Home has changed in some ways. Nate shows up in a boat, steering it into shore. Sophia arrives to meet him, and they re-enact a classic Old Spice commercial. Having enjoyed a smooch, they inform us that fallout from their last caper, which left all their fake identities burned and Nate’s lodgings too hot to go near, the team has pulled up stakes and the colorless, anonymous-looking setting that they used to say was Boston is now Portland. The team members all converge on a restaurant that Hardison has selected to serve as their new place of business and secret clubhouse. He and Parker, who proudly announce that they’re now officially a couple—can I get a “Finally!?”—have even been making their own beer. Parker wants to call it Thief Juice, and if that’s a little blunt, it’s worth it just for the slogan that comes with it: “It’s a mouth crime!”
But enough banter. There’s a weeping widow out there, with a kid with a camera, who need to be avenged. (The little girl from the opening explains to Eliot that she makes these tapes for her dad, saying, “He gets them.” “I’m sure he does,” says Eliot. He’s smiling, but you can see the big clock inside his head going, “Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Cuckoo!”) The behatted bastard from the prologue is Scott Roemer, head of Global Transit, the air travel company that does all the bookings for Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems, the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, and Wolfram & Hart. He turns out to have a Howard Hughes fixation, which is why he wears that hat and those suits. Though he hasn’t gone completely around the bend yet, I would not trust him with any Mason jars you plan on recycling.
Nate arranges to bump into him at the museum where Hughes’ ginormous wooden plane, “the Spruce Goose,” is housed. (This appears to be one reason we're in Portland. Now that we're here, let's hope that cameos by Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen aren't out of the question.) “Tommy Mackinaw, imports and exports,” Nate says, to which Hardison, who is listening in and who needs to crank out some fake IDs, says, “Yes, please, thank you, do pick the one name on Earth that doesn’t exist!” As if he might be worrying that he doesn’t fully live up to the standards of privileged loathsomeness set by previous Leverage villains, Roemer immediately starts bragging about how this guy who was going to blow the whistle on him died as a result of his own flagrant negligence and nobody can lay a finger on him: “At least there’s something good about the system. You and me kill a guy, we go to prison. My company kills a guy, we pay a fine. That’s just the price of paying business. Nate, his face wreathed in that queasy little smile that Timothy Hutton breaks out whenever he wants to show that he’s seething inwardly, mentions that, funny thing, he’s working on a plan to steal the Spruce Goose. Would you know anyone who might be interested in having it for their den?
The resulting con involves Hardison in a skull cap asking for “your bonk information,” a fake murder, and a simulation scene that tricks the bad guy into believing that he has stolen the Spruce Goose and is flying it over a city at night, laughing “MWAH-Hah-hah!!” He ends up waking up in a field surrounded by wreckage, so that he has incentive to call his office and yell, “I killed a man! That thing about a plane crash in the news—it was me!” while federal agents are gathered within earshot, respecting the seriousness of the charges involved by resisting the urge to high-five each other. I read somewhere that Leverage is too airy a show and that it would do well to rein in its wilder flights of fancy, but I think a show as silly in its bones as this can use all the wild cards it can find in its sleeves. This episode isn’t an inside straight, but there are enough aces in there to keep me entertained.
- The quick review of what the gang has been up to during their vacation is pretty choice, especially the glimpse of Hardison and Parker’s travels: We see them rappelling down the sides of tall buildings in Paris, Tokyo, and Istanbul, while Parker goes “Ahhhhhh!!” and Hardison goes “Aiiiieeeee!!” How did you enjoy it, asks Nate. Hardison shrugs” “It was… different.” I’ve said it before, I hope I have many excuses to say it again: They’re a cute couple.
- Eliot, observing from a distance as Nate spring the trap on the mark: “To be honest, when you’re not on the receiving end of it, watching him mess with people’s heads is pretty impressive.” Hardison: “He’s like one of those aliens that feed off people’s fear.”
- The MacGuffin that the bad guys are looking for is in the little girl’s teddy bear. Parker and the bad guys figure this out at just about the exact moment, apparently by osmosis, and I figured it out sometime earlier, when Eliot was asking the dead man’s widow if there was anything she could tell them about her husband that might be helpful, and she went, oh, I don’t know, he used to come back and give out daughter gifts, like her backpack, and HER TEDDY BEAR! She doesn’t scream it like that, of course, and the teddy bear isn’t seen in close-up or anything, but there’s something about the combination of her line and the shot of the girl that accompanies it that spells out the secret in big red neon letters. If there was some Emmy category for Most Egregious Spoiler, I’d say they could go ahead and stop collecting other nominees.
- Oh, there’s an epilogue with Nate and Hardison exchanging cryptic dialogue that indicates something dark and ominous is going on, to be alluded to throughout the season. Try not to fall off the edge of your seat.