To give “Off The Record” an F is to merely acknowledge what is obvious. This show is garbage. Hostages is reheated disaster fare, too disappointing to be shocking, and too tepid to be fun. In its 11th hour it has taken the odd move of throwing every possible plot development at the wall at the same time, as if none of it before ever mattered. The approach all but guarantees that nothing the show does from here on out will ever matter again.
When I was in high school, several of the juniors and seniors were encouraged to take Advanced Placement courses, a type of college-credit course that is graded on a scale of 1 to 5 on a standardized rubric. It was rumored that there was a grade even lower than 1, though. A zero? No, not really. “A hyphen,” a classmate said, laughing. It’s so bad, it can’t even be graded. Like you wrote in Mandarin on the Spanish Language exam.
Hostages is right now at the hyphen level of broadcast television. It’s doing the minimum required to show up to the screen. It is manifesting basic brain function. It does, as far as we can tell, exist. But it has been more or less on par with an infomercial. How do you grade an infomercial? N/A—not applicable. This is not a medium that invites criticism.
And then. Late in the run of an ailing drama with pretensions to greatness—or, at least, to entertainment—or, at least, to shock value—the two lead characters were induced to kiss, each other, on the mouth, for the purposes of television.
This caused a great deal of consternation. Mostly by me, because my brain is slowly melting into goo. But also by some other people on the Internet. Those strong-minded folk who think that desperately miming the superficial formula of a complicated show on a sister network is a recipe for success. Those of us unsure if Dylan McDermott is a real person. Or if Toni Collette wandered into the wrong set. Those stalwart few, increasingly convinced that “Jerry Bruckheimer” is a front for manatee idea balls, except all the balls are national-security themed, and no one laughs, ever.
As far as kisses go, it is lackluster. It has shockingly little emotional weight behind it. Most of the foreshadowing is done just in this episode, a few dodges towards the idea that Duncan respects Ellen, a few nudges more of Ellen's full-blown Stockholm Syndrome. A bit of unhappy marriage on one side, as Brian Saunders' mistress comes out of the woodwork once more.
Do not mistake me: There is no purpose to this entire episode, and perhaps to this entire season of television, besides this sloppy, ill-advised kiss. Duncan is thrown into mortal danger just to make the kiss seem more poignant and tragical (that is not a word, but Hostages makes it a word that needs to be invented; to signify that which is not really tragic, but is similar to an idea of what tragic could be). Never mind his dying wife, which is the whole purpose for this rigamarole; never mind that Ellen’s own children were ill-used by this man for his own ends. They were all red herrings on the way to the show’s obvious, pathetic twist: They kiss. They have a love connection that crosses place, time, and common sense. They will embark on a life of desperate crime together, plotting to first kill and then save presidents, conspiring to first expose and then cover up contrived rape cases. Ellen will remain locked up in her own house, and destroy her relationships with her husband, her children, her immediate family, and her coworkers. As they all fall dead around her, she will think to herself: But Duncan thinks I’m strong. And she will be consoled. Meanwhile Duncan will implant a tracking chip in his wife, then kill her, and then convince his daughter that Ellen was her mother all along. And they will live happily ever after, in the land of fumbling plot devices and stolen dreams.
“Off The Record” succeeds admirably as an artifact of sheer stupidity. It deserves an A.