I've always liked Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. If you’ll recall, she played Maid Marian in the absolutely terrible Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, opposite Kevin Costner, to the dulcet tones of Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do.” Somehow, that version of Robin Hood became one of my favorites, despite how bad it is—in its godawfulness, there is a poetry that transcends baseline critique. In its 100th viewing, Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves attains a level of familiarity that allows even the cartoonish expressions of Little John's wife and the predictable betrayal of Christian Slater's Will Scarlet to attain a certain kind of banal grace.
Hostages is way worse than Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, because it doesn't have Morgan Freeman, mostly. Seriously, the man is amazing. It’s entirely possible he’s been playing the same character for 30-odd years, but I don’t know that anyone would notice, because that character is really comforting and also voices the monologues from God that splash across our waking dreams. Morgan Freeman would have never sullied his hands with such a project, but I think that if Hostages had The Following’s chutzpah they could have at least snagged Kevin Costner. Then Kevin Bacon and Kevin Costner could have faced off against each other, vying for the title of “worst rehabilitation of your early-‘90s career” in a head-to-head competition as we all sat watching, snacking on popcorn, and the network executives lined their pockets with the silvery essences of our souls.
We didn't get that life. We got this one instead. In which the only star from Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves to port themselves over to Hostages is Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, playing the president’s naive but steely wife. She has the dignity and bearing of a queen, and she is the only person, place, or object I have thoroughly enjoyed in Hostages.
The thing is, I sort of liked “Endgame,” by which I mean, I'll give it a C. It passed all the necessary requirements for an episode of television with a pulse. The overall effect was of a B-movie you catch just the last hour of on television: You’re just in time for a lot of explosions and meaningful conversations, but you can’t tell if it’s really any good. Are the significant pauses are earned, or just part of the scenery?
Hostages didn’t earn anything it pulled on us in these last two hours, but that's hardly surprising. It ends up tying every loose end and reuniting all the families—even the president is sequestered with his wife and sister-in-law in the final few minutes. Sandrine and Kramer are sent away to kiss; Morgan, Jake, and Brian return home to Ellen; their dog creeps out from the plothole he's been hiding in for 12 episodes. Nina goes to get a bone marrow transplant, and Duncan kills Blair, who turns out to be the “really” bad guy. (I never saw him murder a teenager like Duncan has, but let’s just go with it.) The only twist is that Duncan goes to the “Metropolitan Police” to turn himself in for his crimes, which is the dumbest idea ever, because he’s going to implicate everyone in the plot when he confesses.
But when we look back on Hostages many years from now, one thing will be immediately and abundantly clear: Everyone on this show was really dumb. From the start, the primary plot device of this entire enterprise has been the universality of every characters’ stupidity. The kids were, famously, too dumb to escape when they got to the bus terminal. The kidnappers could never decide if they were bad guys or good guys. Ellen could never decide if she was a bad guy or a good guy. The “humanitarian” premise for killing the president was so flimsy that the first lady solved it by snapping her fingers; the group of conspirators plotting to end the president constructed a plan so idiotic that it hinged on a woman who didn't care whether or not the president died and had absolute power to stop it. These were the dumbest group of people on the planet—and they had to be. How else would they have swallowed such a ridiculous story?
Hostages, quite simply, should never have been made. It’s a product of a system that rewards mediocrity. The idea that spawned Hostages had about enough material in it for a single, average film. To produce, instead, 15 episodes of story that, by the end of the series, barely even impacts the characters’ future lives is a waste of time and energy on everyone’s part. We literally have a collection of characters who have, variously, had their baby daddy shot, briefly made out with their captor/captive, been shot by the man who later kissed his wife, had a coworker killed by their captors, had a sister committed to a mental hospital by her captors, and been forced to dig a grave for her loved ones, as part of a Cool Hand Luke-inspired act of brainwashing. And yet, this all passes over us like shadows and dust. We are to accept that our characters will go on in their lives, not caring about the very plot elements that the writers asked us to care about some paltry episodes ago.
It’s not even entertaining nonsense. It’s just nonsense. Which is why, even though this episode elevated the show a bit beyond itself, the grade for this series so far is incredibly obvious.
“Suspcious Minds”: D-
Season grade: F
Duncan Carlisle sat in a darkened room, in the Metropolitan Police Station, awaiting judgment. He knew that Bruckheimer had shoved him into the police station at the last moment just to make the series feel like it was ending in some interesting way, but now that he’d turned in his badge and gun, he was wondering if he'd gone to the wrong place. Shouldn’t the FBI prosecute him? What was a city police officer going to do with a plot of this magnitude?
A tough pair of cops walked in. The big one was a black man, chewing on a cigar, with a crew cut and an incredibly flattering greatcoat. The smaller one was a white man, with a face that was just asking to get punched, and the boxer’s stature to match. They were caring a stack of manila folders—his file, Duncan realized. They had a file on him? These guys?
They both seemed content to just stare at him awhile, but after a minute, the little one began to talk. “It’s Duncan, is it?”
Duncan replied in the affirmative.
The big guy leaned forward, taking the cigar out of his mouth to speak. “Duncan, we called you in here because we have a few questions about your story.”
“It’s got some holes,” the little guy offered.
“Holes. Gaps. Big ones. You could drive a truck through ‘em.”
“Like you. What are you, Scottish? Where you from? How did your mother raise you?”
“And this woman Sandrine. Did she change her name? What’s her story?”
“You had a pregnant girl on your hands who never showed a baby bump, and a drug-dealing kid who never saw no drugs in his life.”
Duncan Carlisle blinked slowly, as if the weight of the world was finally settling on his shoulders.
“It was a bad idea.”
The big guy laughed and sat back in his chair. “Bad? Bad? Motherfucker,” he asked, and Duncan cringed a little, hearing the not-for-network word said so loudly in the small room. “It was a disaster. Ain’t you ever heard of Dickensian? Shakespearean?”
The little guy had a self-satisfied look on his face. “You’re going to have to try a lot harder if you want to impress anyone who’s seen us.”
“Wait a minute,” Duncan said, catching a glimpse of their badges. “Are you from Baltimore? Isn't D.C. out of your jurisdiction?”
Jimmy McNulty leaned forward in his chair and stared at his perp. He ignored the question.
“And another thing,” Bunk said. “Does it really sit right with you that the only two men who get killed in the show are black men? I mean, damn! Jimmy, does that sound like incriminating evidence to you?”
“Yes, it goddamn does, Bunk.”
“What is this place?” Duncan tried to stand up, and lurched forward, his head spinning.
McNulty said, “Well, you came to the fake police station, Duncan. So here we are. The fake po-lice.” Bunk grunted assent. They contemplated the chiseled, broken man before them. Then Bunk groaned. “Man,” he said, “This is worse than the time we had to book the Ghostbusters.”