Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Hostages: “Burden Of Truth”

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Just, no.

Hostages is trying to inject some verve into its incredibly stupid story nine episodes into the season with a hybrid rape-mother-secret-identity plot. And that doesn't include the sniper plot, the ludicrously thin story for Boyd (a fishing boat? What is this, 1857?), and the continued non-significance of anything that is happening in this show.

Look. I admire Hostages’ interest in going off the rails. I just—I don't—what—okay.


Duncan tells Ellen in this episode that not only is Nina the president's daughter, but she's his illegitimate daughter and a product of rape. There is nothing classier, dear readers, than introducing a rape subplot in the 11th hour of your badly performing political drama. Nothing classier on this whole planet.

Then in the Backstory Hell department, Ellen alights on a plan to save the president's life (who cares) and save Duncan's bacon (who cares) and free her family from the hostage situation (which she doesn't even think is a problem anymore): She will search the bone marrow registry for a match for Nina. Because that is a complicated medical procedure requiring years of training!

Even though Duncan says he’s tried everything to help Nina and nothing worked, he somehow overlooked that there was one person—in the Washington, D.C. metro area—who matched his wife. And, you know, who didn't require a treasonous plot to kill the president in order to get a fucking bone marrow donation. Because Ellen is such a great database searcher, she finds this other person—a woman named Sally—and tracks her down.


This woman then pulls a gun on her. Because—psych!—she's actually Nina's mother. Which means—yes—there is a fucking bone marrow donor for Nina, and also, that ridiculous backstory we learned 15 minutes ago? That’s why we learned it. Because her mother was going to show up in the next scene. This is carefully crafted back-story, guys! The writers have been planning out these twists for minutes.

And for some unknown reason, her mother has been hiding in the states with a secret identity, which I swear to God is not as easy as television makes it sound, married to some new guy, and uninterested in having a relationship with her daughter or granddaughter. How typical. These rape survivors, they turn into such disinterested grandmothers. There is this idea that Kincaid would kill her if she was still in the country—and kill Nina—because he's just a straight-up bad guy, with no nuance whatsoever. I don't buy it, even for the tumor-ridden president of the Hostages free world, but even if that were the case, why wouldn't she have stayed abroad, with her daughter? Think of it—if she had just done that, this show would have never happened.


I would have resisted giving this episode an F if it weren’t for the final turn of the screw—the straw that broke the reviewer's brain. And that is the scene in the promo for next week's episode, in which Duncan and Ellen kiss, apparently rather passionately, in the kitchen of the house.

I KNOW. IT'S NOT EVEN IN THIS EPISODE. I DONT CARE. It is so awful it defies episodic limitation. And the seeds for it are all being planted in “Burden Of Truth”—Ellen and Brian are fighting; Ellen seems squarely on Duncan’s side, in some kind of Stockholm Syndrome erotic fantasy; and Ellen and Duncan have a curious kind of chemistry and self-respect for each other. It is not implausible or even a bad idea. But it is so poorly executed it makes me somewhat nauseous. This show is quite clearly someone looking at the Homeland playbook, ripping out three or four pages, and mixing and matching at will. It's interesting and subversive for the lines between criminal and lover and victim and hero to get blurred. It's stupid to do that just so something happens on a show that can't be bothered to try to do anything else.


It's especially insane given what happened to Morgan's baby daddy Boyd. There's something deeply horrible about the way that story has spooled out. Morgan has turned into a character who sort of sympathizes with the kidnappers that killed the father of her unborn child. She was in love with this guy, and she saw him murdered in cold blood, and look, she is probably really messed up now. Like, really messed up. But here she is, lying to Boyd’s dad for the kidnappers’ benefit. And meanwhile, our murderess Sandrine is watching the tape of Morgan lying to Boyd's father and crying, for some reason? Because she feels bad about being a horrible person now? And then she gets a call about her kid and runs off (leaving a lovelorn Kramer staring after her), but it’s not her kid. It’s that secret service agent who looks like Prez, and he’s telling her that she needs to be his mole inside the Duncan operation. Sandrine is conflicted! Because she now has feelings.

Hostages has not earned any of the character drama it is now trying to sell. It refuses to have characters that have complexity; it refuses to create conflicts that resonate for the characters. It literally just wants to produce set pieces that titillate, week-to-week. So this week, it gets Duncan staring at a naked woman's back, because the series wanted to thrill with some back shots. And it’s a sniper (whose kill count from the army is listed on the FBI face-recognition database because????) who’s flying to New York to kill the President. Or Duncan. Who cares. It's pieces of plot, without any substance whatsoever. And it is absolutely galling. I might find this funny tomorrow, but right now, I just can’t stand the immature, irresponsible, shallow glossiness of this show, when it had the time and resources to be better. “Burden Of Truth”? BURDEN OF THIS SHOW.


Stray observations:

  • Listen: Let’s talk about rape. I'd love it if we could get some shows that discuss sexual assault in a way that feels meaningful, productive, or artistic. Hostages misses the mark by a mile. Nina is a product of rape because it makes her look pathetic, and it makes her mom a good guy, while President Kincaid is even more of a bad guy. Rape is not the type of thing you toss into a character's backstory just to make the bad guy look worse and the victim look more victimized. It’s not a means to an end, it is the end in and of itself.
  • The ghost of Back-story Hell is going to be haunting us next week, along with the Kiss Of Stupid Awfulness. CAN'T WAIT.
  • In retrospect, I might be taking this show too seriously.