Hostages is, needless to say, not particularly self-aware. It’s not smart or creative in the slightest. The main takeaway from “Invisible Leash” is that everything is very serious and dark and intense all the time. No one makes jokes; everyone is either dangerous or a victim. The score vibrates underneath every innocuous scene, playing up the atmosphere of suspense so often that the end result is that nothing at all is even remotely suspenseful. What on earth is the point of this show? This episode is a one-hour dramatic brick of total nonsense, punctuated here and there with gruff, melodramatic speeches by Dylan McDermott and hysterical tears from Toni Collette. “Invisible Leash” is so pointless that I can’t even muster up annoyance to be outraged about it—it’s just a limp, barely trying episode, flopping around on dry land.
The worst part of Hostages, as with all television like this, is how blatantly it flaunts its total banality. In lieu of real substance, the show relies on trading in very basic symbolic language—these people, “average,” these other people, “dangerous.” This “bad,” this “good.” Hostages rather explicitly is a show about making a viewer feel afraid of the strangers in their midst, jumping onto splashy, fear-inducing narratives to incur the most damage possible.
How boring. Fear is so easy. What an absolutely predictable premise—terrorists are scary, and they will sneak into your home and kidnap your children! Also, they wear ski masks and will tape up your face with duct tape, because they, just like you, have seen a thousand bad action movies.
The plot advances purely based on the idea that we are afraid for Ellen and her family. The problem is, we’re not. Ellen isn’t a bad character, but her children are not terribly charismatic, and Brian is cheating on her, so, you know, he’s not that great. We’re supposed to sympathize with how besieged Ellen is by external forces, but the plot twists are so stupid (and Ellen’s responses to manipulation, so naive) that most of the time you just want to yell at her, instead.
In “Invisible Leash,” Dr. Saunders faces just how little power she has in the face of the big scary bad guys (who have so far not harmed a hair on the head of anyone in her family). Her stunt at the end of the pilot has led to a secret service investigation—they are convinced that the blood thinner taken “accidentally” by the president leads to a sinister plot. They are not wrong, but obviously, they will ineffectually stab around the truth for a while, and that means that Saunders is under investigation for trying to kill him. The ensuing fallout (there are some things that happen, but who cares, really) is that her best friend and surgical nurse Angela is the one the secret service begins to target. Duncan presses Ellen to push Angela into taking the fall for BloodThinnerGate, and Ellen takes to manipulation surprisingly quickly.
We are then supposed to believe that Angela ends up dead, in what looks like a suicide but is actually a murder perpetrated by the “big black guy” that has had a few tense, “meaningful” conversations with Duncan. He rolls up to her in a bar and a few hours later, she has disappeared, with a suicide note that takes responsibility for a “terrorist plot” against the president. It is so unlikely she is dead that I would put money on it, but Ellen is suitably shaken to be compliant, I guess, though in every other way the stunt is beyond stupid. Why would the people trying to kill the president even introduce the idea that someone is trying to kill the president? Won’t that make security around the surgery that much worse?
Add to this rigamarole the obvious outrage-baiting over in Tate Donovan’s corner, as Brian Saunders carries on his affair while his captors are listening, so as not to arouse his girlfriend’s suspicion. This involves a lot of double-crossing and a preposterous conversation in a car with the pretty female captor, a tough-talking, gun-toting type. It is so awful that I am just going to quote the whole thing:
Tate “Handsy” Donovan: (as they drive up to his mistress’ apartment) Are you kidding me?
Angry Pretty Leather Lady: You heard the man. Back to normal. Think of it as… another Tuesday night.
THD: Take me home, right now. I can’t… (sighs) Look, I know what you think, but, I love my family.
APLL: I’m not a priest.
THD: I just wanna be with my wife and my children. Please, take me home.
APLL: It doesn’t matter what you want. Here. (Hands him a bottle of champagne.) This will help her forget that you’re two hours late. That you’re married, with two kids. Go in there and give your girlfriend what she wants. I’m gonna be listening, so make sure you put on a good show.
The lesson here being that when you are taken hostage, your captor becomes your pimp, pornographer, love doctor, and personal assistant. But not a priest. Anything but that.
This is essentially what Hostages offers us—a chance to feel the same feelings we’ve already have, one more time, as it gently assures us that all of our prejudices and fears are valid, because the bogeyman is real, and he is definitely coming. This is not a show that is created: It is spawned from the hivemind of a thousand bored producers who want to put something on air that isn’t too offensive or hard to do. It’s not even interesting. It’s just a mythos, packaged and resold back to you.
- Visually, the show has the flair and appeal of a mid-‘90s catalog, shot through vaseline.
- Dylan McDermott appears to be the only actor who knows how bad the show is, because he’s delivering his lines with such melodrama that it looks like he’s about to burst into tears every five seconds.
- Well, I think Toni Collette might also know it’s terrible. How much hysterical sobbing can one episode endure?
- That cold open? Jesus.
- The worst part of it, truly, is the soundtrack—an overwrought strings-and-synthesizer ensemble that is so eager to tell you how to feel that it trips over the scenery.
- This is my favorite line from the show, from one of the captors to the drug-dealing son: “Want some? They’re good. They’re made out of rice. They’re kind of salty.”