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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Human Target: "A Problem Like Maria"/"Communication Breakdown"

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It's interesting how the second season of Human Target has gone out of its way to try and give us recurring characters. First we've got the two additional members of the main cast, which brings us to an ensemble of five; even if those two new players weren't as problematic as they are, that's still a big contrast from the first season's trio. But in addition to that group, we've also had a couple episodes that bring back familiar faces from season one. First, it was Baptiste a few weeks ago, and tonight marks the return of Maria, a South American hottie who will probably be referred to as "firey" or "spicy" in every other summary of this episode ever written. But not here! Here, we have standards. (I was going to make a joke about Ms. Leonor Varela's acting abilities, but a quick peek at her IMDB page shows she was Nyssa in Blade II. And even though she wasn't amazing in that part, it's still Blade II.)

Whether or not the episode worked (and it has the dubious honor of being one of the better episodes of the season so far) Baptiste's return made sense. He'd already popped up a couple of times before, he was a link to Chance's past, and he was one of the few characters we've seen who's a real threat to Chance. Plus, Lennie James improves basically any project he's involved with, and the rapport between him and Mark Valley was terrific. But Maria? There wasn't anything all that interesting about her in her first appearance. Sure, she was an ex-flame (clearly modeled after Karen Allen in Raiders of the Lost Ark but without the wit), which means she had a past with Chance just like Baptiste, but there wasn't really any depth to that past. The chemistry between her and Valley was negligible. One of the problems I had with the first season of Human Target (a problem which I'm looking back on with increasing nostalgia) is that the female guest stars were too generic, and Maria wasn't one of the few to buck the trend.

The best characters on the show are the ones that manage to transcend their cliched roots by being both perfect examples of the archetype they represent and at the same time, ever so slightly ironic responses to those archetypes. Chance, Guerrero, and Winston are, respectively, the stoic hero, the wily sidekick, and the responsible father-figure, but in each case, those stock roles are delivered with a wink. There's no winking to Maria, and there's nothing self-aware about her, so she doesn't bring anything to the show that any other character might have, apart from a fleeting sense of continuity.

So, we've got ourselves a two-parter, and I've just spent three paragraphs explaining why a character who only appears in one half of the two-parter isn't all that amazing. Which can only mean one thing: in the two weeks since I last wrote about the show, Human Target hasn't gotten any damn better. So now I'm fumbling through any way I can think of not to just repeat the same complaints I seem to be repeating every week. Ames remains irritating (although she's not absolutely horrible here), Ilsa is a waste of time (sadly, she's much, much worse than Ames this week), and in general, the series has managed to take an interesting, if limited, idea, and expand it in all the worst possible ways.

The two episodes that make up tonight's segment aren't even connected particularly well. In "A Problem Like Maria," Maria asks for Chance's help to free her husband, Diego, from an evil dictator. There's a double-cross or two, but quicker than you can say "Casablanca rip-off," Maria is reunited with her husband, and Chance and Ilsa are headed back to the states. Everything's fine… until a thug shoots down Ilsa and Chance's plane with a rocket launcher to get revenge for his murdered brother. This brings us to part two, "Communication Breakdown." While Winston, Guerrero, and Ames try and save guest star Tony Hale's life back at the office, Chance and Ilsa stumble through the woods, bicker, and do their best to avoid getting killed. Plot-wise, the only connection is the thug, Hector, and he doesn't have enough of a personality to matter. Two-parters don't have to feel like movies, but they should at least feel like one long, cohesive story. This just feels tacked together for a possible ratings boost. (And considering Fox is dumping both episodes on one night, I doubt there'll be much of a boost.)

Oh, there is one other plot-connection: Ilsa's attempts to get more control of the office, and Chance's resistance to those attempts. This is a storyline that's doomed from the start, because it's based on a premise that isn't actually true. Ilsa doesn't belong on this show, and she shouldn't be Chance's boss. Winston was doing just fine in the role of the responsible one, and while her money is certainly lovely, Ilsa hasn't really justified her presence here. By assuming the audience will want to see Ilsa stick around and that her continued involvement in the show is some kind of dramatic necessity, the episodes put us through an argument that keeps throwing salt in an open wound. We know how this is going to play out. Chance and Ilsa will fight, and then both characters will realize they need each other. Except they don't, but don't tell anyone that.


It doesn't help that Chance is weirdly off-character the whole night. He's goofier than normal, and dumber. Meaner, too, because I guess otherwise the argument he had with Ilsa wouldn't be intense enough. About the only interesting thing to happen the whole night was Chance's determination to protect Ilsa from having to take a life in self-defense. Of course, those efforts failed, in a pretty ridiculous way. (I can believe Hector survived his fall, but that he managed to make it back to the States as quickly as he did and could break into Ilsa's apartment so easily, is a stretch.) And seeing Ilsa get the shit kicked out of her before she inevitably shot Hector was unpleasant in a way I don't think the series had earned. Still, the concept fit Chance's MO. It could've been sexist (I have to protect this precious woman from sullying her hands), but apart from the botched execution, it made sense from a character perspective.

Still, the moment seemed to come from some deeper dramatic place than everything else on the show and not in a good way. Nothing feels earned on Human Target anymore. The ensemble does its best, with varying degrees of success (Chi McBride pretty much relies on his "I'm too old for this shit" routine now; Valley does his best; really, only Jackie Early Haley comes out unscathed), but interactions are based entirely on preset patterns the writers presumably learned from watching other shows. It's just a bunch of punchlines without the proper build to make them funny. The original conception of the series, clumsy though it often was, had a solid core: the Chance/Winston/Guerrero dynamic made sense, and the melancholy loneliness in all three characters helped drive them and kept them together. That core is gone; what's left is a shambling mess of contrivance and regurgitation. It's not even awful enough to be interesting. It's just sort of… there.


Stray Observations:

  • Consider the above grade the average between the two episodes. I can't decide which I disliked more.
  • Wow, they really wanted us to believe that Tony Hale was a recurring character, didn't they?
  • They aren't even bothering to make Ames more than eye candy at this point. The one saving grace is that no one on the team seems to find her attractive.