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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Human Target: "Taking Ames"

Illustration for article titled Human Target: "Taking Ames"

The problem isn't that Ames and Ilsa were added to the show in order to appeal to a broader demographic of viewers. That's not great, but some of the best moments in television and film were motivated more by commercial necessity than artistic inspiration. The problem is that, so far, the second season has been doing a fairly lousy job of making us care about those characters in the context of the ensemble. Of the two, Ilsa's presence is better justified. She's funding the team, and she's trying to follow in the footsteps of her humanitarian husband. It's not a perfect fit. "Taking Ames" is the second episode in a row where her role has largely been relegated to Mom figure: She shows up, she's disapproving of all the crazy stuff the boys are getting into, but eventually, she's won over to the cause. This isn't a great dynamic, and it's going to wear increasingly thin if the writers keep coming back to it. Part of the fun of Human Target is watching the good guys be superheroes, and that means bending the law on occasion. We don't need anyone on the sidelines to remind us how shocking this is.

Still, Ilsa is at least a character, and Indira Varma is a fine actress, capable of providing a modicum of depth to what is, for now at least, largely just a handful of clichés. Ames is more problematic. Tonight's episode looked to provide her with some back-story and to solidify her role in the group. These are both admirable goals and necessary ones if Ames is going to become as entertaining as Chance, Guerrero, and Winston. Unfortunately, by shortcutting the characters' emotional investment in each other, "Taking" manages to make Ames somehow less interesting than before. In the first two episodes, she was a wild card who was probably a cliche, but who remained just insubstantial enough to have potential. Now, she's solidified into the Bad Girl Who Wants To Be Good, with all the baggage that entails. To make that work, you need a charismatic performer and sharp writing, and so far, I'm not seeing much of either.

Really, the episode flops right out of the gate by failing to ever explain what Ames' current role on the team is. The story hinges initially on whether or not Ames can be trusted; the cold open has her and an old partner/boyfriend stealing some explosives, and, credit where it's due, this isn't a flashback. She's being tempted by her old life, and that's not going to work if she wants to keep helping Chance and the others save lives. This is a standard premise, and there's nothing inherently wrong with it. But it fails because, well, why is Ames still around, anyway? How reformed can she really be if two weeks ago, she was working to help kill Ilsa? (Admittedly, she didn't know that was what she was doing, but it's not like she got hired by a temp service.) The only bond Ames has with anyone on the show is her friendship with Guerrero, and the two don't even have a scene together here.

Admittedly, Ames' loyalty is proven true pretty quickly, and once that's out of the way, this turns into another old standard: helping the bad guys steal something, so you can take out the bad guys right after they steal it. The jewel heist is all right (although Ilsa's shocked protestations throughout get old fast), but there aren't as many standout action beats like last week, which makes it easier to notice how personality-free the show's adventuring has become. Last week it was running around parking garages and universities, this week's it's running through parking garages and generic museums. Target has never been shy of engaging in clichés, but one of the charms of the show was its Adventure Of The Week format. Each new mission had a new personality, and while those personalities could be corny or contrived, they were generally distinct. Too much of the current season looks like it could've been shot concurrently with 24.

As always, the regular cast was fun, although Winston and Guerrero spent too much time on the sidelines. Chance first killing and then resurrecting a guy was fun, even if it was sort of silly, but then, nearly all of the jewel heist plotting was silly. I'd be more willing to overlook silly plotting if the character interaction worked, but the attempts to make us care about Ames failed here. Too much of her integration into the show was done via the shorthand of characters we like describing emotional attachments we had no reason to believe existed. It's the easiest way to bring new faces into an established series, but it hardly ever works, and Ames is a pretty good example of why not. I'm not sure why Ames has decided to hang out with Chance and the others, and, apart from her willingness to strip down and cover herself in oil, I'm not sure why they'd want to keep her around. The show either needs to find better answers, or stop raising the damn questions.

Stray Observations:

  • Chance and Ilsa totally exchanged a look tonight. Called it!
  • Maybe I just had 24 on the brain because the episode's heavy, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, played a villain in that show's seventh season.
  • "Hey, when I'm off duty, you don't want to follow me either."