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

Undercovers: "Jailbreak"

Image for article titled Undercovers: "Jailbreak"

Barring a sudden and dramatic spike in viewership (which is possible, I suppose, but unlikely), this is quite possibly the last week we have to enjoy the good-looking adventures of Mr. and Mrs. Bloom, America’s snuggliest superspies. If this is the last episode, it’s too bad because given the creative uptick last week, and again this week, I’d say we’d have a pretty darn entertaining show on our hands by episode eight if the trend continued. But there would be worse ways to go out than “Jailbreak,” which demonstrates than even though J.J. Abrams and Josh Reims didn’t quite have a handle on this thing to begin with, they were beginning to figure it out.

There was a problem with this week’s story, one that has plagued Undercovers from episode one, which is that it lacked the feeling that the mission has consequence. What shows like Burn Notice and Leverage do well is introduce us to people with problems and get us to invest in those problems being solved. What Undercovers gives us are missions that are meant to feel like they have high stakes, because they have global ramifications, but come without any real grounding in people or places. Alias did the same thing, of course, but because of that show’s serialized storytelling, the individual missions felt consequential in so much as they were leading up to something. When such missions are episodic as they are here, they start to feel like thankless errands that in real life would be massively important, but don’t feel terribly urgent as television. Such was the case in “Jailbreak,” in which the Blooms and Co. were sent to interrogate Sean Cullen, an Irish tough who swiped a hard drive containing the locations and occupants of the CIA’s terrorist detention centers, only to find that he had escaped. (Not that the joint was exactly a supermax.)

Steven and Sam posed as old friends of Cullen’s and with the help of Hoyt’s tech and Leo’s use of sexpionage on Cullen’s ex-wife, the team finds out Cullen has gotten a hold of the hard drive and intends to sell it to a buyer in London. The story and its execution, in spite of the lack of immediacy, were an improvement over weeks prior. I was half-surprised when Marie double-crossed, and shot, her husband. The gadgets were semi-cool: the remote device used to analyze the material in Cullen’s cell, the concussive grenade, the pneumatic tranquilizer deployed from Steven’s post at the timpani. Even cooler, and funnier, was Hoyt “reverse seduction” of the front desk clerk. It was the sort of small, clever payoff we should be seeing more of in this show. There was also some genuine suspense when Cullen had Leo at gunpoint. I was sold on Sam’s unwavering dedication to CIA protocol, and also believed that she would consider Leo an acceptable loss, and wondered just how they would manage to defuse the standoff. It’s a level of tension we hadn’t seen before, and it grew organically out of the characters.

It was a welcome change of pace not to have the episode framed around some trifling marital conflict between the Blooms that comes to bear on the mission. But the difficulty the Blooms have getting back into the spy game as a couple bubbled back to the surface in less grating and more absorbing ways. Sam is keeping a secret about why she actually left the agency to begin with. Leo knows the truth, and Steven doesn’t. Steven concludes that he doesn’t really want to know why, so long as their love and her desire to build a normal life with him are real. The Blooms have decided to treat their professional lives the way most couples treat their romantic pasts—as long as it happened before we got together, the less said the better. The difference, of course, is that the particulars of their missions, skills, and field experiences can pop up in their current missions at any time. Their reluctance to discuss their spy pasts (even though refusing to do so could cause predicaments) isn’t about confidentiality or normalcy, but rather the fear that tugging at that thread could cause their relationship to unravel completely.

The issue is far from settled, though , as some telephone conversations between Major Dad and an unidentified superior spelled out. If Undercovers is to have a serial element, I think they’ve chosen a solid central mystery and a deft way to roll it out. Sam’s secret seems pretty major, the way Leo was needling her about it, and in order for the show to stay interesting we’ll have to regularly see wedges driven between the happy couple. We’ve seen how their devotion to each other can complicate the missions, but would they work better or worse as a team during a rocky patch? Hopefully we’ll get a few more weeks to figure it out.

Stray observations:

  • I’m totally all for the colorblind casting, but it seems like there are situations in which the Blooms’ race should at least be flicked at. Are there a lot of black guys in the IRA? I’m just sayin’.
  • This is the first episode not written by Abrams and Reims, and also the most enjoyable. Coincidence?
  • Why did Steven, given his human lie detector skills, unable to figure out Marie was lying about the text message? Was he distracted or something?
  • “Clowns are just as afraid of us as we are of them.”
  • I hope they figure out something to do with Lizzy other than mention her alcoholism every five minutes.