After Ellen’s stall-tactic of slipping the President some blood-thinner, both the hostages and their keepers must deal with the consequences. The Secret Service launches an investigation into the incident, while Carlisle scrambles to ensure Ellen isn’t caught. Everyone goes back to their regular lives, or at least the appearance of regular life. Carlisle’s team installs subdermal tracking chips and listening devices in each of the Sanders. Brian is forced to continue his extramarital affair under the watchful eyes of said hostage-takers, Carlisle tries to explain to the FBI why he shot a criminal disguised as a hostage during the pilot, Kramer (no, not that one) might be popping pills again, and we get some more hints as to the origins and purpose of the conspiracy. In the meanwhile, Jake continues to whine about how the big bad pot dealers are going to kill him, and Morgan does absolutely nothing but whine.
Hostages showed some definite improvement this week, working its way up from “meh” to “bleh.” I don’t know if this uptick in quality will continue, but it wouldn’t be the first thriller to start out with a lacklustre pilot. The surveillance angle isn’t terribly exciting, but it’s a necessary step into providing some longevity for the series. It’s a way to get everyone back out of the house, at the very least, and that’s a very welcome development. How Carlisle’s team manages to be so omnipresent, I don’t know, but it’s a necessary pill to swallow, it seems. One of Carlisle’s goons, Maria, is beginning to express her doubts about such an extended operation, pointing out just how ludicrous the whole thing is. Yeah, what she said. Still, it’s somewhat promising – hopefully Maria’s concerns are foreshadowing for this scenario to get out of control sooner rather than later.
Ellen and Carlisle’s attempts to outwit the Secret Service provide much more interesting conflict and tension than the pilot had to offer. As Carlisle himself says during the episode, it feels like the walls are closing in. It’s certainly the most entertaining part of the episode, building some genuine excitement as our characters are flying by the seats of their pants to cover it all up. Ellen’s biggest dilemma this week is being forced into persuading Angela, a nurse and one of her best friends, into confessing that she buggered up the President’s meds before the investigation digs too deep and uncovers who really did what. Just as I feared last week, all the other storylines feel very much like dead weight in comparison.
The pick of the guest cast this week was Jim True-Frost, playing an intimidating Secret Service agent who’s in on the assassination plot. It’s a far cry from his character on The Wire, but I’m very glad to see someone competent in this production. Unfortunately, he only had a few scenes and not a lot of lines. I really hope his character will play a part in episodes going forwards, because if not, it’s a real waste of a talented actor.
Hostages still lacks a real sense of threat, for the most part. At the beginning of the episode, Carlisle hauls Ellen down to the basement and orders her to shoot one of her family members as retribution for the blood-thinner. This whole sequence, despite scary music and hysterics from the Sanders family, doesn’t feel tense at all, because Hostages just doesn’t convince you that it could really happen. You know this punch will be pulled. You know that everyone has little nuggets of future story content seeded in the pilot that still need to bear fruit. You know that they’re not going to be killing off regular cast in episode 2.
In order for a scene like that to really work and not feel cheap when you reveal that it’s not happening for real, you need to have already banked some credibility with the audience. You need them to care about the characters and to believe that just maybe someone really will die. When scenes like this happen on Lost or 24 or Battlestar Galactica, your heart ends up in yours stomach because you know that those shows have the balls to go through with it, and have done so in the past. Hostages doesn’t have that kind of currency. It’s much too early in the series to be trying to pull off shit like that, especially when this team of elite hostage-taking commandos didn’t even kill the family dog when they had appeared to do so in the pilot. Yeah, okay, they have seemingly disappeared Angela by the end, but knowing this rough and tumble gang of motherfuckers, they probably sent her to Barbados to play with kittens every day. Earn your drama, Hostages.
“Invisible Leash” was certainly a better offering than our first time out, but Hostages still feels very much in the wait-and-see stages. At present, it still doesn’t show a glimmer of becoming anything special, and it’s only just beginning to do something interesting with its premise. We’ll see if CBS has some surprises up their sleeves.