TV Review: Hostages Pilot

Hostages, a new CBS drama, packs a lot of punch. When a show (or in this case a "limited series") puts it all on the table with one allegedly magnanimous event to propel itself forward, it had better be compelling.

It had better pack some tension, and it's got to successfully heighten that tension from the beginning until the credits. For the most part, Hostages delivers.

Immediately from the cold open, we get a glimpse of the soon to be premise: a family is taken hostage by men in ski masks. As the show moves back 12 hours, we get some of the pieces filled in: The wife, Dr. Ellen Sanders (Toni Collette), is described as a top surgeon in her field.

She's been tasked to perform what is described as a fairly noninvasive surgery on the President of the United States.

We meet other members of the family before they are taken hostage: the husband, Brian Sanders (Tate Donovan), is some sort of real estate guy who also coaches their son Jake's lacrosse team.

The daughter, Morgan, at first seems like your typical moody teenager.

While this is going on we are introduced to FBI Special Agent Duncan Carlisle (Dylan McDermott). During a bank robbery scene, a sniper shoots one of them through a window. Thereafter it is revealed that the Duncan character ordered the shot against the hostage negotiator's wishes. While it was character revealing, it portrayed Duncan as a "shoot first ask questions later" type of FBI agent. Not necessarily the most original character type.

Thankfully, we learn a few tidbits about Duncan's life -- he has a wife who is in the hospital on chemo treatments, and a daughter who is going to be staying with her grandfather for awhile. The grandfather asking Duncan "Are you sure you wanna do this?" was an effective way of hinting that Duncan has more to him than just a tough guy FBI agent. Anyone who knows the Dylan McDermott as an actor, and/or has seen the previews for this show, knows the next twist that happened.

That's why I am willing to give CBS and the writers the benefit of the doubt that revealing Duncan as the boss/head hostage taker of Ellen's family would have been very effective.

I just saw it coming.

In fact, I'd go out on a limb and say anyone who was paying close enough attention to the grandfather scene where it's explained that Duncan's daughter is staying with the grandfather for an extended period of time, and Duncan is off to do something questionable, could have guessed that twist as well.

We are introduced to a woman and man in a repair truck. They later are seen setting up cameras in the Sanders home and using the van as a command center. As the hostage/home invasion starts to take place, we learn more about the children. It turns out the money that Jake's father/coach found wasn't for beer/fake ID's, but instead payoff money for a drug dealer. The daughter, who leaves the house after crying before, meets up with a boyfriend. Later, she finds out she's pregnant. Based off of the pilot alone, I enjoy Jake's story line much more than the daughter Morgan's.

From a simple chronological standpoint, Morgan's pregnancy would only really cause complications later on when she's closer to having the baby -- a weird choice for a show like Hostages. I mean, her mother is a doctor, and the hostage takers seem to have any resource at their disposal. A young girl dealing with a pregnancy can be interesting, but the audience ultimately won't care enough about it if it doesn't directly influence the tension surrounding the hostage situation.

Jake's story line on the other hand, is much more suited for a show that runs similarly to a serialized cable drama such as this one. The drug dealer in question, Nico, most likely will come looking for his money.

That provides a possible sticky situation for Duncan and his team. I can't wait to see how it plays out.

The actual hostage taking went well enough. It has your typical scenes - male figure lashes out only to get beaten down and put in his place. Threats are made, guns are pointed. The most interesting parts include Duncan emasculating the husband Brian, and threatening to reveal his affair if he doesn't convince his wife Ellen to go along with their plan to have her kill the President. The actual plan for killing the President is pretty vague.

Apparently it involves letting some unknown liquid absorb into his bloodstream which will "shut his system down." I would have liked a little more there. Duncan telling Ellen she doesn't need to know is writer code for "I'm too lazy to give you the details".

The pilot ends with Dr. Sanders slipping the President a blood thinner to delay the surgery.

Hostages attempts to hook the audience by revealing that the grandfather and the White House official who rode with the president earlier are in on it. I can dig that; however, what the pilot desperately needed was Duncan's motive. "Sometimes you have to do a bad thing for a good reason" was as close as we got. I'm not asking for a manifesto, but at least a hint amounting to more than that.

Otherwise he's just some cold bad guy. Even bad guys have their rationale.

While I'm on that topic, I want to declare something: If his motive turns out to be a ripoff/reverse of Breaking Bad, and he's doing it for extra money for cancer treatments for his wife, I will stop watching all together.

I'm hoping that's not the case, but it's the only explanation I could think of with the little motivation Duncan showed.

Is Hostages a perfect pilot? No. Does it sometimes suffer from glossing over critical details and leaving some out? Absolutely. However, there is a lot to admire here. Network TV is starting to catch on with the rest of the world with the success of the cable model. CBS knows this show, like FOX's The Following, would grow stale on a regular 20+ episode season. The question remains if it can sustain itself 15 episodes. The show brought back memories for me of the event drama Prison Break, which faced similar issues. There, Wentworth Miller's character breaks into prison at the end of the pilot to break out his brother who was wrongly convicted of murder. Prison Break put it all on the table that watching a "prison break" would be compelling television.

For a season, they were right. How long CBS intends to keep Hostages on the air remains to be seen. Regardless, one thing is for certain: Hostages is treading water. With the pilot ending the day the President is supposed to get surgery, aka the main event of the series (something that didn't happen until the season one finale of Prison Break), there is little room for error.

Many shows have followed this rapid plot burning technique to keep the audience guessing. It's an effective technique, as long as the show stays the course.

Once it stumbles, it only makes it that much harder to right the ship again. Since it is just the pilot I'm giving Hostages the benefit of the doubt, but rest assured, I've got my eye on it.

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