TV Review: Hostages Season One Episode Two "Invisible Leash"

Invisible Leash" is a lot of the same.

Some intrigue, a lot of promise, and a lot of glossing over key details. However, the biggest mistake takes place in the opening minutes and it deeply hurts the rest of the story.

The cliffhanger of the pilot episode involves Ellen giving the President a blood thinner secretly so she can delay his surgery. Now, going into this episode, you knew Duncan would have something to say about this. Immediately when Ellen returns home, Duncan brings her into a room with her family blindfolded, gagged, and on their knees. Giving the usual "actions have consequences" speech, Duncan further explains that one of Ellen's family members has to die and that Ellen has to do it.

Duncan gives Ellen the gun, who then tries to shoot Duncan -- only to find out the gun is not loaded. Besides the obvious question "why would Duncan give Ellen a loaded gun?" The idea is fine - "See, you are a killer" Duncan explains to Ellen.

But what comes next, isn't so solid. Duncan takes a magazine, loads the gun, and shoots the husband as it cuts on the gunshot to the title card of the show.

I can imagine some CBS executive reading the script thinking "what an intense cold open!" The issue is that it cracks the thin ice I said the show was on in the pilot. With an event series surrounding a hostage taking, you have to pick and choose your tension carefully. It's very apparent when a scene fails in this show, because it feels like a scene for a movie. Which is what you don't want. You want to feel like what they're threatening could happen. Any reasonably intelligent viewer would have been able to tell that the husband wasn't going to die in the cold open of Episode two.

He's too big of a bargaining chip for Duncan and his team. If the audience was able to watch through the first commercial break, they heard Archer tell Duncan that he "should have shot him for real." Duncan then explains that "sometimes a mind game is more effective." Yuck. Again, if this was even a self-contained episode of another series, I'm on the edge of my seat (not really, but you get my point).

Here, not so much.

What his team needed was a lesson they could teach Ellen, and a card that they could play without tipping their hand. They would find it, but at a cost to the effectiveness of the rest of the plot.

The rest of the A story involves Duncan and his team trying to get ahead of the secret service investigating whether giving a blood thinner to the president was intentional or by mistake. Duncan has to coach Ellen on how to fool a polygraph. Later he convinces her to coerce the nurse who was on staff, Angela, to confess that she must have given the blood thinner to the president. However, when Duncan is informed that techs were about to pin Ellen to the blood thinner, he decided she wasn't acting fast enough. To remedy this, Duncan sends Archer to intercept Angela, the nurse, at the bar she was meeting Ellen at.

They flirt, and leave. Ellen comes home after missing Angela to find that the news is reporting her suicide, and note she left admitting to administering the heparin.

When Ellen angrily confronts Duncan knowing he had her killed, Duncan responds that since Ellen failed to kill the president in the first place, and then later failed to make Angela confess, this was her fault.

Duncan is more experienced at this, and Ellen wasn't thinking far enough ahead to see this possible fallout from her heparin plan.

Going back to my original point: because I knew the husband wasn't going to be killed, I smelled this death coming a million miles away. If the husband scene was altered to be more realistic, the death of Angela would have been a little more surprising.

The audience would have known that Duncan probably was going to punish Angela in some way, but killing her would have been the first "I mean business" move Duncan could have made.

It would have been a real "this show means business" tone, but instead we are left with a tension that is deflated before it even finishes coming across the TV.

The husband is forced to go see his mistress in this episode to keep the status quo, with Maria (one of Duncan's hired guns) eavesdropping on the whole thing. Besides not going into detail with how she's able to hear, what is keeping the husband from writing out a message to his mistress for help? There is no video feed in her place. Little plot holes like that take the audience right out of it.

Earlier in the episode it is revealed that Archer and Maria, who we first met setting up bugs and cameras in Ellen's house, were not aware of Duncan's plan to kill the president.

Maria is quite annoyed, and asks Archer if Duncan is either a terrorist or lunatic. It's an interesting angle, but if they were so off-put by being left out of the plans, why didn't this come up in the pilot?

Going along with the details argument, which details the show decides to give sometimes flat out make you scratch your head. There is a flashback where Duncan is told by the chief of staff to the President that sometimes they're "asked to shape the future of the world." To which Duncan explains, "you have your reasons, I have mine." However, before that ambiguous reasoning, we get other useless details like one of the hired goons may have been skimming drugs from Ellen's house and is using again. Which is more important to the audience? The fact that Duncan has a "soft spot" for one of the hired guns, or fully explaining the motives of your main antagonist? If you're going to have a scene in which your main antagonist and one of his associates discuss their motives for the main event in your series, you better make sure they are crystal clear.

Otherwise, Hostages looks like they don't know the answer to these essential questions, or they are just plain lazy. Either one is a recipe for disaster.

Details matter, people. It's time to adjust your expectations when you watch this show.

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