Leverage mid-season finale proves the series is just getting started

After watching nearly five complete seasons of a TV series you’re fond of you sometimes take it for granted.  For me Leverage is one of those series I watch and enjoy and don’t think a lot about.  Then you focus on two hours of mid-season finale episodes that really blow you away and you want to watch the season all over again.  Just one year ago I raved here at borg.com about the fourth season’s mid-season finale for Leverage, highlighting director Jonathan Frakes’s role in directing some key episodes.  I re-watched that episode, “The Queen’s Gambit Job,” and I’d say the same things on re-viewing the episode as I said last year.  The chemistry of the Mastermind, Grifter, Hacker, Hitter and Thief was completely stirring a potion of fun TV, and Mark Shepard’s on and off again villain Jim Sterling was cemented as possibly the ubiquitous actor’s best recurring role.

This year the last two episodes were even better than last year, and Mark Shepard even came back to outshine his performance from a year ago, too.  Last week the team of five broke in two.  It didn’t fit the comfortable show formula and it played all the better for it.  In “The Broken Wing Job,” Thief Parker is the focus of a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense thriller Rear Window.  Parker has a torn ACL, leaving her stranded at the team’s new Portland, OR, brew pub while the rest of the crew does a job in Japan.  Her only company is the bar’s waitress, and periodic phone access to Hardison and Eliot. Her fits of boredom are hilarious.  As she watches the guests in the bar via closed circuit TV she uncovers a kidnapping plot.  It was probably Parker’s best performance so far and actress Beth Riesgraf knows her character so well that she is completely believable moving from serious to funny to a little crazy.  The series creators gave us everything we want–Parker being Parker, but allowed her character to keep growing, albeit by baby steps.  Watching to see how the writers were going to parse out each bit of the Hitchcock original was fun by itself.

In this week’s episode, “The Frame-Up Job,” we finally get to understand why Mastermind and Grifter belong together.  Although the pairing have been affectionate on-again/off-again since even before the beginning of the series in 2008, this episode allowed them to be the stars for the entire show and they played off each other beautifully.  Mastermind Timothy Hutton was at ease in his role like never before, like his smooth and slick Archie Goodwin character from Nero Wolfe.  Gina Bellman’s Grifter Sophie Devereaux  was funny and smart and sexy like never before.  Both flirted and  seemed to be involved in an hour-long dance, solving the case of the theft of a painting from a recently deceased art collector, two-stepping around Interpol investigator Jim Sterling.  The payoff at the end was big and cinched the series as better than ever with so much potential to expand for future stories.

That same evening, we got to see Hacker, Grifter and Thief in DC trying to foil a major national terrorist incident in “The Rundown Job.”  The banter between the three actors continues to be the highlight of each episode, along with the writers peppering each episode with pop culture references.  The guest star playing the government official who could only work with them incognito was none other than Firefly/Chuck’s Adam Baldwin, nicely recreating his role as a familiar John Casey type hero from the series Chuck as Colonel Michael Vance.

And earlier this year Leverage  had other great episodes, as when the team took on the case of D.B. Cooper in “The D.B. Cooper Job” with a clever story explaining what might have happened to Cooper, if he really was Cooper, and how the nation’s only unsolved hijacking continues to be both an enigma and an American legend.  Hutton’s Nate Ford again took the leadership role, learning the story of an FBI agent (Ronny Cox, Star Trek: The Next Generation) who spent his entire career trying to solve the case, while Kane’s Eliot re-created the early days of his good friend and partner.  Riesgraf’s Parker was firmly transported to the 1970s as a flight attendant at the center of the mystery.  And the writers prove why America will always be fascinated with the D.B. Cooper case.

The season so far has showed the writers finally bringing Sophie Devereaux to the fore, but didn’t really highlight Aldis Hodge’s Hardison as the focal point of any given job as much as in prior seasons.  Yet Hardison also became fixed as the glue that holds the team together, buying the bar for their permanent residence in Portland, and expanding his techno-savvy to really add some cutting edge story elements to each caper.  His verbal sparring with Eliot continues to be impressive and funny.

And you know you have a good series, and in particular a good finale, when you can’t wait until the series starts back up again.  For Leverage, that will be this November.

C.J. Bunce

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