Just Believable Enough
When Leverage is on top of its game, it’s fun to watch. Nathan Ford (Timothy Hutton) and his team of ex-criminals pull off a con, or a heist or a con and a heist, and a deserving bad guy is punished. Over its first two seasons, the show did its modern-day Mission Impossible thing with a minimum of fuss. Occasional recurring characters were used them sparingly and to great effect, with primary focus on the team and their job of the week.
And then, the premiere of Season Three this past summer changed that formula. We were introduced to a mysterious Italian woman (Elisabetta Canalis) who blackmailed Nate and the team into helping her take down Damien Moreau (Goran Visnjic), a nearly untouchable international money launderer. Yes, Leverage Season Three was going to try a story arc.
To nobody’s surprise, it turned out that a show that had never tried arc-based storytelling was… well, pretty bad at it. Despite Ford’s claim that the team would “Keep doing the things we usually do, except that now the people we catch will help us get closer to Moreau,” the show forgot about this for weeks at a time. The Italian (the only name she was ever given) showed up in exactly two episodes after the season premiere, and only had a significant impact in one of them. The rest of the time, the crew did what they did before she first dropped by.
Leverage does get around to wrapping up the Moreau storyline in the season’s final two episodes, but first it returns with a Christmas-themed episode. A shady mall owner (played with squirmy, twitchy delight by Dave Foley) is firing all of his mall’s longtime Santas and replacing them with thugs with long criminal records. Clearly there is a big robbery in the offing and it’s up to the team to stop it.
Unsurprisingly, the faux-innocent thief Parker (Beth Riesgraf) is all for helping out the Santas and bringing down the mall owner. She loves everything about Christmas, whereas the Christmas-hating humbug Ford must be talked into taking the job. This is usually where Leverage gets itself into trouble. After three seasons, we fully expect Ford and Parker to land exactly where they do on the topic of Christmas, and it’s such predictable episodes that end up sagging. (That said, a twist ends up making the job more complicated and “The Ho Ho Ho Job” turns out to be very solid.) Foley does a lot with a pretty small role, and it’s also a blast to see Eliot (Christian Kane), the team’s bruiser, have to play Santa and deal with children all day as part of the scheme.
The season’s penultimate episode (airing 19 December) is less salvaged. “The Big Bang Job” is saddled with too much exposition, in preparation for Moreau’s long-awaited appearance, as well as a too-complicated heist plotline involving the Department of Defense and science fictiony technology. Leverage works best when it finds that sweet spot, between a job being too easy and dull or too complicated and unbelievable. “The Big Bang Job” definitely falls into the latter category.
Eliot gets to have a movie-style action showdown with a bunch of faceless bad guys, much like what happened at the end of Season Two, where Eliot stalked his way through a claustrophobic cargo ship, taking out a couple dozen bad guys one or two at a time. This time the scene takes place in a big, open warehouse and it’s over-the-top, even for Eliot. Though maybe not so over-the-top when set alongside Parker and Hardison jumping off of an overpass and onto a train to defuse a bomb.
This overload of everything makes the season finale—which also airs on 19 December—a pleasant surprise. “The San Lorenzo Job” is more like a typical episode, just with Damien Moreau as the target. He’s scuttled back to the tiny, fictional European principality of San Lorenzo, where he’s safe from extradition and owns the government. But the country is also a week away from having an election, which is a sham, of course. The President is corrupt and everybody knows it, but the standard of living in the country is so high that nobody cares. Still, the United Nations is on hand to verify the results, so Nate and the team swoop into the country to steal the hearts and minds of the populace. Since Moreau and the President have all of their legitimate political rivals locked away, the crew takes on the campaign of a hapless, mild-mannered schoolteacher.
The team has broken into all sorts of impregnable buildings and swindled lots of rich jerks out of their ill-gotten gains, but this is the first time they’ve done something overtly involving politics. Confronted with a population of only 300,000, the team uses plausible tactics to influence the election, and the episode is highly entertaining throughout. This is what Leverage looks like at its best. It’s fundamentally absurd, but just believable enough and so much fun that you don’t worry about the details.