The new season of Leverage departs from the series' usual plot template and also sends the team to a mountain in Alaska, outside their usual urban locale.
Last season, Leverage provided its usual caper-style thrills while also, for the first time, trying to work in a serious, season-long story arc. This didn't work out so well. Most episodes forgot the arc, and when it did come back, the result was a muddled mess of background info and awkward plotting. Thank goodness the season finale wrapped up the arc by returning to formula: the heroes pulled off a series of cons on the bad guy, so he was screwed out of a whole lot of money and power.
All this is to say that it's good to see that Season Four starts without any arc in sight. At least until the last minutes of the premiere episode. It's also good that the premiere takes Leverage to a new location, away from the city. "The Long Way Down Job" finds the team traveling to an Alaskan mountain. A widow (Haley Talbot) whose husband disappeared while climbing the mountain asks Nate (Timothy Hutton) to find his remains along with evidence of a financial company's mortgage fraud, recorded in her husband's notebook -- which he carried with him at all times. As usual, there's a ticking clock involved. If the team can't locate the notebook before the corporation is sold to a Japanese conglomerate, the evidence will become useless. The crime will disappear into a sea of paperwork, and the U.S. government won't pursue the case through the tangle of the Japanese legal system and its powerful new parent company.
The mountain's base camp is a popular location among the elite for getting business deals done away from prying eyes. This setting gives Nate and Sophie (Gina Bellman) a chance to work the con, distracting the company's CEO (Cameron Daddo) and putting out false rumors about other multinationals trying to get in on the bidding for the company. Meanwhile, tech guy Hardison (Aldis Hodge) holes up in the camp technology tent, keeping tabs on the rest of the team while interfering with everyone else's cell phone signals. This leaves Eliot (Christian Kane) and Parker (Beth Riesgraf) to climb the mountain and search for the notebook and the body.
This episode was mostly filmed on location at Oregon's treacherous Mt. Hood, and it shows. The scenes of Eliot and Parker trudging through the snow look like they're actually trudging. They also look cold -- the wind swirls and blows snow. However, the episode doesn't build any sense of narrative danger, even with a Russian assassin loose on the mountain trying to stop our heroes. Then again, that's never been the business of Leverage, a show designed to be light and frothy.
Within these limits, the episode's departure from the series' usual template and the outdoor setting give "The Long Way Down Job" an extra kick -- the team needs to deal with weather and space, and the show gets to raise the timely specter of mortgage fraud. Given TNT's penchant for finding a formula and sticking with it, we won't bet this change will be lasting. Still, we can hope that Season Four will offer variety in both locations and plots.