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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Hostages: "Sister's Keeper"

Illustration for article titled Hostages: "Sister's Keeper"
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“Sister’s Keeper” is another sub-par episode of a show that has managed to lower expectations down to the floor. No, through the floor, and beyond, to somewhere in sub-basement 14, where the ice-weasels rule the earth, and the slow rot of putrid apocalypse is beginning to tinge the air. It’s not just that the continued plot where a stupid family is taken hostage by stupid kidnappers is absurd—though it is—but the show has also decided not to tell any of the interesting stories it could be telling about power, violence, domination, or humiliation. Instead, it is telling a story about three women who are roughed up and misused, and also a girl in a hot dress, and also how to lie very, very badly.

The most important piece to take away from tonight’s episode of Hostages is that the Saunders family is now essentially complicit in its own kidnapping. The various family members have had multiple chances to get free or do something about their captivity, and they just haven’t. There are some interesting reasons why they aren’t doing much about their state of victimhood—maybe they’ve sunk into a psychological state so damaging that they don’t feel they have control over their own lives, for example. Or they’re beginning to grow sympathetic to their kidnappers, in a vague approximation of Stockholm’s syndrome. These would be valid. If I were to hear a story about real-life hostages, I would think to myself, “Yes, it is perfectly reasonable that these poor people would be so victimized that they would feel powerless.”

Hostages is not trying to tell us either of these things. It wants us to believe that the Saunders family is still tough, fighting, and ready to break free at any second (witness tonight’s plot where Ellen steals a pistol). It wants them to be courageous, so that we will root for them. The occasional shades I see into something more complex seem to be mistakes, rather than intentional. But in its hubris, the show has given us the dumbest, least charismatic suburban family ever. This is not Jack Bauer and his badass family of mostly sane Bauers. This is a limp, lifeless family, so dumb they’re unable to escape even when they’re on buses halfway to Canada.

In their defense, it’s not the Saunders family’s fault. It’s the show. Hostages won’t let them do anything creative, because if it did, it would have to forgo the impotent, nameless terror the kidnappers inflict on their subjects. If the Saunders family escaped, Duncan Carlisle would have to find some other way to be menacing instead of repeatedly putting guns in Ellen’s hand and making her shoot things—a perplexing move that repeats again in tonight’s episode.

In “Sister’s Keeper,” Ellen’s sister comes into town for a surprise visit. (I believe her name is Lauren. It doesn’t truly matter what her name is, so I am just going to keep calling her Lauren. This show.) The family has to then go through the awkward charade of trying to convince Lauren that everything is fine—the incision on Brian’s stomach, the strangers in the house, the missing knives in the kitchen, and oh yeah, the guy who pulled a gun on her as soon as she walked in. Shockingly—I mean, clearly, plot-convenient idiocy runs in Ellen’s family—Lauren does figure out that something is terribly wrong, and tries to take normal action, by calling the police and screaming. Duncan roughly duct-tapes her and blindfolds her, and the family just watches, with the look of people who have been totally defeated.

I would be more upset for the Saunders family if the whole scenario didn’t feel cheaply manipulated. It’s a travesty—of course it’s a travesty. We are supposed to believe this family is under siege, and that everything they do fails. It’s appalling that they are blindfolded and gagged whenever the kidnappers want. The emotions are real, and Hostages is producing them. But what is the point? Why is any of this happening? Why watch a show with pure violence, for violence’s sake? This is a show without a story, a cheap carnival of terrors that isn’t sophisticated enough to give you a reason to be scared. It’s hack-work at its finest.


Sandrine’s subplot in this episode is even more hack-work. I’m upset even trying to summarize it. The upshot, after some boring exposition, is that she plays the honey trap in a scheme designed to steal money from a bunch of random guys. Because of course she does. Because she’s female, and that’s what women do. This episode features prominently the bruising on Morgan’s body, the gagging and binding of Lauren, Ellen’s continued manipulation by Duncan, and, of course, Sandrine’s sexy thievery. It’s so easy to make women objects of desire and violence. So that’s what Hostages does, with abandon.

I’m so mad at this show. So mad. It’s totally futile—Jerry Bruckheimer will not be sending along his condolences. Toni Collette and Dylan McDermott will not send me flowers and call a few days later to apologize, again. CBS is never going to be able to give me a refund for the time I spent watching “Sister’s Keeper.”


Stray observations:

  • This plot does end with some resolution, but it doesn’t even matter how. The point is, the hostages will never escape.
  • This gem is Duncan’s cover for lying to the head of the investigation about the president’s assassination: “You’re Secret Service. I’m FBI. We think differently.” ….?!?!?!?!?!?!