The latter-day pattern for action dramas is to use the pilot to introduce the characters, set the tone, and lay down the groundwork for future plot development. With Human Target, though, that whole notion might be out the window: it's such a (deliberate?) throwback to the action/adventure series of the '70s and early '80s, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the second episode. The screener I received contained both the pilot and the second episode, "Rewind", but I got so caught up in the whole retro feel of it all that I decided to wait a week between watching them just like a regular schmoe. It didn't increase the anticipation or anything, since we weren't left with any exciting cliffhangers, but it felt good to live life in the pre-digital age of actually having to wait for the next episode of a show.
It's curious how little of its comic-book past Human Target retains. The original version of the comic, which appeared for a while as a backup in The Brave And The Bold, was more or less straightforward hard-boiled detective drama with a mild psychological undertone, while the Vertigo reboot of the 1990s ramped up the psychological gamesmanship and noir elements to make it fit their house style. The FOX series features almost none of that; it's heavy on action, light on plot, and its primary influences seem to be other television shows, not comics. Which is fine — it's certainly not under any obligation to adhere to the source material. But it makes me wonder why the creators bothered with getting the license. Surely there aren't enough fans of the original Human Target comics to give the show a built-in audience; and if they're going to create new characters, situations, and build the premise from the ground up, then why bother with the license? Questions like this are why I will never make it big in Hollywood.
Anyway, on to episode #2 of Human Target: "Rewind". The pilot set the tone of big, flashy action sequences before the opening credits, and this episode doesn't renege on the promise: a flashy set of jump cuts catches the viewer off balance before we see Christopher Chance sliding into the cockpit of a jet plane that's on fire and plummeting towards the ground. He's been posing as an insurance agent, but really, he's bodyguarding a passenger on the plane; beyond that, we know as little as the stewardess (sorry, "flight attendant") who's asking him a lot of questions. Flash back to earlier, when a computer company big-shot (played by Allesandro "Gaeta" Juliani, as the parade of ex-Battlestar Galactica regulars goes on) hipping Winston to this episode's plot.
It seems Juliani is in contact with a super-hacker named "Casper" who has discovered "the skeleton key to the Internet", which could mean "the end of information security as we know it". Since this is an action show and doesn't have to make sense, that leaves only Winston and Guerrero to spell out a few worst-case scenarios and convince Chance to get on the plane that's carrying Casper to his meeting with Juliani before he's snatched by terrorists, thieves, or the worst elements of 4chan. For reasons of comic relief, and so the whole thing doesn't turn into an airborne copy of the pilot's killer-on-a-train gimmick, Chase insists this is a two-man job and has Winston come along disguised as a flight attendant. He is able to set up this rather complex infiltration in less than six hours, because shut up.
The back-and-forth time structure of this episode means the whole thing feels a bit disjoined, but it's also a big reason why it rolls along so breezily, flattening any objections to the huge plot holes under its momentum. We get to see Winston pounding the tar out of one of the two bad guys on the plane, Guerrero back home intimidating a hacker named Sergei into helping out on the case (Guerrero is being established as someone who can intimidate poeple into doing his bidding just by staring at them, which makes you wonder why he's not the guy in charge), and Chance on the plane, engaging in some back-and-forth with the passengers to see who's behind the scheming. It's all very exciting, if utterly thoughtless, viewing, with another well-done close-quarters fight scene, although the show once again engages in its tendency to hang a lampshade on the bad guys so that you can figure out who the episode's villains are just by counting how many seconds the camera stays on close-up.
Overall, this was even weaker than the pilot in terms of plotting and featuring a story that made any sense whatsoever, but as a pure action entertainment, it was fun as hell and the flashback structure gave it a perfect sense of pacing. (The only thing that really bothered me was the death of a character they seemed to be setting up for future plot development. It was meant to give some moral resonance to Chance's character, but it just seemed like a waste instead. But hey, if this show does maintain any of its comic-book roots, falling out of a plane doesn't mean you're actually dead.) There was nothing at all to indicate that Human Target wants to be anything but a balls-out adventure hour — but that's okay. The show's lack of ambition may be a barrier to greatness, but it hasn't yet stood in the way of goodness. And hey, they even gave us the equivalent of the ol' 'freeze-frame on the characters laughing' trope at the end! Nicely done.
- I'm beginning to enjoy the genuine dislike of Guerrero that Winston seems to have. The bit with the former eating the latter's clearly marked lunch was a nice slice of visual humor.
- "I took a couple of Percocets."
"Are you sure you didn't take more than just a couple?"
- Another throwback element of this show: it clearly takes place in a pre-September 11th universe of aviation security. Despite the presence of an air marshal, there's explosive devices, at least two handguns, and not one but two of the flight crew are outside infiltrators. I can't even listen to my iPod for half the flight, and these people are using cell phones, text messages, and every other kind of electronic jiggery-pokery to communicate with their fellow espionage agents.