As far as hooks go, the one behind "The Wife's Tale" is pretty top shelf: Seven years ago, back when he was still doing bad guy things, Christopher Chance (well, this was before he was actually calling himself that, but it's easier this way) assassinated a man named Daniel Brooks. Today, he gets a call from the man who called in that assassination, Donnelly. Donnelly says there's a new contract out, and this time, the target is Brooks' wife, Rebecca. Now that Chance is a good guy, he has an opportunity to, well, not exactly atone for his crimes, but at least stop the entire Brooks family from getting wiped out. The question isn't, "Will Rebecca realize that Chance killed her husband?" The question is, "Will Rebecca realize that Chance killed her husband at the worst possible moment?" And of course she does.
"Tale" is a bit less awkward than last week's season premiere, but the show is still trying to work in its two new leads, and the results are mixed. The action is as strong as ever, and the fundamental character dynamics are sound. Target isn't trying to invent any wheels here, so the roles are familiar, but archetypal enough that that familiarity doesn't necessarily breed contempt. Chance is the stoic, uber-competent bad-ass, forever tortured by a past he can't forget. Winston plays the grown-up of the group, always worrying about the crazy crap the others are getting into, perpetually annoyed, but undeniably compassionate. Guerrero is the wild-card whose morality is questionable, even while his loyalty remains constant. Added to the mix, we have Ilsa, the "normal" woman trying to get involved with the team, maybe in a little over her head but determined and intelligent enough to make a go of it, and Ames, who's got the whole manic-pixie-killer-girl thing going for her.
These types are recognizable, but that doesn't mean they can't work together, and there are plenty of moments in "Tale" that suggest the series can work with the new dynamic. Ames hasn't really come into focus. Her sudden adoption as a regular on the team was never really explained, and unlike Ilsa, Ames doesn't really have a justifiable reason to stick around. Besides, Ilsa's introductory episode was all about establishing her past, and while I'm sure Ames' history will come up at some point, right now, she's too conceptually vague, as though Jane Montgomery's stick-thin hottie status is really all we're supposed to be thinking about. (Maybe she's Fiona from Burn Notice's younger sister?) And yet, her scenes in "Tale" generally worked. Pairing her up with Guerrero is smart, as the actors play off each other well, and there's precious little angst involved. Their involvement in the main story was mostly extraneous, but it was fun.
Can't really say quite the same for Ilsa's side of the story. Once Chance realizes that Rebecca is a target, he and Winston use their new-fangled technology to track the woman down (great scene here with Winston struggling to get a handle on the advanced computers). Chance goes to interrupt Rebecca's internet date, and Ilsa shows up just in time to hitch a ride with Winston in the security van. As the episode plays out, Chance spends most of his time ferrying Rebecca around, with Winston and Ilsa running interference and everyone trying to figure out just why everybody is so intent on killing the Brooks. (Turns out Daniel invented a system which, oh hey, lets you manipulate the stock market. Best unintentional joke in the episode: Rebecca says the system is in good hands, because she sent it to a reporter. Yes, I'm sure that will solve everything.) Chance and Rebecca's interactions aren't bad, although Rebecca's last minute deduction that Chance killed her husband is forced, but forcing moments is more a problem in the Ilsa/Winston scenes.
It's a question of rhythm, I think. Few of the beats in "Tale" are conceptually ill-conceived. It makes sense that Ilsa would be troubled to learn that Chance murdered Rebecca's husband, and it would make sense that Winston would be concerned for Chance's safety and that he'd be frustrated by Ilsa's encroachment on his territory. And yet the way these moments are assembled lacks the kind of build-up/release pattern that would make them land emotionally. There's a lot of clunky, "I'm really upset all of a sudden!" exchanges; the situation Chance is in is rife with drama, and yet too much of the drama here seems to come more because, well, this is the kind of drama we're supposed to be seeing, and not out of any real connection to the story itself. The attempt to mitigate Chance's crime by turning Daniel into a villain is a misstep, and it points to an even bigger flaw in the episode as a whole: That hook is so huge, and so dark, that it needs a show that really understands its characters and their relationships perfectly in order to pull off the resolution. This new Target is too fresh to quite have that maturity. It's a series with enough potential to make every misstep frustrating.
- Rebecca Brooks was played by Molly Parker, whom I always think of as the Canadian Olivia Williams. And you might have recognized M.C. Gainey (Donnelly) from Lost.
- Cute MacGyver homage at the university. I'm not sure Chance had enough time to build what he builds or that it was really all that necessary, but I do love me some science-based carnage.
- Winston's "I hate bad guys" after shooting Donnelly was lame. (See, you just don't get insight like that from other reviewers, you know?)