Leverage has had its pretty good seasons and its not-so-good seasons, and this past season has mostly fallen under the former heading, but one thing the longtime Leverage viewer should know by know is that, no matter how good a season the show has had, it's probably going to choke a little when it gets to the finale. I'm not suggesting that we all should just look the other way when season finale time rolls around, make dinner plans, anything like that. It's the way things are, though, and it's probably best for us, for the show itself, and for our relationship that we all be realists about this and go into the home stretch with our eyes clear and our expectations properly adjusted. If I may use a metaphor from far outside my areas of expertise, here in America, we have this very popular sport called "football". which isn't the same sport that the rest of the world calls "football", which it pleases us to call "soccer." Fans of this sport select a team from a great many different options to choose from, and follow that team's progress, or lack of same, for a great many months, and then, in the winter, two of the teams meet in the season finale of the football show, which is called the "Super Bowl." My understanding is that the Super Bowl is very often quite boring, but no one who has spent the preceding months enjoying the football show on TV would dream of missing it, let alone of being indifferent to it, even if neither of the two teams featured were the one they had claimed as their favorite at the start of the season, which much be the case in a great many number of instances. (This description is based on my reading about football and the Super Bowl and things friends have told me. If they were pulling my leg and what I just wrote is hugely inaccurate, please forgive me. I'm trying to reach out here, not start some shit. I come here as a uniter, never a divider.)
There's a lot to be said for stepping outside your comfort zone, but talking about something that every single person in the United States knows more about than you do can also be confusing, disorienting, even scary. You're not as sure as you were a minute ago about your place in the scheme of things, about which way is up. I relate it to a moment I experienced when I was very young. You may find it easy to contain your disbelief when I saw that it happened while I was watching TV. I saw a commercial for a Columbo TV movie, and in the commercial, the villain appeared to be turning his trained-to-kill attack dogs on Columbo. It was very confusing, even upsetting. Not because I thought that Columbo might not make it through the episode alive—I wasn't that young. It was just that Columbo was a show that had very firm ground rules, and one of them was that Columbo was never in danger. It was one of the things that set him apart from most of the other TV cops, who were prone to get into fist fights and shootouts and receive threatening messages from organized crime figures.
On Columbo, the suspects, if that's the right word for people who stick out by virtue of being the most famous people on the show except for the regular lead, who has known them for murderers since the first second he looked at them, didn't get violent or try to take the detective out; they talked and talked and then listened to him talk, and then he played a trick on them, and they sighed and shrugged and went along quietly. You tuned in knowing that you were entering a more civilized universe than that of Kojak or S.W.A.T. or Barnaby Jones, at least with regard to the rules of having your crime exposed. You were caught, and that was that—no fighting back, certainly not with attack dogs. It was one thing you knew you wouldn't have to worry about. And though, in the actual show, it turned out that Columbo was never in any real danger—he'd secretly deprogrammed the dogs without the villain's knowledge, so that they just did what most of us would have done with Peter Falk if we'd had the chance, jumped onto him and gave him a good friendly licking—the fact that one guest murderer had such bad manners as to disobey the rules like that is something that a part of me has never gotten over.
I don't ask a lot of Leverage, but I do ask that Timothy Hutton doesn't get ahold of a gun and take target practice, with the implication being that he and the bad guys will spend some time pointing firearms at each other and being intense before the episode is over, while Eliot cautions him that "You know a lot of things, Nate, but you have no idea how this is gonna change you." He went on to say that he himself isn't the same person he was before he first took a human life, and he goes looking for that other person every day. I maintain that this is not what Leverage is for, let alone what Christian Kane is good for. I know that, in the course of covering this show, I've complained more than once that it had screwed the pooch on such-and-such an occasion by getting too serious and straining itself in the process. This may cause some to suspect that the show likes to get serious, and if I think it has no business doing what it clearly wants to do, maybe I'm the one with the problem. Certainly one of the most chastening things you can say to a critic is that he's fallen into the trap of punishing a show for being what it is and what its makers intended instead of the very different show that he, for whatever reason, had in his own imagination. But I think that, in this case, I'm more like someone trying to politely tell his great-aunt that she needs to rethink that miniskirt before she goes out in public.
When it wasn't huffing and puffing and being ambitious in the wrong way, this wasn't too bad an episode, especially by the standards set by previous, misguidedly ambitious Leverage season finales. It turned out that the real brains behind the plot against Nate was his very first "victim", Victor Dubenich, the man who actually assembled Nate's team back in the pilot, a mere three years ago. As before, Dubenich was played by one of my favorite character actors, Saul Rubinek, who looked as if the prison food had been agreeing with him. (I have no more business suggesting that someone else might want to do some sit-ups than I have talking about football, but I'm guessing that I'm at least a little taller than Rubinek. With his spherical torso and a belly that doesn't look as if it's separated from the ground by more than a couple of inches, he's like a apple that somebody has propped up on toothpicks.) No sooner had Nate discovered that Rubinek was coming after him than the man himself was sprung, thanks to his partner, Leon Rippy: "It's amazing what you can do with a few governors in your pocket," he snickered. I was all set to enjoy a battle of wits between the two wily brain masters, but before I knew it, Rubinek himself was waving a gun around and leading commando raids on Nate's headquarters. Prison sure does change a man.
In order to give himself an edge, Nate recruited some helpers, each of whom was introduced by a clip from a previous episode to prove that this wasn't the first time anyone had heard of them. Clayne Crawford returned in the role of a thug who could be Eliot's doppelganger. Richard Chamberlain was back as Parker's old mentor in thievery, a role he continues to play as a charming old reprobate, despite the fact that this seems a little at odds with the show's occasional "reminders" that Parker's sociopathic streak is the result of something deep, dark, and painful in her past. What the hell; the old boy was more spry than he's been since The Three Musketeers, and he got a laugh by tasering Wil Wheaton. It was Wheaton, back for his third appearance as Hardison's hilariously smug rival super-hacker, who did the most to brighten up his corner of the set. "I want my usual fee plus expenses, and Parker dresses up as Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica," he said to Hardison, before sensing that this might be a little too close to the bone, and shrugging. "I'll accept Sophie as Counsellor Troi. We can negotiate on the flight." Richard Chamberlain also got an in-joke, when the star of Shogun got to steal a valuable sword. For all I know, Clayne Crawford got one, too, but I had no way of recognizing it, because I don't know who he is.
After some spotty fun (best non-Wil Wheaton line: Sophie telling Saul Rubinek, who'd just warned her not to underestimate him, "The last time I underestimated you, I was right."), Nate and the bad guys took turns pointing guns at each other, and after what felt like ten minutes of a Mexican standoff that amounted to running out the clock on what was left of the season, Rubinek and Leon Rippy obligingly fell over a dam while Nate, accepting his identity as a lover, not a killer, gave Sophie a big sloppy kiss while the rest of the team did their peanut-gallery thing. When the next season arrives in the summer, will there be rug rats, or will the two of them be staging scenes from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at top volume? Will Wil Wheaton break his leg rushing to describe the behind-the-scenes action on a very special installment of The Nerdist? Will Saul Rubinek and Leon Rippy, having survived their watery plunge, come back for more revenge, ideally with their spines fused together and an unquenchable taste for human blood? Will Parker at least model that knockout short brunette wig again?A man can dream.