As it stands now, The Brink’s dense plotting is its biggest asset as well as its biggest problem. The series ostensibly tells the story of how a coup d’état in Pakistan coupled with the bumbling actions of three people of influence—a philandering, alcoholic, anti-war Secretary of State, a lowly slacker Foreign Services officer, and a pill-popping fighter pilot—start a chain reaction that could lead to nuclear winter. Needless to say, there’s necessarily a lot of action in “Half-Cocked,” which gives the episode a brisk momentum that smooths over some of its rough edges, but also highlights the series’ numerous flaws.
We pick up just where the pilot episode ended with the Situation Room losing audio of Zeke and Glenn, our two main fighter pilots who are high on morphine, heading to bomb Pakistan. While Larsen tries to convince the President to recall the bombers, Glenn accidentally launches a missile at an Indian surveillance drone in Pakistani air space while trying to clean up his vomit on the trigger button. At the same time, Alex gives himself up to General Zaman’s men after they break into Rafiq’s home and threaten his family, and is taken to undisclosed location for “enhanced interrogation” along with the democratically elected Pakistani Prime Minister (Ravi Kapoor). Ultimately, Larsen convinces the President to recall the bombers by lying to him about making contact with a moderate in the Pakistani government, Zaman’s men waterboard Talbot and force him to admit his thin connection to Larsen (he provides Larsen with prostitutes), and Zeke and Glenn barely land their plane and are placed under investigation for their accidental bombing, which obviously includes a drug test.
Writers Roberto and Kim Benabib keep the action in “Half-Cocked” constantly moving, while director Tim Robbins cross-cuts from Larsen’s high-wire act to Alex’s struggle with torture to Zeke and Glenn’s drug-addled flight, but like the pilot, the abundance of plot masks a lot of foundational issues. Most importantly, the series still doesn’t have much of a satirical perspective, just a lot of obvious head shaking and finger wagging in the direction of broad targets—indecisive politicians, the callousness of American foreign policy, and torture. All of those targets are worthy of comedic scrutiny, but such satire must go beyond the self-evident and into the ugly details. “Half-Cocked” comes close a few times, such as when Alex’s torturer remarks that they learned how to waterboard from the CIA or when Zeke notes that he’s really just muscle for greedy politicians, but they’re few and far between. Furthermore, nothing of consequence really happens in the episode beyond “things threaten to happen, but then they don’t,” which reads as gun-shy coming from a series that keeps mentioning “World War III” at every chance it gets.
Nevertheless, “Half-Cocked” slightly improves on the pilot by reducing its more irritating tendencies, mainly the over-written “witty” banter, and by doubling down on the broad comedy. The best scenes in “Half-Cocked” are in the cockpit with Eric Ladin (Betty Draper’s brother on Mad Men and the duplicitous Jamie Wright on The Killing) giving a standout comedic performance as the stoned-beyond-all-belief Glenn. Though Schreiber and Ladin work well off each other, it’s Ladin who delivers every line with a mixture of bemused whimsy and straight terror as he struggles to read his panel and realizes that he’s sitting in his own shit. Ironically enough, The Brink excels trafficking in drug humor rather than political intrigue.
However, to give The Brink some credit, Alex’s subplot this week could have been tone-deaf in the absolute worst way, but instead, the Benabib’s mostly play it straight and take Alex’s plight seriously. They establish the halfway serious tone during the scene when Alex meets the Pakistani Prime Minister on their way to an undisclosed location. It’s clear the PM has accepted his death while Alex stews in his own fear. He calmly remarks that his death may spur the Pakistani people to rise up against General Zaman. “Yeah,” Alex says sadly. “Perhaps my death will garner a small blurb in the Dartmouth alumni magazine.” When Alex later finds out that Zaman’s men have killed the PM, he’s genuinely shaken and The Brink takes a noticeable step back to look at the playground it’s playing in.
Meanwhile, the Larsen subplot is mostly dull and irrelevant unless you find phoned-in political scheming and “intense” roundtable discussions interesting. Tim Robbins has considerable charm, but because the writers insist on placing him in scenes that uncritically validate his skills and perspective, his natural charm often curdles into smugness, which isn’t countered by his urinary issues or his blind support of his wife (Carla Gugino). In fact, Larsen’s story in “Half-Cocked” serves as a nice microcosm of The Brink’s larger issues: it contains quite a bit of charm that’s constantly being misused.
- The single funniest scene in the episode is the one between Rafiq and the Bible-thumping U.S. Ambassador (John Larroquette). Rafiq tries to convince the Ambassador that Alex is worth saving, for no other reason than the pleasure of firing him, but the Ambassador thinks the only solution is to join hands and pray for his survival. But when Rafiq counters the Ambassador’s Christian prayer with a Muslim prayer, the Ambassador hides his discomfort by simply praying louder.
- Apparently, Larsen’s wife is sleeping with her ripped, hung personal trainer while Larsen flirts with a White House translator, which I guess means she and Larsen are perfect for each other?
- General Zaman thinks it’s pretty cool that he can call whomever he wants and they’ll pick up. His second-in-command wants him to call Bono. Zaman is not amused.
- “Live bravely, Alex. That way you will not fear dying quite so much.” “Too late. I’m afraid.”
- “These pills make me feel like I’m sitting in my own feces with vomit dripping all over me.” “That’s because you are.” “Well, that fuckin’ sucks.”