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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Equalizer builds suspense while putting family first

The Equalizer
The Equalizer
Photo: Barbara Nitke/CBS
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The most intense moment in this week’s The Equalizer centers around whether Robyn (Queen Latifah) will make it to her daughter Delilah’s (Laya DeLeon Hayes) performance in Times Square. This doesn’t mean the larger storyline dragged—far from it, but it reinforces that Robyn’s relationship with her family will remain the fulcrum of the series. “Glory” is a solid followup to the series pilot, expanding on what worked well previously and building momentum for future episodes. Procedurals can struggle with a reason why viewers should show up promptly for the next episode instead of just binging them all later on Netflix. “Glory” will make you want to see what happens next Sunday.

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Right now, I wonder how long Robyn can keep her double life private from her daughter and Aunt Vi (Lorraine Toussaint). The vigilantism, no matter how well dressed you are, isn’t exactly legal, and it makes sense she’d want to protect them. We know she’s had experience lying to her daughter, who believed she ran a high-profile charity when she was actually on missions for the CIA, but Aunt Vi won’t keep believing that Robyn is leaving the house at 9 at night to consult with clients, even ones several time zones away. She’s too damn smart.

“Glory” further establishes two ongoing threats for Robyn. Both are formidable but only one is admirable. Detective Dante (Tory Kittles) wants to take down Robyn because she’s committed more than a few felonies, and this episode she kills at least two people. It’s in obvious self-defense and she saves lives in the process. But Dante doesn’t know the details, and he wouldn’t necessarily support her actions if he did. He’s strictly by the book. Yet, Robyn can easily outmaneuver him like the Road Runner. The CIA, where she used to work, is a more powerful and dangerous opponent. They don’t like her new “hobby” and unlike Dante, they are willing to play rough. There are shades of The Pretender here: Her former employer wants her back at any cost, but she feels they betrayed her. The details behind that betrayal remain intentionally vague, but we know it drove her to resign. She negotiates an uneasy truce with the CIA, but she’s adamant that her life is her own. We’ll have to wait and see for how long.

The case of the week is smartly plotted with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing. The online ad Robyn placed at the end of the pilot leads her to Aliya (Fedna Jacquet), a nanny for an FBI agent (Charlie Semine). The bad guys have kidnapped her son, Jackson (Jolly Swag), and they want Aliya to swipe a confidential file from his safe or they’ll kill him. This bugged me a little: Aliya isn’t a former safe cracker or something, and it’s not like she can ask her boss for the combination. What they want is literally impossible, but the story moves quickly enough that this plot contrivance isn’t fatal. It also helps that writers Andrew W. Marlowe and Teri Edda Miller make us care about Aliya and Jackson. Mother and son trade puns over FaceTime. It’s a cute and efficient way of establishing their relationship. Robyn of course understands that kidnappers don’t let their victims see their faces if they plan to keep anyone alive. This ramps up the stakes as the clock is ticking for Jackson.

Unfortunately, the human trafficking asshole villain is a bore (Thomas Beaudoin), and I hope the show starts giving Robyn enemies worth her time. It would also justify her involvement over the police if the villain was more the Joker than a smarmy joke. So far, it’s more fun watching Robyn take down the bad guy’s goons.

Queen Latifah continues to impress as Robyn. She’s just as deadly with a clipboard as a gun, but like Emma Peel, she has brains and muscle. We’ll likely never hear her ask an associate “Give it to me in English.” She’s the one who masterminds a daring daylight break-in at the FBI agent’s house, because she assumes once she knows what the bad guys want, she can use it to her advantage.

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You can’t help but notice, though, that Robyn has an easier rapport with her “work” family, Harry (Adam Goldberg) and (Melody) Liza Lapira, than her family at home. It’s too obvious not to be deliberate, and I’m curious if her two worlds will ever merge.


Stray Observations

  • Chris Noth has a well-deserved easy paycheck as Robyn’s mentor, William Bishop. He’s in just a few scenes but he’s the perfect liaison between Robyn and the CIA.
  • This week, Robyn delivers a line from the promos: “I’m using my powers for good.” It’s earnest while never having a chance to get corny, because William immediately responds, “They want you to stop!” Nice jab at the CIA.
  • Robyn tells the two people the bad guy’s (now deceased) thugs were about to set on fire, “Let’s get you into something less flammable.” OK, fine, I laughed. Don’t judge me.
  • It felt like FBI Agent Frank Sadler (Charlie Semine) was set up to return. He seemed far more approving of Robyn’s vigilantism than Detective Dante. It’s reasonable to imagine that more of Robyn’s cases might fall under federal jurisdiction, like this one.
  • I like the origin for Robyn’s codename, The Equalizer.
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