27 November 2016 | TBJCSKCNRRQTreviews
On fire, worth your attention
The name is Michael Westen(Donovan, using intensity, charm and even vulnerability, and of course his actual martial arts chops, to give us a compelling protagonist. He's made relatable through, among other things, his family, his sympathy for those in a bad spot). He used to be a spy. Until a burn notice was put out, claiming he was an unreliable asset. Every last of his accounts are frozen, his colleagues forced to reject him, and he's put on watchlists that will prevent him from leaving his home city of Miami. The only way he can get his life back is for him to figure out the who, why and, well, what, exactly, of this, well, what we civilians would call getting laid off. And along the way, he will help countless of regular people with problems that his skillset, and not the police or the like, enable him to solve.
He can't do it alone, so he has to take what help he can get. Fortunately, that does mean he has a highly competent and loyal, if small, team. Fiona(Anwar, a chipper smile and a love of explosives. She hates injustice, particularly against women and children. Manages to maintain her femininity, seen in her love of shoes, dresses, and, of course, the color pink, which adorns a gas mask of hers), his former IRA, now bounty hunter, ex-girlfriend was still his emergency contact, and needed to leave New York anyway. Sam(Campbell, giving a solid performance, also deep in his hamminess, not to mention his bad-assery. Perpetually drinking. Romances rich women, clearly respecting them. A great friend to him. In spite of initial hostility, he works well with the feisty Irish woman, they pick up on the others intention and the play they're making in mere moments), who was a Navy SEAL, and is now gathering buddies, all with resources that can be called upon, like there's no tomorrow. And Madeline(Gless, chainsmoking retiree. A real mama bear. She may have felt she didn't do enough when her sons were kids. Now, she's doing what she can to make up for it), his mother, who he hadn't seen in years, due to their strained relationship. It, she, and he, will grow over time. While his childhood was a troubled one, it has helped shape him into who he is. It has left a darkness inside of him, that he and they will have to work to keep at bay.
This review is co-written by my ex-fiancée. He narrates what he does, using his extensive knowledge: Backstory, exposition, adding detail, reflecting on certain things, explaining what is going on. Sometimes he makes comparisons to stuff we do know and that is far away from his life: "anyone who's passed notes in class knows how dangerous it is to communicate in front of your enemy", etc. It's also one of the places where you really see the dry sense of humor that permeates this. He snarks in most situations, in addition to taking them seriously. And where some fiction stops there, letting our lead get all the quips, here, it extends to most in the cast. There are ones who don't, especially in situations where they are too, say, scared to. Characters are all human beings – some are just, let's go with "not nice". The steady stream of new ones stays fresh, and the tremendous guests, stars and otherwise, all deliver. I couldn't tell you how many play against type, or how well it turns out.
The considerable training of him and his closest allies, matched by a number of the villains, is in high demand. They fight for "the little guy", with a lot of different methods they've mastered. Making weapons out of household objects, psychologically handling people doing very bad things, guerrilla warfare, tricking the enemy into thinking their numbers, equipment and abilities are a lot better or worse than it actually is and thus winning without any unneeded damage, etc.
Where else to start but a plan? If they know enough about what's going on, they form one, and it is of course better the greater their knowledge and timeframe. Sometimes, they won't be able to form one, at all. What invariably happens, is the unexpected. One way or another, they will have to improvise, maybe even play it entirely by ear. And going in, you never know when, what it'll look like or lead to, and so forth. This takes you by surprise countless times. The setups, the twists and turns, the solutions and more.
There is no filler in this. At no point did the studio interfere in a manner that breaks away whole parts. Matt Nix who created it stayed with it, and guided it, throughout. He directed several episodes, as did Jeffrey himself, Renny Harlin and Jonathan Frakes. The plot unfolds over the 7 years, in different chapters that all pose new setups that will test everyone involved. The scripts and production are consistently solid. Every single season opener and finale, all 14, are varied, memorable and incredibly well-done. This knows when to keep it small and personal, and when to raise the stakes. Making small means look impressive is the bread and butter of the crew behind the camera, not only the presented one. There is an immense amount, and diversity, of guns in this. The action is amazing. Up close, realistic and unflinching yet never gratuitous(outside of the many John Woo slow-mo nods... which are very welcome). It never takes over, and they mix the different kinds well. The driving portions alone are reason enough to watch this through. Fast, sleek small cars that beat traffic so often, it becomes a running gag.
There is a lot of bloody, fairly graphic violence and a moderate amount of sexuality and strong language in this. If this were a movie, it'd be rated R, though there is no nudity. I recommend it to any fan of this brand of storytelling. 8/10