Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Rental Vault: Hunted

Private companies doing military work are not new, but the 21st century has probably seen them have more of a corporate structure than times past. It's also seen the rise of private intelligence firms, which do their cloaking and daggering for a client rather than a national interest. Some of those probably align themselves with some national interest and some may simply work for the highest bidder. It's a shadowy world, perhaps even more than the official intelligence agencies considering that there's not even the protection offered by government status.

In this world we find the British corporation Byzantium and its top team of operatives, led by Sam Hunter (Melissa George). At the opening of the 2012 BBC/Cinemax show Hunted, Sam is nearly killed when she is betrayed at the end of an operation. She spends a year recovering and regaining her skills before returning to work. Byzantium has been hired to check up on a shady industrialist's bid for operating a Pakistani hydroelectric project, and Sam is going in undercover to learn what she can and perhaps thwart the bid. The company stages a kidnap attempt on the industrialist's grandson, Sam foils it and finds herself hired on as a governess while pretending to be an American college student. The rest of the series shows how she will try to uncover whatever her "new employer" is hiding while keeping her cover, and also while pursuing her own clandestine probe into her betrayal and even secrets from her past. She will soon find the stakes are even higher than the billion-dollar levels of international finance.

Hunted has a bleak sense of style, reflected in its washed-out color pallette and wintry atmosphere. But it didn't earn a second season -- despite some talk about a revamped miniseries re-deploying Melissa George with a new cast -- and it's really not hard to see why viewers didn't stick with it. George herself has appeal, but she only shows it when she's pretending to be Alex the governess. Most of the time as Sam she wears different varieties of the same grim pout, but even then she's head and shoulders above the majority of her castmates. If Adam Rayner as Sam's onetime lover and teammate Aidan is capable of more than one facial expression he is supremely skilled at hiding it. Patrick Malahide as Jack Turner is the same Cockney rough boy gotten rich that seems to show up in every British crime drama and Stephen Campbell Moore as his son Stephen approaches love scenes, doting dad moments and everything in between with the same "I need an Advil" furrowed brow. Some of the supporting cast seem to have some flavor, but they're too little to either leaven or liven the lump of the mainliners.

The show isn't helped by the fact that nearly all of the characters are absolutely vile. With the exception of Sam, the little boy that she's caring for and a couple of the supporting players, every last one of them should probably be sewn in a sack and dropped in the Thames. At one point, our "good guys" need to protect Sam's cover, and to do this they engineer the deaths of two innocent people. These are not "caught in the crossfire" deaths, nor are they a necessity in order to preserve the public good or help save Queen and country: Byzantium sets them up and gets them killed to preserve their operation and serve their mysterious client. The operative tasked with the setup feels bad about it and goes to see a priest, but that's about it. The actor's nowhere near good enough to show he's conflicted about his actions so he has to tell us, but it's not convincing.

X-Files co-creator Frank Spotnitz was the driving force behind Hunted, and after the show wasn't renewed announced he would be working on a spinoff series called Sam Hunter with Cinemax alone. That plan then changed to a potential miniseries that was supposed to have aired in 2014 but didn't. At this point it's unclear what future the series and character have, but based on their outing to date it's hard to see anyone really stretching themselves to make it happen. And they probably shouldn't on my account.

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