Human Target is finally here! I’ve been waiting with bated breath for this day, and now I can say this: it’s my pleasure to bring you an advance review of the second-season opener, “Ilsa Pucci,” and officially kick off the next chapter of TV’s greatest thrill ride.
The burning question for Human Target fans over the hiatus was how much the addition of new regulars Ilsa (Indira Varma, Luther) and Ames (Janet Montgomery, Entourage) would upset the perfect dynamic between Chance, Winston and Guerrero. The answer to that is not yet, and maybe, in that order. Varma is somewhat channeling Torchwood‘s Suzie Costello here, with a bit of an ego and a snarky remark at hand, but despite the episode bearing her character’s name, doesn’t overshadow Chance and Company. The question is if her constant bickering and bantering with Mark Valley is going to eventually become grating in a Moonlighting sort of way. Ames, on the other hand, gets a virtually sexpot introduction when she changes clothes in an elevator, to which I can only say please. The last thing this show needs is obligatory “sex appeal.” Montgomery doesn’t fall too flat with her acting, but the character doesn’t separate herself from what could be a very detrimental archetype, especially with a backstory that shows shades of Leverage‘s Parker, sans the endearing craziness. I’m not completely sold on either of them, but Varma has more of my confidence than Montgomery does. Fans who were worried will see their fears somewhat assuaged, but a proper verdict on these two will take more time than one episode.
I want to make that point as emphatically as I can, since I think it bears being explicitly clear: we are not going to get an accurate feel for these two characters in this episode, so hold back your judgments. While we can analyze what we see in this hour (as I just did), the true test is going to be in how they develop through the season. It’s quite possible they could work out. Remember, it took Human Target two episodes in the first season before it found its voice and stride, and we got TV’s best new action series out of it. So far, for the most part, pretty good.
Mark Valley, Chi McBride and Jackie Earle Haley are back, however, and they’re just as strong as they were before. Wisely, the show lets them do what they do, both together and apart, and doesn’t get in their way. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it – Human Target is Mark Valley’s show to win or lose. He’s the star and it’s his domain, and everyone needs to just sit back and get out of his way, because he can more than handle it. Whether it’s the acting, the action, the humor, or just the depth in his eyes, Valley is an unstoppable force and wisely, this episode still revolves around him regardless of what’s going on in the background. It also allows for McBride and Haley, each of whom could handle lead roles in their own right, to get their own meaty chunks of screen time and in McBride’s case, do some things which we have not yet seen him attempt. The chemistry between the three lead actors is still there, the characters haven’t changed from the ones we embraced, and they’re all still making it look effortless. As long as the show remembers that it’s about these three actors and doesn’t trip them up along the way, it’s going to succeed, because the talent level between Valley, McBride and Haley is simply unparalleled.
Plotwise, I’m not spoiling anything by saying that Winston is eventually rescued from the clutches of the bad guys (Psych‘s Tim Omundson makes a return appearance) in this episode, which picks up a mere two days after the season-one finale, “Christopher Chance,” saw him abducted. In fact, his liberation happens in the opening minutes. How it happens is pretty darn awesome, and it’s the aftermath that makes up the core of the episode. Facing his past and seeing it imperil his present sees Chance make a drastic decision about his future. Ilsa literally flies into all this turmoil, along with her right-hand man (Tahmoh Penikett), making it very clear this is not your old Human Target.
Needless to say, it’s not long before our heroes are back into the swing of things, as glib as ever (Chance: “Great, we’ll throw a party and hope someone tries to kill you.”) while they try to figure out who wants Ilsa dead. I’m also not spoiling much by revealing that’s how Ames comes into play. The twenty-three minutes after that are Human Target doing what it does best: saving the day through means that are anything but procedurally rote. Those Emmy-nominated action sequences the show is known for? Those are back in full force, and the show is as visually arresting as it’s ever been.
New showrunner Matt Miller also wrote this episode, and while I sort of roll my eyes at the need to emphasize the new characters’ arrival by naming it after one of them, he provides a story that plays to the show’s strengths without having to be A Big Giant Season Opener or convieniently having amnesia regarding the events that happened in the season-one finale. If I have one gripe, it’s that the villain is predictable, something which isn’t helped by hiring an actor who’s known for slightly overplaying smarmy bad guys to begin with. Yet as I’ve said before, the end result is ultimately not as important as if you’ve enjoyed getting to it. (Also, one should never name a character “Fat Tony” anymore, because I automatically assume he will be a mobster played by Joe Mantegna.) However, Miller has done his homework and doesn’t overreach where he could. The result is an hour that should entertain the show’s hardcore fans, while also allowing new viewers to jump in fearlessly – the two things that matter most.
There’s also a new opening theme composed by Tim Jones of Chuck fame, and I have to say that it doesn’t compare to the previous theme at all. It’s lost that classic high-adventure feel. Then again, the old theme grew on me over time, so maybe this one will too. However, I feel comfortable in saying that under Bear McCreary, the show wouldn’t have gone the cliche route of needing to invoke a song to underscore its coda. In fact, by the end of the episode, the music borders on intrusive. That I could do without. I’m also not sold on the last shot, which comes off as an unneeded attempt to be visually cute. That said, while the packaging may be a bit over the top, the contents are still better than anything else out there.
Am I unequivocally sold on the new Human Target? No. There are some elements that I need to get used to, and that I want to see develop before I totally embrace them. But am I ready to come along for the ride? The answer is a resounding yes. I’m not just saying that because I’m also the official president of the show’s fan club. I’m saying it because my anticipation for this episode couldn’t have been any stronger unless you’d let me hang out with Mark Valley. I love this show something fierce, I fought hard for its renewal, and I know and respect a lot of the people involved, so no one was going to hold this return to a higher standard than I did. It met those expectations. Just like last season, I couldn’t wait for it to start, couldn’t take my eyes off the screen when it was on, and I was giddy when it was over. This is exactly where you should be on a Friday night.
“Ilsa Pucci” airs October 1 at 8 PM. I’ll be right back here with a blow-by-blow recap, and you should definitely not miss this. If you’re a fan wondering if the show is the same, you’re still going to love it. If you haven’t seen it before and are worried about catching up, have no reservations. You’ll be fine. Human Target, whatever its form, remains destination television.