Well that was a terrible, terrible pilot. And yet, I feel like watching next week’s episode. Go figure.
I’m a sucker for high-concept shows. Lost, Prison Break, Alias etc… each of these shows was an easy sell (at least at first) before things got ridiculously complicated. Hostages has an extremely straightforward premise: The President’s elite surgeon is taken hostage by a mysterious group of assailants who order her to kill the President during surgery or risk losing her family. It’s a compelling throughline to be sure, one I was sure CBS would tap into with flying colors.
Sadly, I’m disappointed. The show’s littered with problems, not the least of which includes characters speaking in exposition. “Your wife is doing chemo.” “How do it feel to operate on the President?” Show us these things, don’t explicitly state them just to bring us up to speed. Note to writers: viewers aren’t stupid. They can put two and two together if you trust them enough and pepper your pilot with enough solid clues.
I hate to say it, but Toni Collette’s performance as Dr. Ellen Sanders was ridiculously awkward. I was actually expecting a powerhouse, nuanced turn, but it felt like she couldn’t quite get a handle on her character. I’ll blame the script because it gave her nothing to work with besides look confused the majority of the time. In addition, Sanders was much too much passive, and I would have appreciated more decisive moments that would have made us root for her (like almost cutting off her finger to avoid the surgery).
As for the rest of the cast, Dylan McDermott did a serviceable job as Agent Duncan Carlisle, while Collette’s family were each (unnecessarily) saddled with secrets of their own. Can we stop giving kids useless drama? This is supposed to be a slick thriller in the vein of Homeland or 24, not a cringeworthy family drama where the hostage-takers have hearts of gold (in the pilot alone, they gave the Sanders family boyfriend advice and hid pregnancy tests). God help us.
Maybe the show takes itself too seriously? The concept is already bonkers, so it would do the show good to have some fun with it. Hostages needs to embrace its insane premise and throw ten zillion twists at us an hour. It absolutely can not go slow (which this pilot is guilty of). It needs a breakneck pace, and a hell of a lot of thrills. And please show, stay away from in media res openings. Seriously, someone has to put this plot device out of its misery. It’s ruining television!
I know many people are wary of the show’s premise, and how it’s going to be stretched out across 15 episodes (CBS has wisely invested in a shorter season). I myself am not worried. If Prison Break could stretch out its paper-thin premise into two glorious seasons (and two less-glorious seasons), then Hostages can at least entertain us for a year. Just stay away from the stupidities, please.
The show’s sole bright spot? I want to say it’s the reveal of Duncan working with the President’s aid, but that shouldn’t have surprised me. Truth be told it was the ending with Dr. Ellen Sanders FINALLY taking matters into her own hands. *Spoiler alert* She gives the President a blood thinner to postpone the surgery and buy herself more time. Afterwards, she stares at a news camera and addresses her captors with the badass line: “I don’t give up easily.” *Spoiler alert*. I wholeheartedly admit that it was a somewhat exciting ending after the misfires that came before.
Oh, and thankfully, the dog is fine.
Hostages squanders a riveting premise with awkward execution. But the ending does instill some hope. I’ll give it another episode or two before I completely write it off.