Human Target: Rewind & Embassy Row

By  · Published on February 2nd, 2010

Human Target: Rewind & Embassy Row

First, an apology. In a befuddling scheduling maneuver, Fox actually scheduled the second episode of its new series Human Target to air three days after the pilot; a bold move for a weekly series. So I completely missed the second episode and assumed the third was the second. So before I review the “second” episode of Human Target, let me briefly summarize the actual second episode; appropriately titled “Rewind.”

The Target:

A computer hacker has just discovered a backdoor that will navigate around any firewall, security system, or password on the internet. This hacker, uncomfortable with all this power, contacts a cyber-security firm to discuss the problem. The hacker, known only as Casper, is about to board a flight to the security firm’s Seattle headquarters to deliver the key, but the company’s information is compromised and Casper is now a target for a group of cyber-terrorists. Chance must board the plane, discover the identity of Casper, and stop the kidnapping attempt.

This episode continues the strange Chance-trapped-in-an-enclosed-mode-of-transportation motif. What works about this is that it provides a kinetic container for close-range excitement. I know understand this episode features the much-maligned scene of the airplane flying upside-down. But for me, I found this to be an extension of the 80’s action series mentality; did every makeshift solution constructed by MacGyver operate within the constraints of logic? Besides, the dialogue is fraught with references to the fact that it doesn’t make any sense so clearly we have another instance of the show not taking itself too seriously. I thought this episode was just as fun and gleefully silly as the pilot and furthered the spirit established. My only real problem is that I found the anti-chronological plot structure a little contrived. But even that allowed for one or two legitimate surprises in an otherwise predictable story.

So that’s episode 2, let’s try 3…

Human Target kicked off with a raucous bang that established a nostalgic, over-the-top anarchy of logic. It called to mind the cheesy, but indelible action series of the 1980’s with little regard to the contemporary move toward overly-cerebral television. For me, every leap of logic was forgivable due in large part to the willful, celebratory abandon of pretense. At no point did the pilot or the sophomore episode take itself seriously which is why I could abide things like people using a parachute to escape, unscathed from a speeding train or the smooth flights of inverted airplanes. Human Target also has a fantastic cast that brought this DC Comics franchise to life including a great one-two tandem of Jackie Earle Haley and Chi McBride. I was fully on board for a show that would adhere to a monster-of-the-week format, something rarely seen these days, and would strive to entertain above all else.

That show was evidently restructured by episode three. Human Target’s second installment is indicative of why Fox tends to have the worst cancellation rate with its series. Frankly, it’s indicative of their entire woeful marketing strategy. They put together an abundance of shows and use blitz marketing to saturate our senses with the promise of greatness and then the final product is so thrown together that it cannot sustain itself for more than a couple of episodes. Their haste to fill all the holes left by all the shows they cancelled the season before forces them into a continual state of compensation. It looks like Human Target, though it produced a pair of initial installments, has already burned out.

The Target:

This week, Chance is actually hunting someone instead of his usual protection gig. Danny, a counterintelligence agent and a good friend of his Chance’s, has been murdered by a rogue agent known only as Raven. Danny was poisoned and his younger brother Aaron, while looking for Danny at his apartment, was also accidentally exposed to the toxin. Now Chance has a double agenda of saving Aaron and getting vengeance on Raven. He tracks Raven to the Russian consulate and, assuming Danny’s cover, infiltrates a party to try and unmask the villain.

The main problem I have with this episode is that is unbearably dull. The action scenes lack the grandiose punch of those in the previous episodes and Chance is strikingly less charming. Sure, he’s on a revenge mission and more focused, but he just seems bored half the time. The female agent that gets introduced, played by Emmanuelle Vaugier, was clearly hired for her looks and not her talent; understandable, but not forgivable considering they seem to be setting her up as a recurring character. The CG on the motorcycle chase, even for an apologist like me, was wretched. The whole thing just seemed sloppy and thrown-together.

Speaking of sloppy and thrown together, the big reveal scene of who Raven really is was atrocious. He kind of just shows his hand and is then immediately killed by someone other than Chance. There is not even a moment where he dialogues about how he did or his motivations; this despite the fact that the whole episode tries to venture into the political intrigue milieu with utterly miserable results. They even try to pull this techno-spy trick, as if to pair it with the political angle and seem more 24ish, but the techno trick he figures out is a Bluetooth connection that could be achieved by any given fifth-grader nowadays so it falls rather short.

Jackie Earle Haley and Chi McBride do their best to save the episode with their characteristically great back-and-forth, but it just isn’t enough. This episode is a complete wash amounting to an entertainment-free hour of television. I’m still pulling for this show, but this is a step in the exact wrong direction for Human Target.

Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.