Human Target: Sanctuary

By  · Published on February 5th, 2010

Fox’s new action series Human Target started with a bang and spent last week fizzling to a near certain doom. I am a big proponent of this show, and even I could not abide the tepid, mundane third installment. But the advantage for a show like Human Target, and its monster-of-the-week story structure, is that things can change drastically from week to week. This week’s episode, “Sanctuary” is a return to form and restores my faith in this series.

The Target:

A young con man formerly of a gang of the most evilest heist men in the business. His job was to scope out and nominate certain establishments as targets. He decides to abandon his life of crime and ends up selling out the rest of the crew to the police. He flees to a monastery in Canada and thinks he is safe…that is until the heist team escapes from their prison transport. Now, hired by a woman in love with the young con artist, Chance must try and reach the boy before the ruthless criminals. To make matters even more interesting, the boy has discovered that the monastery is the hiding place of an ancient religious scroll worth millions of dollars. Twist!

This is more like it! We have a story that is interesting with characters that are a bit exaggerated but never annoyingly hackneyed. We get fight scenes that are well choreographed and allow for Chance to shine as the premier badass in the private protection business. But even within those fight scenes there are moments that reemphasize that this show is not geared to take itself too seriously; the moment where he uses an incense burner as a manriki comes to mind! The evil heist crew is lead by actor William Mapother whom TV fans will recognize as Ethan from the second season of Lost. So basically, because of his talent for doing so and the incredibly unfortunate shape of his face, he will only ever play villains. The actor who plays the young con artist protagonist is like a Diet Shia LaBeouf and I mean that as a compliment; LaBeouf has gotten way too LaBeouf for his own good.

I love that this episode hits on the one 80’s show convention they hadn’t yet explored: using narration to bookend an episode. Chi McBride offers his account of the events a la Magnum, P.I. and there is even a clever bit wherein they play with chronology via narration. At the end, he offers the thoughtful, if corny, wrap-up as well. It grants a sort of legendary status to Christopher Chance and I love the slow reveal of him in the monk’s robes; obvious though it was from the start. The lost relic aspect had them searching in dark caverns with torches and called to mind any number of classic adventure series. I think the episode borrows a little too heavily from The Da Vinci Code, but I found that to be forgivable. The gondola fight scene, minus a few brief moments of sloppy CG, was pretty intense; always a fan of action sequences in confined spaces.

The relationship between McBride and Haley has always been a major draw for me, and in this episode it gets ratcheted up nicely. Haley’s character is working on a separate, mysterious mission throughout the whole episode and refuses to help McBride. While McBride rails at him over and over, Haley calmly dismisses him and the result is quite humorous. I especially love the moment when McBride, who is trying to defuse a bomb, hears Haley flip a coin on the other end of the phone to decide which wire to cut. Incidentally, the outcome of Haley’s investigation leads to the best surprise of the entire series. The fact that McBride is getting to be more hands-on is a welcome change, and he knocks this one out of the park. I loved the bit where he stops mid-swear when he notices he’s in a room full of monks. Hilarious!

The episode is not without flaw. It features the introduction of a gimmick that I sincerely hope will not become a staple of the show: the ADD recap. Every time we would return from one of Fox’s innumerable commercial breaks, there would be a three second barrage of images reviewing the last five minutes of episode content. You know, just in case you have the attention span of a beta fish and need to be brought back up to speed after seeing that sparkly American Idol promo for the 87th time. Even for a show that rejects brainy plot constructs, this is just plain infantile. And while the foray into Chance’s past culminated in a great ending, it still felt a bit forced. But we shall see what comes of that revelation. Overall, “Sanctuary” is a great episode that nicely washes away the taste of episode three.

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