Leverage: Men (and Women) in Black

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Leverage S05E03: "The First Contact Job"

I knew from the episode promos that this week's Leverage was going to involve aliens. I wasn't worried. Leverage has done episodes about buried treasure and the Spruce Goose being a stealth plane. I figured we were in for a funny installment that would also have all of Leverage's trademark style and wit.

Ugh.

I'll give it this, there were a ton of fun moments. I loved Parker's E.T. impersonation, Hardison and Elliot singing in Lucille, and Hardison messing with Elliot about the satellite (and, of course, Elliot's reaction). There was no lack of humor, but usually on Leverage the comedy is secondary to the plot. This episode it felt like the writers came up with the jokes first, then found a plot that strung them all together.

The client this week was an inventor, Oren Metz, who created a hybrid jet engine, only to have his designs stolen by his investor, James Kanack. Not satisfied just to steal, Kanack also made Metz seem crazy, so no one else would ever hire him. The inventor wasn't interested in money, he just wanted to be able to work again. As Nate walked away from the table, he repeated Metz's request—to destroy Kanack and restore Metz's reputation.

Remember that, because it's going to be important. And infuriating.

The crew poked around Kanack's company and found that he was monitoring satellites, looking for extraterrestrial messages. Nate put together that Kanack was obsessed with fame, and the way to become the most famous scientist in the world would be to make contact with life in space. Hardison set up a dummy signal to look like it was coming from deep space. Elliot posed as a UFO hunter and Sophie posed as a cytologist, all to lure Kanack into giving Nate an under-the-table payment of $1 million to lease a satellite to contact the extraterrestrials.

Oh yeah, and Hardison and Parker pretended to be government agents, just to sell the bit.

Everything worked perfectly... until Nate set out to deliver the million dollars to Metz, expecting him to be giddy over his new-found wealth. But what's this? He didn't want money, he just wanted his reputation back?! Who would have thunk? Sophie chided Nate for not listening to the client, but here's the thing: Nate SAID after meeting Metz that he would restore the inventor's reputation. Which means it wasn't an issue of Nate "not listening," it was an issue of Nate understanding something and then forgetting it five seconds later. Metz's request was hardly unusual; the Leverage team has had TONS of clients who weren't just after money, but who also wanted to clear their names. Nate "not listening" to client felt very forced, at felt like it was coming out of nowhere.

This probably wouldn't have bothered me on another show, but Leverage is better than that. Nate is a highly flawed character, but so far the show has done a wonderful job of slowly and subtly establishing his shortcomings. In Season 1 Nate's alcoholism developed gradually, until he was completely out of control. The series has never shown Nate as having a problem with listening. This just felt lazy.

Needing to continue the con, the crew proceeded to ruin Kanack's credibility. Elliot knocked out the security guards at Kanack's company, but left behind their shoes, making it look as if they had been abducted. Hardison rigged Kanack's office so that Kanack would hear weird sounds, steam would come out of the coffee maker, and the refrigerator would open on its own. Elliot babbled about the aliens taking everyone away, and the team used a harness to make it look like Sophie was sucked into a green light.

The result was to drive Kanack into a terrified state, but also to make me want to throw my remote across the room. This is the second time this season (and remember, we've only seen THREE episodes so far), where the endgame of the con has been to use a lot of special effects to convince the mark that something bizarre is happening. And in ALL three episodes this season the endgame has depended on Hardison's gadgets.

I like Hardison's gadgets, but I don't like when every con relies on them. If the crew uses them for the finishing move every time, then it feels like that's the only option they have for pulling a con. But we know there are so many other things they can do. Besides, it's a lot more entertaining to see the villain taken down via pure human deception that because Hardison used a fancy machine.

Anyway, Kanack flipped out at his own press conference, and Nate took advantage of the situation to introduce Metz to the man who was going to buy his hybrid engine from Kanack.

So basically, "The First Contact Job" gave us a zany concept and some funny scenes, but not much else. With Leverage, I've really come to expect more than that.


QUESTIONS:

– Am I being too harsh on this episode? What'd you think of it?

– Will Sophie be as bad of a director as she is an actress?

– How adorable are Parker and Hardison?

– Is it just me, or was Elliot not as cranky this week?