The Endgame, Season 1, Episode 3, “Bury the Lede”

It’s hard to place a finger on why exactly, but there is something about The Endgame that feels so distinctly NBC. In the years following the premature cancellation of Heroes (which remains one of my favorite shows ever, and the fact that it never got a proper ending is still a sore spot for me), the network has desperately trying to recapture that level of popularity with a serialized television thriller. Remember The Event? I got two episodes into that show before I moved on to other things. What about The Cape? That one I stuck it out with, for whatever reason, even for the “web exclusive” final episode which was code for “the ratings were so bad we had to stop airing it” back in the day. I suppose you could make the case that Revolution (which had its fans) was more ambitious than some of the other attempts they made, but even that got fucked up by some marketing head saying “let’s try to make it look like The Hunger Games and make our heroine seem like Katniss Everdeen in all of the advertising, even though the actual series will be nothing like that.”

Like those misfires, The Endgame wants to sell itself as a major event series which is something you can’t afford to miss, but it feels strangely contained, as though everyone involved is playing it safe just in case it flops. It’s like it was spawned from a focus group meeting in which everyone just threw what was seen as “in” at the wall without even bothering to check what stuck. And I guess it makes sense that The Endgame is taking heavy “inspiration” from The Blacklist, which might be NBC’s only truly successful serialized thriller of the last decade, except that here we have a notable lack of James Spader and a seemingly much smaller budget.

That said, “Bury the Lede” is easily the “best” episode of this stupid, stupid series that we’ve had so far. While “Pilot” and “Fairytale Wedding” were all over the place in terms of what they were trying to do, “Lede” benefits at least somewhat from having a more focused storyline while moving at a comfortable pace. Please don’t misread me: what we get here is still very, very dumb. But I got a lot less angry during it than I did during last week’s televised abomination, so hey, I’ll give credit where it’s due here.

Part of the reason for this is that the flashback sequences really aren’t that bad this time. Instead of recounting more of Elena’s unintentionally hilarious tragic backstory, here we get to witness Elena and Sergay as the supposed criminal masterminds they’ve been sold as, and their verbal foreplay with Val’s husband continues to demonstrate that they do have something resembling good chemistry with each other. Val’s husband is meeting them in a restaurant, claiming he wants to make an arms purchase, and he’s perplexed that they don’t want to pat him down for weapons first. Elena proclaims there’s no need, as she can always tell when a man is concealing a gun because they’re nervous about getting caught with it. “Guns make men into cowards,” she says matter-of-factly, and in fairness, that’s actually not a terrible line.

Almost on cue, however, some “cowards” show up in the restaurant shortly after that, with two goons who share the same tattoos arriving to take out Elena and Sergay. A budgeted gunfight ensues (seriously, why do the gun flashes look so cheap here?), and while the happy criminal couple is able to take out their would-be assassins, it isn’t before Val’s husband takes a bullet to the belly.

It’s then revealed that Val’s husband (I’ll eventually start addressing him by name, I guess, but not yet) was actually working undercover for the FBI. Elena and Sergay allowed him to locate them (because of course they did), as they want a friend within the secret service to help give them protection from a rival crime family…based in Ukraine. Yes, the word “Ukraine” is used several times in this episode, and while it’s obviously a coincidence as this was made several months ago, it still feels weird to have characters who are presumably going to be villains on this show from there. Elena and Sergay help patch Val’s husband up, and as they drug him to sleep, he mumbles something about how they’d better watch out, because if they don’t release him, they’ll then have to deal with Val, and she’d stop at nothing for him, and….yeah, about that…

In the silly present day, Elena is wearing still another expensive outfit (this time with no explanation whatsoever as to how she got it) while taunting the agents with–you guessed it–more fairy tales. In no time, another hostage is placed in jeopardy at one of the banks, this time by being shoved into a bank vault where she will suffocate to death if she is not released within four hours (complete with a countdown clock to the exact moment when it will be too late for her). The person in Elena’s crosshairs this time (other than Val, who is always in her crosshairs) is Tyler Erickson, but his name may as well be Tyler Dickface, since the show makes no secret at all from the second he’s introduced that he is a scumbucket. The self-proclaimed “most trusted man in America,” Dickface is a news anchor for a cable news channel called–sighs–“ENN”, and it was really mature of NBC to take a subtle shot at their competition like that. Dickface seems to provide the most generic coverage imaginable–“The banks remain held hostage, and America wants answers. I know that I want answers!”–but the public stops in their tracks in Times Square in order to watch him on the giant screen there, so I guess he must be doing something right.

Val and friends, of course, have no luck getting anything helpful out of Elena (not that they try very hard to do so), so the assistant director (who does not like Val, because dirty) has the audacity to suggest that they actually do something and try spraying the bank with sleeping gas. Val does not stand for this, giving everyone the what-for about the gas’s lethal potential if it’s not handled properly, but before the assistant director can give her another “don’t you dare talk to me that way” speech, Elena goes full Joker and hijacks the feed to ENN (actual line: “Unbelievable! She’s hacked into the ENN feed!”).

Naturally, the FBI immediately tries to locate the source of the signal for Elena’s video feed JUST KIDDING instead they just listen to her demands. Elena tells the good people of New York (in a pre-taped message) that she has indeed kidnapped a poor innocent girl, but while they may disagree with her methods, by the end of the day, they will “love her” (this greatly confuses the citizens watching her on TV, who look at each other with bewilderment! How could they ever love a kidnapper??). Elena promises she’ll release the hostage unharmed, but only if Dickface comes to the bank in person to negotiate her release.

Of course, the FBI refuses to negotiate with a terrorist JUST KIDDING instead they just put a bulletproof vest on Dickface and send him into the bank. To demonstrate that he is a dickface, Dickface complains about not being able to bring his news crew with him, as I guess he wants to broadcast his heroic actions to the world (because he’s a dickface). Immediately, the robbers grab Dickface and force him down in a chair, saying they’ll let the woman go if he answers just one question: “what do you know about the swan?”

Dickface is flabbergasted, claiming he has no idea what they are talking about, but Val has been the only one paying attention to the show, and figures out that Elena must have some form of dirt on this guy. Not far away from the bank, a storage facility is set on fire with a “swan” on its sign (try harder, Elena!), and sure enough, inside the facility Val and her team find a dead girl in a crate. With no hesitation, Val says that Dickface must be the one who killed her, but the assistant director says that she can’t do that because she has no proof. The nerve of that guy for being right!

Meanwhile in prison, Val’s husband and Sergay are just chilling and eating crappy prison food when Sergay notices a new inmate arriving who looks familiar. Val’s husband warns him to be careful, reminding Sergay that he’s supposed to be dead (and I have no idea how he’s pulled that off. Sure, we find out here that he’s going by a fake name now, but he hasn’t changed his voice or face at all, and since he’s married to a high profile criminal like Elena you would think someone would have caught on). Sergay ends up being right when the prisoner confronts him in the yard (as he’s shooting hoops, man), telling him he recognizes him as “someone he met in Ukraine” (there’s that word again!) once. Val’s husband is worried, but Sergay says he’ll take care of it, which I’m sure means he’ll resolve things in a peaceful manner in a later episode.

While these wacky shenanigans are happening, the body Val found gets identified as a young Asian journalist whose death had previously been ruled a suicide. In the episode’s most uncomfortable moment, Val goes to the victim’s mother and–without so much as warning her beforehand or telling her to sit down first–blatantly tells her that her daughter has been murdered. Mom has no information to provide, though, meaning that Val was an ass to her for nothing, and the clock has almost run out for the hostage in the bank vault.

Elena is, as always, not cooperating at all, so the assistant director, being unreasonable enough to actually want to do something about this instead of letting a murderer/arms dealer/terrorist/bank robber/kidnapper play games with them, orders that the S.W.A.T. team go into the bank. Security footage shows that the robbers are taking the remaining hostages and blindfolding them, suggesting they are going to be executed on live television. And speaking of TV, Elena is still on it, telling the public not to blame her for the kidnapping she committed, but Dickface for not confessing to what he did. She invites everyone watching to come to the bank themselves, and because they all trust this terrifying person who has hijacked a major television network, they do as she says.

From there, everything becomes chaos. Val continues to exchange smug remarks with the assistant director, but she has no better ideas, so the team enters ready to spread their gas to everyone and everything, only to find that all of the robbers have escaped. You see, that silly assistant director was so stupid that he unbarricaded the vents so his team could get inside, which gave the robbers a way out. And because Elena clearly enjoyed Tim Burton’s Batman, an explosion happens from one of the building’s top windows, sending all of the bank’s money down onto the stupid crowd of people below. Sure, Elena might’ve nearly killed an innocent woman today, but hey, free money!

We’re not done yet, though, as after talking to the rescued hostage, Val finds out that (of course) Elena kidnapped her for a reason too, as she was once friends with the dead woman. It turns out that she was investigating Dickface’s potential involvement with–sighs–a criminal empire based in Ukraine (stop saying that word!), Val confronts Dickface, who of course doesn’t say anything incriminating JUST KIDDING he of course damns himself and reveals that he murdered her. As he’s arrested, the dumb people watching Elena’s victory speech on TV are pleased. She might be a fucking “hero” after all, right?

Val confronts Elena, wanting to know what her “endgame” is, but Elena instead chooses to–let’s just use the word–flirt with her, telling her that she knows all of Val’s most personal secrets since her husband told them to her. Val isn’t in the mood for smooching (seriously, this show knows what it’s doing here), telling Elena that she’s watched enough episodes of the series now to figure out that they all basically have the same plot, and that all Elena has to do is slip up once and it will all be over for her. Also, Val finds a flash drive hidden in her apartment, which I guess is this episode’s cliffhanger. How…exciting?

Other dumb stuff…

* So far, Elena has brought down three people of power. She’s gotten the Attorney General to resign after blackmailing him with hard copies of photos of his mistress that he had for some reason, she’s had Secretary Dumbass sent to the hoosegow for being a dumbass, and she’s gotten Dickface arrested for murder. Except that…I’m pretty sure there are laws which prevent evidence submitted by a terrorist from holding any merit in court, so Dumbass and Dickface will probably be free again in no time.

* One of the biggest mistakes this show keeps making is trying to get me to give a fuck about Val’s marriage. She turned her husband in! I’m not going to want for things to “work out” between them after that.

* Imagine a terrorist taking over CNN and Jack Tapper being arrested for murder the same day. What’s that? You can’t? It’s almost as if this show is kind of stupid.

* And on that note, I feel a little weird about a silly TV thriller having a journalist being a killer as part of the plot, given that we just had an “actual” President of the United States bogusly accuse a talk show host of being a murderer over and over again with millions of Americans taking him seriously.

* Biggest “bow to the queen” moment for Elena: when the director of the FBI warns her that her that if the hostage or anyone else dies, he won’t hesitate to have all of her robbers killed, she says the same thing applies to him. “If any of my soldiers are hurt, you will be met with the same retribution. Ooh-la-la!”

* Biggest “I’m not dirty!” moment for Val: her confidently telling everyone that Dickface “must be guilty” of some major crime before they even find the body.

* Biggest “I swear to God I am not making this up” moment: as she examines the picture of her husband with Elena and Sergay, Val declares that Elena intentionally chose clothing to “make it hard to determine when the photo was taken” years later. When she’s asked if she thinks Elena is that cunning, Val’s eyes go wide, the screen flashes, and we see her imagining…Elena in custody. She snaps out of it and says “oh, yes, she is.” WHY WAS THIS SCENE HERE? WERE THEY WORRIED WE FORGOT WHAT ELENA LOOKED LIKE???

* Once again, I’m sorry for how late this got up. But hey, it’s still before the next episode aired, meaning I am technically still ahead of the (end)game.