Free yourself from Hostages

Hostages has a great premise: Force a doctor to choose between the president and her family. Will she slip him a fatal poison on the operating table or will she risk her family being killed and let him live? Or will she turn the tables and fight back against their hostage takers?

Who gives a damn. This show is unlikeable.

While most pilots come out swinging with an extended opening sequence, Hostages went for a family sitting on a couch for 38 seconds. KA-POW! No, not ka-pow. Dad looks up and sees a masked man. That’s it. To recap: A show named Hostages opened with a family being held hostage. Therein lies the problem I have with the pilot: It is simply an extended version of everything you knew if you saw the promo. It is not an introduction to what will unfold over its 15-episode season. If that’s what CBS and its writers were intending, they failed big time.

The first time we see Dr. Ellen Sanders as a doctor is in a press conference with the president. He selected her over the chief surgeon from Johns Hopkins to remove a nonmalignant mass from his lung. This is also the first time we the president whose fate Sanders will determine in the face of danger to her family. Instead of making him a character, Paul Kincaid is meaningless but for holding the title of President of the United States. Because this is television I don’t have to care about whether he lives or dies, but I was surprised and disappointed to see the show not even try to make me care.

The night before the surgery, a traitorous FBI agent leads a team of ninjas onto the Sanders’ unguarded property. As the hostage-taking unfolds we start to see cracks in their all-American family. Her husband is having an affair, her daughter is secretly pregnant and her son is dealing weed. They are not the Seavers. They are two brats, a jerk and a working mom. We have no reason to hope the crisis draws them together. Hostages needs viewers to hope the family does exactly that because, like with the anonymous president, the show’s drama relies on it. If I don’t care about the family then I don’t care if the mom kills the president or not. If I don’t care about that, then why am I even watching this show?

For the bad guys to win? FBI Special Agent Duncan Carlisle is no one special. He is just an angry husband whose wife is suffering from cancer. Is he the ringleader of a presidential assassination plot or just a pawn? At first he seems like the ringleader, but when he is revealed to be partnering with someone inside the White House that becomes less clear. I love shows that put viewers in the position of liking the bad guy. Hostages doesn’t even give us that. Carlisle is the kind of loser who in real life might get it in his mind to kill the president only to end up getting arrested on Pennsylvania Avenue.

If I don’t care about the president, or the family, or the bad guys…?

I can get behind a great story. That is the number one reason I watch any television show. But Hostages passed on illuminating any of the things that had to happen leading up to the opening scene. Why did the president insist on this doctor instead of the one his wife mentioned from Johns Hopkins? The political benefit of trusting his life to a woman? Maybe it is something more sinister. His aide, Quentin, is part of the plot, so did he intentionally steer the president in this direction. Why? We don’t know and the show never made any attempt to lay the groundwork for exploring it.

Nor do we know why they want the president dead. Killing the president is a pretty severe obsession, don’t you think? All the pilot gave us was a vague reference to Carlisle’s wife having cancer and wanting to get back to “the way things were.” You can’t skip over the motive in a show about trying to kill the president! It needed to be a major part of the pilot.

We don’t even get to see why Ellen is a great doctor. The president doesn’t just get a binder full of female surgeons to pick from when he needs surgery. Something had to make her stand out. A colleague tells Ellen she is a rockstar who was picked because she is the best, not because she is a woman. Not good enough. We need to actually see her being a great doctor. How hard would that have been? A basic doctor-performs-a-miracle scene is the staple of television staples. Hostages couldn’t even give us that much.

Throw me a bone, reel me in, give me just one hint that there is a bigger story here! I want to like it!

But I can’t. This show is arrogant. It throws you into an opening scene that lasts all of 38 seconds with characters you ultimately cannot like. It expects you to be riveted just because it wants you to be, taking for granted all the storytelling that goes into developing a compelling drama. It asks you to completely overlook the fact that a doctor about to perform surgery on the President of the United States is allowed to just waltz home the night before to a completely unguarded home. It asks you to be dumb.

The worst moment came when Carlisle and his team (who we know absolutely nothing about) took their masks off in the Sanders’ living room. The daughter panics and tells her father that they are more likely to be killed if they see the bad guys’ faces. There’s nothing better than a self-aware television show.

One thing did catch my eye. I’m not sure if it was because it was really there or I was looking so hard that my imagination went into overdrive: Does Dr. Sanders know why she was put in this situation? The way Carlisle calls her by her first name and how she completely breaks down in front of him could suggest these two knew each other before he took her family. Perhaps she was involved with his wife’s care and the whole assassination plot is his way of getting back at her? That could explain why the president received so little attention.

At the very end, does the television news crawl matter when it says, “…corporations are people. Terrorist has cooperated since clandestine guilty plea.” Ultimately, because of all the faults listed above, I just don’t care.

Good pilots surprise you. They tease you and they tantalize you. You don’t want a good pilot to end. When it does you want the next episode right now because it left you craving more. Were you on the edge of your seat when Hostages ended? I wasn’t. Nothing I saw made me want to see another 14 weeks of Doctor Ellen Sanders playing cat and mouse with Duncan Carlyle.

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