The Endgame, NBC’s new Monday night drama is, frankly, the surprise love-child of The Blacklist and Killing Eve you didn’t know you needed.
This stylish new thriller pits charismatic Eastern European in-from-the-cold villain Elena Federova (played with obvious relish and gusto by Morena Baccarin who absolutely shines when she’s given meatier fare) against Ryan Michelle Bathé’s ‘she’s so by the book she put her own husband behind bars’ Val Turner (One For the Money, Boston Legal) in a high stakes game of cat and mouse.
Federova is a criminal mastermind, with money, resources, a private army, and an incredible wardrobe at her manicured fingertips. And if the resemblance to NBC’s other favorite concierge of crime isn’t obvious enough, Federova makes her debut from inside a bullet proof box, which is lowered ominously into a secret FBI underground facility, in a throwback to James Spader’s Raymond Reddington in The Blacklist’s pilot episode.
It appears Federova has slipped up, and has been caught, and the FBI waste no time demanding a list of her contacts. However, just like Red, we quickly realize that nothing that has happened over the last 24 hours has been accidental, and this uber villain has in fact allowed herself to be taken in order to speak specifically to agent Valerie Turner.
Cut to Val, who is having a very bad day, and by the looks of things, not her first.
Valerie Turner is a capable by the book FBI agent who has been ostracised by her peers. Val’s fellow FBI agent husband Owen (Kamal Bolden) is currently serving a 10 year sentence for taking drug money, and despite Val being the one to bring him in, the general feeling among the rank and file is that she was somehow involved and therefore probably dirty.
While Val struggles to prove her mettle in the field, her supervisor refuses to give her a break. Meanwhile, husband Owen wants a divorce in an attempt to finally set her free.
Tensions are escalated when a series of incredibly well-timed and meticulously orchestrated bank heists rock the city, and Val and Elena are drawn together by their shared past in Gambia, Val’s efforts to stop the city-wide crime spree, and as we shall discover, by design.
When the bumbling agents, unable to shut down Federova’s activities despite having her in front of them, finally bring Turner in to talk shop, we get the first inkling about what the series may have in store for viewers going forward.
Federova praises Turner’s smarts and determination but mocks her “devout faith in the institution you serve.” Federova has intel on any number of corrupt individuals in positions of power, and isn’t afraid to shake the tree (and the city along with it) in order to allow those bad apples to fall to the ground. Who knows what dirty secrets lie inside any number of lock boxes inside the banks that Federova now controls? And that’s just to start.
“What’s in motion will eclipse you, the FBI, and the government. You’re going to learn a lot,” Elena tells Val, with an expression of malevolent joy.
However, when Turner discovers exactly what wheels Elena previously set in motion to secure their eventual meeting, and Val’s cooperation, she vows to stop, not assist Federova’s future efforts.
Things we liked: Two female leads with diametrically opposed agendas and personalities, and a fascination with each other is what’s truly at the heart of this new series.
Baccarin and Bathé may not (yet at least) have the star power of a James Spader or a Jodie Comer, but their performances are solid, and their chemistry is what will make fans want to tune into the next episode.
The episodes we screened were also given the Bigger Budget/First Season treatment. It was refreshing to see armored trucks on the streets, a cast of hundreds, extras (so many extras!), explosions and flashbacks all treated to the budget they deserved to make this world believable. (We’ve seen too many shows languishing in their eighth and ninth seasons lately with all the action taking place in one room or inside a car because the paper thin budget can’t accommodate anything more exciting).
Also, while the show is not exactly provocative (more of our thoughts on that below), there is a sense of energy and urgency to proceedings, along with what will no doubt be a series-long mystery about just how far some people will go for “love, justice and the most valuable commodity in the world: the truth” and what secrets will be spilled along the way.
Things we’re unsure of: Like the love child of two megawatt stars, The Endgame may struggle to find its own unique identity. Although the first handful of episodes we screened prior to the show’s premiere were capable, pacy, and smart, there was still a sense of something missing. Is it that the show is not quote provocative enough? Is it too buttoned down? Is it because it eschews a sense of fun, choosing instead to strike a near constant tone of seriousness?
And while the pilot episode posed many questions, and established at least 2 big mysteries, audiences may not have the appetite for another NBC drama that simply refuses to answer the show’s biggest questions. (We’re looking at you, The Blacklist, in case that wasn’t obvious.)
In order to truly stand alone, The Endgame will need to lean away from previous winning formulae, be a little bit braver, and perhaps introduce some quirky or fun additional cast members, if only to give us some breathing room between all those tension-filled standoffs.
The Endgame stars Morena Baccarin, Ryan Michelle Bathé, Costa Ronin, Jordan Johnson-Hinds, Kamal Bolden, Noah Bean and Mark Damon Espinoza.
Nicholas Wootton writes and executive produces.
Jake Coburn, Julie Plec, Emily Cummins, Andrew Schneider and Justin Lin, who directed the pilot, also executive produce.
The Endgame premieres Monday, Feb. 21 (10-11 p.m. ET) on NBC.
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