Episode Title: "The 10 Li'l Grifters Job"
Writer: Geoffrey Thorne
Director: Arvin Brown
Previously on "Leverage":
In the aftermath of bringing down Damien Moreau (Goran Visnjic), Nate Ford (Timothy Hutton) and Sophie Devereaux (Gina Bellman) had a one night stand that Nate couldn't deal with or even fully remember. On their next mission in Mount Kibari in Alaska, Nate went out of his way to avoid Sophie while the team worked to expose John Drexel (Cameron Daddo) for murder and fraud. After another successful case, the Leverage team regrouped in Boston and celebrated. However, Alec Hardison (Aldis Hodge) soon discovered that someone had bugged their headquarters and may know everything about them.
With no shortage of enemies possibly gunning for them, Nate noted that it's a long way to fall when you're at the top…
During a dark and stormy night in an elaborately decorated mansion, Detective Ray Hammett (Steven Flynn) breaks down a door and discovers Nate standing over the body of businessman, Morris Beck (William Russ). Despite Nate's protests, Hammett accuses him of murder. Flashback to three days before, Nate and Sophie meet Judy (Jana Lee Hamblin), their latest client who tells them that Beck has allowed at least three buildings to collapse due to substandard materials. Judy needs the original blueprints in Beck's possession to prove that the neglect was intentional… and she needs them in seven days. To start the ball rolling, Nate and Sophie approach Beck by posing as representatives of a foreign company.
At Beck's office, they encounter his spoiled daughter, Hayley (Johanna Braddy) while waiting to speak with him. Eliot (Christian Kane) sneaks Parker (Beth Riesgraf) into the building, but they quickly find that Beck has all of his blueprints hidden at his home. Fortunately, Beck is throwing a detective themed murder mystery costume party at his remote estate the following night. All of the guests come as fictional detective characters, with Sophie as Irene Adler, Hardison as Encyclopedia Brown while Nate is dressed as Ellery Queen. One of Beck's competitors accosts Sophie, but Hammett chases him off and introduces himself. Nate sneaks around the house just as Beck begins giving his speech. The power goes out suddenly and Nate witnesses someone kill Beck in the darkness.
When the lights come back on, Beck's body has fallen to the first floor and Nate is the only one seen standing near the crime scene. Hayley screams and claims that Nate murdered her father. Sophie runs up to the body and claims that it is only a dummy and that this is the real mystery that the guests must solve. Beck's put upon assistant remarks that this wasn't the plan and that it took him a long time to hide the murder weapon (a pipe wrench) in the library. The crowd grumbles, but Sophie gets them to buy it while Eliot and Nate carry Beck's body off and lock it in a room. However, Hammett is suspicious and he finds drops of Beck's blood on the floor.
Privately, Nate is unnerved when the other team members think that he may have actually killed Beck. He also struggles to recall the details that he glimpsed in the dark while Sophie continues to flirt with Hammett to keep him off track. Meanwhile, Nate orders Hardison and Parker to continue the mission and they soon discover that the house is filled with secret passages. On the floor, Eliot alternately befriends and roughs up potential suspects while looking for clues provided by Nate's recollection. Eventually, Hammett gets Sophie alone and handcuffs her to a chair. He accuses her of being in on the murder and tells her that he's already identified Nate through Interpol.
Parker and Hardison find the blueprints, but Nate is off the grid when Hammett breaks down the door and catches him with Beck's body. Cautiously, Nate explains how the killer must have known about the constant blackouts and Beck's tendency to become very drunk at these events. Nate even theorizes that the killer is working with Beck's daughter, Hayley so that she can get her inheritance early. Just as Nate figures out that the shinny object he saw in the dark was a badge, Hammett admits that he was the murderer and prepares to kill Nate. Another power outage allows Nate to escape to the library, where he clocks Hammett with the previously mentioned pipe wrench.
Back in Boston, Judy is delighted that the team helped her win her case against Beck's company. But Nate is still upset that his friends thought that he could have murdered Beck. As he drowns his sorrows in alcohol, Sophie notes that his loss of sobriety may come from the dark thoughts he has about himself rather than what anyone else thinks of him.
"Leverage" is almost always at its best when deviates slightly from its standard formula. In this case, adding a murder mystery on top of the heist was a great way to change things up. That it happened at a murder mystery party of fictional detectives was just icing on the cake.
It was an interesting homage to have Timothy Hutton dressed as Ellery Queen, the character his father, Jim Hutton played on the "Ellery Queen" TV series. But I was more amused by the Dick Tracy guy who didn't have any lines and Hardison's hilarious choice of Encyclopedia Brown. Of course, if Hardison wanted to be taken seriously, he could have come as Dr. Alex Cross.
In a way, this episode was a takeoff on "Clue" that even set up the weapon used by Nate earlier in the show with a throwaway line of dialog. Sophie was also fun as she briefly seemed over her head while trying to make the guests believe that Beck's murder was faked. Her burgeoning relationship with Hammett was also intriguing in that he truly seemed like a decent guy and a potential ally/ongoing antagonist for the team. But in the end, he was the logical choice for the killer. None of the other guest characters were sufficiently built up as potential suspects. Even Beck's daughter, Hayley seemed like a stretch for her part in the murder, considering how small her role in the episode was.
Some of the best moments came in Nate's inner flashback sequences in which he attempted to remember details from the murder. It's also fitting that he solved the murder and saved himself. However, Nate's lingering hurt feelings toward his team didn't really ring true. Nor did his teammates' suspicion of Nate's guilt seem justified. If this was the second season, when Nate was constantly drunk and out of control, then that would be understandable. Nate didn't even have a personal connection to this case and I think that's the only way he would have ever taken somebody's life.
If the writers are going to go down the road of making Nate a drunk again, it'll be a big step backwards for the series. This is the time in its lifespan that "Leverage" needs to reinvent itself in order to stay fresh. And it can't do that if the characters are going to backtrack into storylines that they've already gone through.
As a case of the week, this episode was really well done. If "Leverage" isn't about to make any major changes, it can keep going as long as it's still this entertaining.
Crave Online Rating: 8 out of 10.