Episode Title: 'Mort'
Writer: Frank Spotnitz
Director: S J Clarkson
“Hunted” is not “Strike Back” nor is it trying to be. Let’s just get that out of the way now. If you’re expecting the same kind of over-the-top action and explosions that “Strike Back” delivers then you will probably be disappointed.
However, “Hunted” is very much a Cinemax series as it quickly reminds the audience with an opening sequence in which Sam Hunter (Melissa George) gets very intimate with her current lover.
As we soon learn, Sam is an intelligence operative for the private espionage firm known as Byzantium. And Sam’s lover is simply her latest mark, whom she uses to gain access to a man being held against his will. The fake assassination of Sam and her subsequent rescue mission was the high point of the hour. It’s sometimes difficult to believe that Sam can physically hold her own against her much larger opponents, but Melissa George is still fun to watch in action.
After a successful mission, we learn a little bit more about Sam and her affair with fellow agent, Aidan Marsh (Adam Rayner). When both of them seem to be harboring thoughts of getting out of the spy business, it definitely means that tragedy is ahead. Sam is subsequently ambushed by multiple assassins and she doesn’t make it out of the shootout without being seriously wounded herself.
From there, the pace of “Hunted” slows down… way down to a proverbial crawl. On most TV series, I’d find that annoying. But British television tends to have a different pace than American TV and I kind of enjoyed it here.
There is a very long montage of Sam recovering in isolation and training herself back into her peak condition. But what I liked about that was that it largely played out in silence. We see that Sam suspects her colleagues at Byzantium (and possibly Aidan himself) of betraying her without a monologue or voiceover from Sam to reinforce that. Instead, the audience is able to fill in the gaps without repetitive exposition.
We also get a long look at how emotionally broken Sam is over the loss of her unborn child and the apparent murder of her mother years ago. Sam is so guarded that she won’t even sleep in a bed, preferring to crawl into a corner for the night. Sam even builds a partially hidden room in her new apartment just so she can escape from the rest of her home and renter the cramped confines that allow her to continue her investigation presumably without being discovered. It’s an impressive level of paranoia that may be justified.
George’s Sam Hunter isn’t an entirely realized character yet, but she could eventually become one. That’s more than I can say about her fellow Byzantium agents. Aside from Aidan, none of them registered as characters. Even Sam’s bosses Rupert Keel (Stephen Dillane) and Deacon Crane (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) — whom I prefer to call Stannis Baratheon and Mr. Eko — are inexcusably flat and without dimension.
No one… NO ONE pushes Sam very hard about where she’s been for the past year. They at least display some curiosity and confusion about her fate, but for spies they’re barely inquisitive about her absence.
Despite being the obvious suspect to have betrayed Sam, Aidan argues that he knew she was carrying their child and that he wouldn’t have wanted her or their baby harmed. I’m not sure if that was meant to be an earnest confession or not. But as the episode went on, my belief in Sam and Aidan as a couple kept getting smaller. Even for people as estranged as Sam and Aidan, there’s not a lot of chemistry there.
Once Sam is back on the job, her best moments tend to be when she is pretending to be someone else. In this case, Sam goes undercover as a woman who recently lost her husband and child in order to get close to shady millionaire Jack Turner (Patrick Malahide) through his son Stephen (Stephen Campbell Moore) and Stephen’s son, Edward (Oscar Kennedy).
It’s not clear if Sam’s undercover assignment is meant to be short term or if she will be there for the full season. But it is a little ridiculous how easily Sam is able to place surveillance equipment throughout the Turner home. The bond between Sam and Edward was also a little forced, but the con to get Sam into the Turner mansion was well played.
Throughout the episode, we catch a few glimpses of someone the producers of “Hunted” call the Blank-faced man (Scott Handy) as he cleans up after the botched hit on Sam in the past and murders Dr. Horst Goebel (Peter Vollebregt) to enter the Turner mansion using his identity. So far, the Blank-faced man is more cartoony than intimidating. I’m sure that the cliffhanger is meant to imply that Sam is his real target, but I can’t take him seriously. His face just reminds me too much of Rob Schneider.
“Hunter” got off to a slightly above average start and the jury is still out on whether it can be the next breakout action hit for Cinemax. But I’m willing to stick around and watch it for now.