‘Hostages’ Pilot Recap: “A Bad Thing for a Good Reason”

Chances are, if you’ve watched anything on CBS in the last couple of months, you’ve probably seen a promo for ‘Hostages’, the network’s limited-run (unless it’s a smash hit, of course!) series starring Toni Collette as a married surgeon assigned to operate on the President of the United States, and Dylan McDermott as a mysterious terrorist who wants to make sure that the surgery ends in the President’s death. Does the show live up to the hype?

As the pilot episode gets underway, it’s obvious that the producers want us to know immediately that McDermott’s character, an FBI agent named Duncan Carlisle, isn’t a typical moustache-twirling villain. Viewers get to see him defuse a hostage situation at a bank, where he seems to shoot one of the hostages, only to reveal that it’s actually the criminal in disguise. We already know that he’s going to take Dr. Ellen Sanders (Collette) and her family hostage, but we also learn that there might be a pretty good reason for it, as Duncan visits his ailing wife in the hospital and promises her that everything is going to be okay.

While the Duncan character is fairly interesting, Sanders’ family seems to be more along the lines of standard TV drama fare, each with a secret to protect. Her husband Brian (Tate Donavan) is having an affair, her daughter Morgan is pregnant, and her son Jake has been buying pot from a local drug dealer. Of course, by the time Duncan takes the family hostage, he knows (or quickly learns) all of these secrets and uses them against the family to get their cooperation.

Duncan is supported by a small team of friends (fellow agents, perhaps?), all of whom seem 100% behind what he’s doing. When it comes time for Ellen to ask Duncan why he wants to kill President Paul Kincade (James Naughton), he basically tells her that it’s none of her business. He obviously has some sympathetic (if not convoluted) reason for his treasonous acts, but (naturally) revealing that in the first episode just won’t do, even if it might make his hostages much more cooperative.

Which brings us to the big question of the series, and one that I’m betting right now will fail to make any logical sense. We can take from the first episode that killing the President must have something to do with saving Duncan’s sick wife. We also learn that Vice President Quentin Creasy (Jeremy Bobb) is in on the plot. So, obviously there’s something that Creasy can give or do for Duncan that Kincade can’t, or isn’t willing to. The President and Vice President have a conversation very early on about health care policy, and I pray that Duncan’s actions aren’t motivated by something as silly as a law the President might be about to pass. I fear that the final episode will have Duncan claiming that he had to kill the President because he was about to cut off funding for (or maybe ban) an important medical drug or procedure that will save his wife’s life. I hope that the solution will be more along the lines that the President is actually evil or corrupt in some way, but time will tell.

If the premise sounds like it might be better suited for a movie-of-the-week rather than a full-blown (albeit short at 15 episodes) series, you’re probably right. How do the producers deal with this issue? When Ellen goes to operate on the President, she makes sure that he “accidently” gets injected with some blood thinner, delaying his operation for two weeks – exactly the time needed for the remaining 14 episodes!

From a production standpoint, ‘Hostages’ is fairly well-made, though it has obvious green screen shots that try to establish the Washington, D.C. background. In terms of acting, the series suffers far more, as only McDermott and Collette are worth watching. Donavan doesn’t add anything to the mix, and the two actors playing the kids (as well as most of the rest of the cast) are pretty wooden.

The premiere of ‘Hostages’ on CBS this past Monday got pretty handily beaten in the ratings by NBC’s ‘The Blacklist‘, so unless a dramatic turn of events occurs, odds are that this series won’t go beyond its 15 episode run. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

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