NBC’s new show has the potential to be big silly action fun but it isn’t there yet.
For about five years, beginning in the late aughts and ending in the early teens, a favorite plot component emerged. Increasingly, the bad guy was getting captured about halfway through, and then it turning out it was. His. Plan. All. Along! Some, like The Dark Knight and Skyfall, used it to great effect. Others…less so.
The Endgame is that plotline spread across an entire season of network television. Depending on your personal interests, that either sounds glorious or awful. Regardless of which side you fall on that line, you’ll be correct because it manages at the same time throughout.
Elena Federova (Morena Baccarin) is our incarcerated criminal genius. Labeled a terrorist for, well, doing terroristic stuff, she dresses in tailored v-neck pantsuit couture and speaks in a light, vaguely Eastern European purr. She loves being bad and she loves being in charge. More than both those, she loves to remind anyone in her vicinity of those facts with that honeyed voice and a wide array of eyebrow moves. Yet, despite being The Best, she has been snagged. All thanks to a tip from a waiter we’re assured is just a regular guy. No criminal convictions, doesn’t live high on the hog—just a good average citizen.
You can probably guess that isn’t true. No, he’s a Federova henchman acting on her orders to snitch on her. Just. Like. She Planned! It becomes a running them of the show that anyone could turn out with a moment’s notice to be a Federova acolyte. SWAT Team member, cop, paramedic, woman cashing a check-in person…all pawn moving across the checkboard of life at their Queen’s command.
Opposing her is Agent Val Fitzgerald (Ryan Michelle Bathe). She’s so squeaky clean she turned in her own also agent husband, Elgin Turner (Kamal Angelo Bolden), when she caught mumblings of his misdeeds on a wiretap. After Federova nearly killed her during a hostage situation in The Gambia, Fitzgerald went to school on the international criminal par excellence. Now, despite being on the outs with the Department for refusing to divorce her dirty cop incarcerated husband, the people in charge need her. After all, no one knows Federova better.
To throw in a final complication, the show makes the Queen of Crime a vigilante of sorts. Like Hannibal Lecter and the man in the hat from The Blacklist before her, she’s a criminal, but she hates others doing crime. So each preposterous coincidence-laden caper she orchestrates ends in exposing the corrupt activities of several prominent American government and media figures. This is the new moral ambiguity. She’s a murderer several times over, but she also made sure to expose that embezzler, so…kind of equal, right?
There is great fun to be had in…the absolute obvious delight [Morena] Baccarin takes in being the center of this strange lurching carousel of contrivance.
There is great fun to be had in the sheer ridiculousness of the premise and the absolute obvious delight Baccarin takes in being the center of this strange lurching carousel of contrivance. Her arrogant disregard for almost everyone she speaks to is catnip for lovers of bigger-than-life villains. She sells the hell out of being a gorgeous criminal genius who never sweats.
That lack of sweat quickly becomes a problem, though. To believe Federova is at least as dangerous caged as free, the show needs to demonstrate her preternatural skills. That makes sense. However, they make it too frictionless. At the end of the four hours provided to critics, Fitzgerald is the only character even close to challenging her, and it isn’t really even that close. Sure it’s fun to watch Baccarin regard Bathe with the same kind of amused regard an older brother gives to his younger sibling’s attempts at tackling him, but it gives The Endgame zero sense of stakes.
To make matters worse, The Endgame is not a series that delights in taking you into the machinations of the heist. Thus, in addition to feeling as though Federova is facing no challenges, viewers can’t even appreciate the intricacies of these miraculous plans. They’re just frictionless, spontaneously occurring campaigns of criminality.
Producers Jake Coburn and Nicholas Wootton have both helmed shows—Quantico and Golden Boy, respectively—with similarly extraordinarily talented lead characters. In appearance, The Endgame more closely resembles Quantico, especially in the Justin Lin-directed pilot. However, in tone, Boy is the closer with its youngest police chief ever’s rapid ascension unfolding with little that ever felt like challenges getting in his way.
Baccarin’s turn is enough to justify a look at The Endgame. Its wonderfully silly premise holds lots of promise to be “sit back and delight in big spectacle” entertainment. For now, though, the whole affair seems lightweight; the fun is too fleeting. Before you can ask the audience to bow to the Queen, you gotta give a reason to be on the edge of their seats.
The Endgame airs Mondays on NBC, on Hulu and Peacock Tuesdays.
The Endgame Trailer: