Taken Season 2: Hammurabi – At Best the Code is Scrambled

For Taken Season 2: Hammurabi

Photos by: Panagiotis Pantazidis/NBC

 

For Taken Season 2: Hammurabi, Bryan Mills (Clive Standenturns full-on villiante.  With a plot that runs all over the map this has to be the worst episode of Taken to date.  It makes the Taken movies seem Oscar-worthy.  Seriously.  It was that bad.  If this is what the new direction is going to keep looking like, it’s not getting a season 3.

This was the plot summary for  Taken Season 2: Hammurabi:

“When a high powered accountant is kidnapped by a laid off employee, it’s up to Bryan to help the kidnapper get justice.”

So, what’s the opening 45 seconds about.  It’s a close-up on Bryan giving a monologue about the difference between justice and revenge.  He’s talking to some guy who’s wearing a gas mask.  He focuses on trying to define justice and discusses the Hammurabi code. (Incidentally, a quick overview of the code will tell you this is wasn’t perhaps the best choice to refer to.  All the punishments were based on one’s social status and wealth compared to the victim.)

At the end of Bryan’s explanation he decides that justice can’t include “inflicting pain”  because, ” violence only corrupts order,  the very balance they set out to restore.”

Then comes the bombshell.

But I’m not here for justice.  I want revenge.

This is, I guess, supposed to be some kind of bad*ss Bryan moment.  Instead, he just sounds like an *ss.  Like, this is the kind of monologue the villians in early James Bond movies spout.   Only Bryan’s not supposed to be the villian.

Poor Norman….

Anyway, after that we get a flashback to “72 hours earlier.” It explains how Bryan ended up here, which is a convoluted enterprise.  The story about Norman (Peter Bryant) made me realize that there’s a real art to setting up the characters in a procedural piece.   Bryant did his best to make Norman more than just a long plot point, but the broad strokes of “victim here” in the writing was impossible to miss.

If Black people don’t die first, they perish later. My biggest gripe is the fact that Black characters are more times than not woefully underdeveloped, simplified tropes that, if and when they do die, are plants often for the white, central character we are to invest emotionally in.
                                                                                                                                                                                                               –  GraveyardShiftSisters.com

This is the second week in a row of that TV Trope:   “The black character always dies first.”  (Yes, I know Jennifer Beals is biracial – but, unlike the characters being killed, her character’s racial identity is ambiguous.) Last week they singled out the black character as the lead hired henchman.  He and his white subordinate get killed at the end – him first.  This week, it’s desperate Norman trying to right the wrong of the greedy rich white guy stealing his pension.  Of course, because at the end of his story he can’t follow simple directions given by people with far more experience, he’s murdered in his house.

Why Taken Season 2: Hammurabi Doesn’t work

Ultimately, what is most troublesome with this episode is that the role Bryan plays doesn’t track with the Bryan Mills from the movies nor the one from the first season.  In a recent interview with Clive Standen he mentions wanting the character to be more like the lead from “The Equalizer.”
That’s a completely different persona.  There’s a kind of god-complex in a villiante.  That’s not Bryan. He’s motivated by those he loves and the code of a soldier.  His kind of honor is missing in this Taken episode.
In that same interview Standen says this about Mills:
It’s all about Bryan Mills, which is why we tune in. We want to watch this guy kick down doors and save his daughter. That’s what the film is about.
What he doesn’t seem to get is that it’s not about Bryan Mills in a vacuum.  It’s about him saving his daughter, wife, or avenging the death of his wife that fuels us rooting for him.  Last season was drove him was: avenging the death of his sister, his absolute adherence to the idea of no man left behind, and going to get his girlfriend. Without those things written in ways that make the relationship investments plausible it’s just a bunch of fight scenes and broken furniture.

The Wrap Up

It could be that Taken season 2: Hammurabi is simply a one-off not well constructed episode.  Even with the changes from season 1 the action in the first two episodes of season 2 were plot wise decently motivated.  In this episode,  everything seemed random.  For instance,  someone comes to Christina out of nowhere to hire her.  Then they are just as quickly fired.
Adding insult to injury, the way Norman’s written is, at best, patronizing.   With a lesser actor the character would have come off as a total loser.  The episode’s writer tries to cover up Bryan’s white savior moment with another monologue for Bryan. It’s about an uncle who committed suicide over the factory closing in his town.  Maybe if they’d used the tool from last week’s episode and flashed back to what actually happened to his uncle it would have felt less contrived.  Showing the real connections makes subsequent actions feel like authentic motivation.  Just talking about it doesn’t.
Basically the point of Taken season 2: Hammurabi is to give Bryan a reason to go demolish a bunch of guys on a tropical island, rip apart a panic room and get the scumbag to blow his brains out.  It doesn’t feel like it’s about Norman – or Bryan’s uncle – at all.

The only possible bright spots in Taken season 2: Hammurabi were:

  1. When Kilroy (Adam Goldberg) had fun taking over the bad guy’s car remotely.
  2.  Santana (Jessica Camacho) with her island arsenal of guns.
  3.  The fact  that there’s some kind of storyline brewing about military contractors.

Hopefully point three will give Christina some authority back.  She’s more interesting when she’s not just looking like she’s in charge, but actually has the power, influence, and understanding to back up her team.  Her sneaking around with a gun felt like watching a woman who’s severally understaffed.

In general, let’s hope NBC remembers what’s made their shows successful.  Even in the procedurals with a huge star the story’s plot engine never runs on just one character.

Taken Season 2: Hammurabi Review
  • Taken Season 2: Hammurabi
1.5

Summary

For Taken Season 2: Hammurabi, Bryan Mills (Clive Standen) turns full-on villiante – to avenge the poor murdered black guy. Seriously – that’s the plot.

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