The Taken season 2 premiere picks up where we left off in the season 1 finale. Brian Mills (Clive Standen) is stuck in a Mexican prison. How he gets out of that prison is done as well as any B-action film could be done – on network television. Like, there’s no way they could get do the level of carnage that goes into the Taken movies. (Last month I did on a little research on those.)
The Taken Season 2 Premiere Gives Us A Stronger Sense of Bryan Mills
A high body count on a network television show is about the same number as in 3 minutes of any Liam Neeson fight scene. So Brian getting out of prison involves a lot of fighting, some shooting, and a few dead bodies. There’s not too much blood though.
Still, like the premiere of season 1, the opening sequence of the Taken season 2 premiere had little talk but lots of action. Focusing on the fighting lets NBC’s Taken embody the spirit of those Taken movie fights. There’s even a Neeson-like knife kill. It’s in a scene that’s mostly done with police batons – until the last moment where Bryan uses his shank. (It was made from gold ripped from the ears and teeth of people he’d fought with over that 180 days)
Taken season 2 also continues to sprinkle key phrases like “a special set of skills” and “born to protect others.” Overall There’s a real effort being made to tighten the connection between this Bryan Mills and the one 30 years later from the movies. That may be why they’ve cut out the team from last year. It puts more focus on Brian as a bad*ss that can get out just about anything, Like this.
It’s not that they didn’t set up this sense of a through-line in season one. That need to serve and protect was well established. Emotionally though he seems a bit harder than he was in season one. This tracks as part of how Liam Neeson’s character from the Taken movies developed in his younger years. Six months spent surviving in a Mexican prison/fight club would toughen anyone up.
Why the New Taken Team Now Features…a Machine
So Bryan’s role on the show seems more or less the same as in season 1. The big changes seen in the Taken season 2 premiere aren’t about him. They are all about the new showrunner, Greg Plageman. He was the showrunner for CBS’s Person of Interest (POI).
Before I go any further, let me say that POI was an awesome show. It’s not surprising that a network would want their own version of it. Nevertheless, back in May 2017 Deadline reported that the main reason for some changes to Taken was to add “more procedural elements” to the show, not create a new one.
Apparently though, the choice of Plageman as showrunner moved NBC from adding a few procedural elements to letting Plageman make a defacto Person of Interest 2.0.. You remember that show, right? It just ended in June of 2016.
If you didn’t follow the news about the show last summer, you were in for some surprises and shocks. The surprise was learning that Christina Hart (Jennifer Beals) had left her high-powered government job. Even her former colleague can’t quite believe it.
The big shock of course was finding out that the entire team from last year was gone from the show.
On the other hand, if you did know about the shake up and Plageman’s involvement, what caught your attention in above exchange was the mention of some cool new computer software called “Ajna.” Once Christina spoke in that meeting on how this new computer software could be used to find anyone, anywhere you knew where things were going. Taken was getting…a machine.
Person of Interest 2.0.?
Sure enough, Christina steals the programs for Ajna and then gets the top hacker in the world to run it for her. It so happens that “Kilroy” (Adam Goldberg) is someone she put away for 20 years, so it’s a bit awkward. Nevertheless, he agrees to work with her because it beats being in jail.
Christina’s even got a secret place to set up this
machine computer program. It’s an old CIA/FBI (or whatever) cover business that still has the wiring linking in to the government data feeds. Yep…the all-important feeds – a term we know from POI. Meanwhile, this former operation just left all that stuff there – just in case? How convenient.
Naturally, the first person of interest she wants Kilroy to find is Bryan. This sets up a parallel story of Bryan’s escape and their tracking him.
The two tracks come together when Christina’s “contingency” shows up. That contingency is Santana (Jessica Camacho) – a former army sergeant. Christina had called her as soon as she realized Bryan had escaped the prison and was trying to come home.
Santana is Familiar – but She’s Still Awesome!
Meeting Santana, who was in the middle of crossing a bad hombre in arms deal when she got the call from Christina, felt like another POI nod. On the NBC press release Santana is described as, ” a rule-breaking field operative with an acerbic wit and calculated bravado.” Santana, meet POI’s Shaw (Sarah Shahi).
Santana had in fact been running late. If she’d literally followed the road map, Bryan and Amelia (Adriana Santos), the teen-aged girl he was saving from a sex-trafficking ring would have (as Kilroy said in the video) been toast. Luckily, she didn’t, so the bad guy gets toasted instead.
Basically the rest of the episode is getting Bryan back, and Christina getting back in with the government. That move sets up what appears to be a secret agency and the business of Person of Interest 2.o.. Christina gets Bryan to come on board with her, saying they’ll make decisions together. It’s hard not to see him being cast into the role of POI’s Reese – the former CIA guy that was as deadly in POI as Bryan has been in Taken.
The Taken Season 2 Premiere – Pros and Cons
Pros – This is a Good Story
To be fair, Ajna is not an AI program. It’s not “watching” anyone, and can’t (and this point) can’t operate on its own. In fact, in many ways Ajna is a more realistic setup. As such, despite the many similarities to POI, Taken season 2 isn’t covering the same concepts.
While POI was at it core a science fiction story exploring the “what ifs” of AI, the Taken season 2 premiere is setting up a discussion about current events. We now know that mass surveillance really does occur in the U.S.. Ajna is a program that can intercept phone calls, and “unmask” who’s talking on the other side of a monitored call. These are the kinds of things that are an ongoing in the news on a regular basis now.
The New Set Up
In this episode the unmasking of a drug trafficker leads to Christina being able to save Bryan. She does so by informing “DNI” Director Davis (Al Sapienza) about the actions of Gary Martello (Matthew Bennett). (Yes, I know. Sapienza played the reoccurring role of Detective Raymond Terney on POI.)
Gary had been arming a major Mexican drug trafficker and ordered Bryan killed to cover up that fact. Davis demands Gary’s resignation – or risk being extradited to Mexico. Of course, Gary chooses resignation. What happens to Gary is good news. It shows the kind of results we’d like to get from all this surveillance. This also means Christina now has a serious enemy that I’m sure will be back to cause problems. That’s good drama.
It turns out that Christina was never fired. She’d made a deal with Davis to try and find Bryan and get him out. The fact that she was able to do it impresses Davis, and that sets up Christina then makes a deal with to set up her own operation using the stolen Ajna program. She calls it a ” prevention” agency.
Part of the deal she makes with Davis is likely the new “procedural” elements NBC was looking for. In return for getting her prevention agency she’ll work for the director on unsolved cases that “fall through the cracks” of DNI. However, she’ll get some authority about which cases this secret agency works on. The director agrees, but with his own kind of warning.
What do I care what cases a private company with no connection to the government takes on.
Clearly we can expect some clashes on this down the line – which is good. Having storylines about the DNI politics and ethics will help balance the action-packed adventures of Bryan. For a weekly TV show you really need more going on beside cool fight scenes to sustain a viewer’s interest.
More About Christina
Sapienza and Beals have great chemistry that makes the dynamic between Davis and Christina fun to watch. I hope Davis will be popping up more in the season. It seems likely as at some point we will be seeing the downsides of Ajna in action. Especially since the new team members – Santana and Kilroy – are a couple of loose cannons.
There’s also the conversation that Christina has with Bryan at the very end. The emotional weight of having lost an asset in Serbia was a good insight into her attachment to her team. It also adds to the idea that this woman has seen and done a ton of serious stuff.
Beals’ portrayal of Christina is intriguing. At times she seems as everyday as a corporate executive and at others…. Just how many kinds of secret black ops jobs has Christina been involved with? Was she always a handler and manager or has she seen some some combat? Just like in season 1 there’s something mysterious about her, a sense that there’s an angle to some situations that we don’t yet know. The Taken season 2 premiere definitely made me want to know more about her.
Cons – One Big Loose End
What Happened to Asha?
We have no idea if Bryan’s girlfriend Asha Flynn (Brooklyn Sudano) lived or died! At the end of the Taken season 2 premiere Christina and Bryan have this long talk. In it she talks about the murder of Bryan’s sister, and scolds him about the abandoning of the team by Bryan. She uses these things to frame her admiration for him and as the reason she wants him on the team.
It’s sloppy storytelling to talk about Bryan’s sister and his connection to the team, but not bring up Asha. This was a relationship that took up a solid chunk of season 1. Furthermore, it’s not like Asha was just some girl he picked up at the local bar. Asha was a close friend of Bryan’s sister – the sister whose murder he avenged by killing Carlos Mejia (Louis Ferreira).
Why Knowing Asha’s Fate Matters
Yes, it’s the act of vengeance that got Bryan thrown in that Mexican jail. However, just prior to that, he also watched Mejia slash Asha’s throat. It was a move done to keep Bryan from pursuing him. Bryan then handed Asha over to his team member John (Gaius Charles) in order to get Mejia.
Does anyone think that Asha’s fate was not something that weighed on his mind during those 180 days in that Mexican jail? I get that Taken has a new showrunner and is going in a new direction, but Asha isn’t a character that should just be ignored. You can’t expect previous viewers to be completely on board with the new story with something like that hanging out unanswered and not incorporated to Bryan’s character going forward.
Christina and Bryan’s old team got officially written out and accounted for – and with an appropriate emotional connotations. They were deemed important enough to explain their absence. As Bryan’s girlfriend, and with all the connections to his sister and his choices in Mexico, Asha’s fate needs to be dealt with. Let’s hope they spend some time on this – and soon.
The Wrap Up: The Taken Season 2 Premiere Shows Promise
The Taken season 2 premiere revealed the show’s new direction – Person of Interest 2.0. It’s not a bad thing – in part because POI was a very good show. This time the machine is less far-fetched, and frankly the issues it brings up are not speculative. It should give the show a more realistic feel than POI’s sci-fi edginess.
I did like the team from last year though – especially John and Rem (James Landry HÃ©bert). Yet, the group sometimes diluted the show’s attention on Bryan. Having a smaller cast will give us more time to explore Bryan’s journey.
At the same time, Bryan’s team also helped in reflecting different aspects of him. What would be nice is having a team member pop up to help out on a case or two. After all, the idea that Christina would reach out to some of her old team is very plausible.
As for the new characters I like the character of Santana – Kilroy I’m on the fence about. However, I suspect that’s what the writers want viewers to feel about him. Also, how Christina knows Santana hasn’t been disclosed yet. That should be an interesting story!
When it comes to Christina I’m hoping that more about her is revealed, not just more about what created the future Bryan Mills. If that happens, and they also close the story on Asha, this second season of Taken looks to be a good one.
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