Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Holiday Classic Recap: Leverage: "The Ho, Ho, Ho Job"

“Hello, Sophie. It’s the Grinch who stole Christmas.”

“Leverage” is a show I haven’t really thought about for a while, mostly because it was cancelled in the past year. I am a sucker for heist movies, so I was obviously a sucker for “Leverage” too, which follows a group of grifters and thieves who try to help people get justice when the law isn’t quite equipped to right their wrongs. The show had a good run and ended on a satisfying conclusion, so I wasn’t especially upset by the cancellation. Since I enjoyed the show while it was on, though, I thought it might be fun to take a look at their first Christmas episode. “The Ho, Ho, Ho Job” was from season 3, where mastermind Nate Ford and his crew had become pretty established in Boston. The crew had decided to take a little break from each other during the holidays, but a case involving a mall Santa brings them all back together earlier than expected.

I think that Parker, the crew’s thief (who loves rappelling off of buildings) is the most compelling character who goes on the most interesting journey in this particular episode. Parker had a very rough childhood, so presumably she hasn’t had many good Christmas experiences. In this episode, she’s perseverating on the idea that she really, really wants to have snow for Christmas. The weather report is promising an unusually warm Christmas, but Parker has hope that there will be a cold air blast from Canada, and she’ll get her snow. She also takes the idea of Santa as seriously as a four year old. When a mall santa comes to her and complains that he was unfairly fired, she involves Nate immediately. Nate would rather just drink his holiday demons away in the bar below Leverage HQ, but because he’s very paternal towards Parker, he agrees to hear Santa out.

This particular mall Santa is upset because he thinks he was framed for having alcohol in his locker. The mall manager has been replacing Santas at a frenetic pace, and this particular Santa was the “senior” Santa at the mall. He organized a bit toy drive and made Santa appearances throughout the year. He had also been sober for decades. All the replacement Santas have a “criminal” look about them according to our senior Santa, and he’s worried that something bad is going down at the mall. The Leverage team is on the case. Nate becomes a financier who might want to do business with the mall, Parker becomes an elf, and Elliott is stuck being a Santa. He grumbles about the cover quite a lot, but deep down, by the end of the episode, he enjoys giving presents to the kids.

“Leverage” plots were always fairly multi-layered, but this one in particular really takes that to another level. At first the team thinks that just general scammage is probably happening, but when they realize that the Santas are taking credit card charity donations, they think that the real motive is probably credit card fraud. The mall manager must be working with one heck of a hacker to make that happen, so of course we get an appearance by several-time “Leverage” nemesis Cha0s, played by Wil Wheaton. It struck me while watching this episode just how good Wheaton is at playing complete assholes, even though all indications are that in real life, he is anything but. Cha0s delights in the idea of causing Christmas mayhem, and he has specifically gotten the Leverage crew involved in this situation. He wants to use their propensity for helping the helpless to his advantage.

Before we find out Cha0s’ true plan, we have a brief “A Christmas Carol” homage interlude. The team wants to get information out of the mall manager, so Sophie poses as a chauffeur. A series of events then make the manager fall unconscious, and he wakes up in the hospital with Sophie hovering over him. She even calls him “Ebenezer” early in their conversation. Then she calls the mall Santa in to really lay a guilt trip on him. The plan works, and the mall manager is soon driving a bunch of underserved kids to the mall for presents. Unfortunately, this move, while it comes from a good place, is going to land the kids right in the middle of the final twist in Cha0s’ scheme.

The Leverage crew thinks that there is massive credit card fraud happening at the mall charity donation stations, so they want to shut the whole operation down. To do this, they decide to disable the trunk line. This seems like the most direct way to completely stop the vacuuming of credit card information from the mall. Now that I think about this, especially in light of the whole Target incident that came to light last week, I think the team was totally justified in taking drastic action like this. I was one of those unfortunate Target shoppers, and the anxiety a potential financial data breach can cause is serious stuff. The Leverage team manages to shut down the trunk line pretty quickly of course, but almost as quickly, they realize that was a pretty bad idea. The trunk line also provides connectivity to the nearby federal bank depository. That was Cha0s’s real target. He specifically set up this whole situation, figuring that the team would be the do-gooders that they are, so that he would be free and clear to steal from the depository.

Because the Leverage team is predictably awesome, they manage to foil the robbery and get Cha0s arrested by the FBI, all without traumatizing the kids who have arrived at the mall to receive their gifts. There’s a funny little scene where Elliot sneaks a gift to a kid, showing that he’s not as gruff as he tries to pretend to be. Kids are always a soft spot with Elliot, really. If you want to get him really pissed off, threaten a kid. Anyway, once the ase is wrapped up and Christmas is saved, the team has a little celebration of their own back at Leverage HQ. Nate and Sophie give gifts to the rest of the team, each suited to their personalities. Elliot gets a Katana sword, Hardison gets a new, not-yet-released smart phone, and Parker gets cash with non-sequential serial numbers. Of course, to give us the warm holiday fuzzies at the end, it starts to snow, and Parker looks outside, completely mesmerized. Merry Christmas, everyone!

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