Monday, June 2, 2014

Summer TV Rewind: Leverage 1.01: “The Nigerian Job”

“People like that, corporations like that have all the money and all the power. Right now you’re suffering under an enormous weight. We provide leverage.”
- Nate Ford

So this summer, we’ll be taking a look back at the very first season of one of my favorite shows, “Leverage”. It was a quirky, intelligent little show that sadly came to close (albeit a fairly satisfying one) in 2012. And I’m not going to lie, blogging this show is going to be hard because I just get so wrapped up again with the characters and the cons. But I’ll do my best to overcome my nostalgia and fangirling.

We begin in a bar where soon-to-be criminal mastermind Nathan Ford is sitting having a drink when he’s approached by Victor Dubenich (played by the ever entertaining Saul Rubinek….whom I’ll be discussing as I cover the final farewell to Warehouse 13). Dubenich claims that Pierson Aviation stole his airplane designs and if he doesn’t get them back before the end of the month shareholder’s meeting, he’s screwed. Now, Nate is a former insurance investigator so you’d wonder why he’d even consider helping Dubenich get the designs back. But then Victor plays the trump card; Nate’s former employer not only insures the rival company but was responsible for letting Nate’s son die. So Nate gets a two-for-one out of it; $600,000 and a big “screw you” to his former bosses. The only catch is he has to handle a group of thieves who have reputations of only working alone. First up his Alec Hardison, hacker extraordinaire. He hacked Mick Jagger’s credit cards when he was in high school. We’ve also got Eliot Spencer, retrieval specialist (we hear him somehow take out an entire room of armed men to get a baseball card back) and lastly Parker, a seriously crazy thief who blew up a house as a little girl to get a stuffed bunny back.

The crew’s aim is simple, get the designs and get out so they can get their money. But almost immediately things start going sideways. Nate is set up in the building across the street to monitor things but that means he’s got very little control over the rest of the team. Parker goes flying off the roof and rappels down to get into the building while the boys climb down the elevator shaft. Parker is in charge of monitoring the guards which leads to their next hiccup. Nate says that there are only 4 guys on camera but 8 listed as on duty. They’re doing their rounds early so that they can watch the big basketball game. When they start heading to where Hardison and Eliot are trying to break into the R&D server room, Nate instructs Eliot to take care of them and use Hardison as bait. It works and we get to see what Eliot really does. He’s basically a martial arts badass (and later takes on the term hitter with good reason). They manage to steal the designs and trash the rest of the system but the guards have reset the alarms so the only escape route is down. For a minute it seems like it’s going to be everyone for themselves but Nate manages to exert some control and the trio gets out of the building using the bur scam (paint Parker up to look like a burn victim to distract eh guards in the lobby from realizing they are out of place. The gang gets away and Nate promises they’ll receive their payment later that day after Hardison uploads the designs to Dubenich. With that, they walk away, hoping never to see each other again. Though Parker and Hardison admit it was kind of fun working as a unit for once.

Of course, things go even more sideways. Nate gets an angry call from Dubenich the next morning saying the payments are being frozen because he never got his designs. He tells Nate to go to an old aircraft warehouse his company owns and lo and behold he finds a very pissed off Eliot, Parker and Hardison. It takes Nate all of 30 seconds to realize they’ve been set up and they barely escape the warehouse before it blows. But local cops arrive and fingerprint them at the hospital. If the State Police run their prints and get the info back, they’re all screwed. So we’ve got con number two of the episode. After some rather epic projectile vomiting skills from Parker, she and Hardison lift some phones which they use to orchestrate their escape. It’s really amazing to see how these disparate personalities work together so well. The con goes off without a hitch this time. Well the real State Police call but the gang has already left the hospital and are holed up in Hardison’s sweet pad. Instead of running away to safety, Nate convinces the team to get back at Dubenich for trying to kill them. But they’re going to need help. A world-class grafter named Sophie Deveraux who shares a complicated past with Nate. The scene where the rest of the team first sees Sophie acting is priceless. She’s terrible as Lady Macbeth and it’s just hilarious to see their expressions.

And now with rapid fire pace, we quickly ease into con number three. You didn’t think it was possible to fit so many well-crafted cons into one episode, did you? It’s a hallmark of Leverage. Sure it has a formula but it works. Since Victor knows the rest of the crew, they enlist Sophie to hook him. She approaches him as part of an African consortium of private businesses looking to bring jobs and revitalize the region and they want to use Dubenich’s company (and the short-range airplane designs he stole from Pierson) to do it. She hooks him by saying she’ll got to Pierson instead and he says he’ll take the meeting with her Nigerian group. The gang has two days to get ready. We get a brief interlude in the con where we get a window into some of the characters. Eliot remarks that Nate is looking better than he did at the start of all this and Nate is concerned that it feels good. Eliot also says he’s sorry to hear about Nate’s son who died since Nate’s employer didn’t cover the treatments the boy needed. I always thought it was touching that Eliot, this tough guy, actually could show empathy and care about people. His layers really did peel back over the course of the series.

Unfortunately the Nigerian con hits a little snag. The day of the meeting, Victor arrives early which prompts the team to take a few risks, including Sophie and Parker zip lining down a stairwell to ensure she gets to him before he realizes the consortium doesn’t have an office in the building. Nate provides a distraction by pulling out a nightstick and smashing car windows. It gives Eliot enough time to put up a sign for the consortium and Sophie leads Victor into a meeting with the Nigerians. The meeting seems to go well and he agrees to pay them a “finder’s fee” (read: bribe) of $1 million. Or so we’re led to believe. Nate is convinced the con will conclude exactly the way it’s meant to but Victor finds the bug that Parker planted in his office earlier and he claims that the Nigerians aren’t even real. He’s going to beat the crew at their own game. He calls in the FBI but they show up to arrest him for trying to bribe government officials and Sophie is nowhere to be seen. Victor tries to explain things to the FBI but it just isn’t working. And it turns out that Nate and company predicted the massive drop in stocks and got a hell of a lot of money out of it. Victor going to jail is just a bonus. I think one of my favorite parts of this show is as the episode progresses you get to see pieces of the con and how they actually play out. It’s really quite clever. The team gets their enormous payouts and walks away, saying it was a one and done job but then one by one they each come back, saying how fun it was and that Nate needs the chase of hunting down bad guys. So he gets to pick the people they help. And thus Leverage Incorporated was born.

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