Rabbit Hole – Pilot / At Any Given Moment – Review: “The perils of an unreliable narrator”
Had the first episode of “Rabbit Hole” begun with a Kiefer Sutherland voiceover along the lines of: “I’m private espionage operative John Weir, and today is the worst day of my life,” it would’ve felt perhaps too on-the-nose, but there would’ve certainly been some truth to it.
The show instead opens with Weir in a confession booth, not to lay bare his sins in hope of forgiveness but simply for someone to listen. “I literally can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not,” he tells the priest. What very quickly becomes clear after we cut to three weeks before is that Weir’s status as an unreliable narrator is going to drive the series – and perhaps drive its viewers up a wall.
We learn exactly what it is Weir does: he sets up a fake news report on Esper-Ethika, the company who develop the world’s leading erectile dysfunction drug which has now been linked to cancer, all so that one of his clients can make a fortune when the stock price dropped. He’s a fixer of sorts, a man who can find a way to make his clients’ problems disappear or make them a whole heap of cash. In completing the Esper-Ethika job, he meets Hailey (Meta Golding), an attractive woman at the bar with whom he sleeps, only to unearth a camera in her hotel room clock the following morning. Blackmail attempt? Sure, but by who? Not Special Agent Jo Madi (Enid Graham) of the FBI’s Financial Crimes Division, nor indeed – as we’ll come to learn – by Hailey directly.
There’s a confidence to John that Sutherland makes his own, and it allows the next job sequence – which we’re privy to the details of, courtesy of client Arda Analytics – to be very entertaining, as John and his crew frame collusion between US Treasury Official Edward Homm and the CEO of a company rivalling that of one accused of using child labor. It’s peak spy thriller and establishes early that “Rabbit Hole” is capable of building these types of complex setpieces. And it needs to, given what comes next.
Weir is framed for the murder of Homm at the exact same time he thinks someone is trying to get to him: Hailey’s nearby presence after the Arda job has him suspicious. And someone is. Miles Valence (Jason Butler Harner), who runs Arda and hired Weir, has a camera in his office which he appears terrified of. The kind of terrified that makes him jump off the 30th floor of his building when instructed by a text saying “DO IT. NOW.”
In the cold open, Weir wonders if God can tell him “what the fuck is going on.” There certainly seems to be an omnipresent hand controlling people like puppets: Valence was one, Hailey is perhaps or perhaps not another. Kyle (Walt Klink), the erstwhile intern working for Weir, definitely is. He’s the sole survivor beside three dead when Weir’s office explodes, and spends the second hour following similarly anonymous instructions: first on what to tell the FBI, then following Weir to the police station where he attempts to retrieve the authenticator to log into Valence’s communications.
Weir’s paranoia in this case is justified, or so we think. Once again we must remember his status as an unreliable narrator. Homm isn’t dead: part of the Valence job was posing Homm to be dead, only for Weir to be set up. Instead, the official is tied up in his hidden away childhood home, where, by the end of the second hour, he’s about to be tortured by Weir’s father Ben (Charles Dance). One problem: Ben took a shotgun to his own head when Weir was a child.
This is where “Rabbit Hole” is going to have to tread a careful line. Positioning the lead character as someone we cannot trust is an interesting starting point, but pull the rug too many times and you risk viewers losing track and wanting to switch off. Agent Madi explains that he’s “super smart and half crazy” and that seems true enough so far: the two operations we see him pull and his clever sneaking into the police station establish his intelligence; his constant paranoia and, in Hailey’s eyes, tic establish his questionable mind.
Sutherland’s performance is typically excellent: it’s very much in the Jack Bauer vein, and it doesn’t feel weighted down by several seasons of history, as “24’s” leading man did. Golding’s impressive, particularly during her panicked breakdown after Weir saves Hailey (*), and it’s clear that her character is going to be key to the plot which will follow.
(*) Weir’s resourceful thinking to film the “cops” attempting to “arrest” Hailey is great. Her suggestion that his actions were rooted in race issues less so – it’s an accurate judgement, we know, but there is not a chance “Rabbit Hole” has any interest in tackling socio-political issues like this, so its inclusion feels a little cheap.
What will be fascinating across the next six episodes is whether the show can balance its desire to misdirect viewers with the need to keep the story coherent and not overdo twists. The first two hours were fun; let’s see how the next six fare.
What did you think of the first two episodes of “Rabbit Hole”?
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