The Endgame

2 out of 5

Created by: Nicholas Wootton & Jake Coburn

covers season 1

To write a really effectively twisty anything – book, movie, comic – I do think you have to be pretty smart. That’s not necessarily book smarts, of course, but however you structure your riddle, whether starting at the end and working backwards or figuring it out as you go along, it definitely takes a certain something to piece all of that together. I might not always like the end result, but I respect the craft.

A shortcut to this, of course, is to just dumb down everything else around your twists, so two plus two equaling four seems really revelatory to those who haven’t learned math yet. That’s pretty much the approach The Endgame takes to its ultimate 7-bank heist masterminding by Russian super spy lady Elena Federova (Morena Baccarin), who allows herself to be captured by the FBI, then smirks from within her cell as every “twist” in her “elaborate” “plans” “uncoils,” aka things anyone can guess are suspect, or aren’t really twists so much as just, like, new information, or when she says something rather mundane but says it with menace, and some music sting happens to let us know that it prepends badassery.

Meanwhile, FBI agent Val Turner (Ryan Michelle Bathé) is the only one in the entirety of her force that can see through these games, and the show gets a lot of mileage out of having her bosses yell at her for not following procedure, and then she realizes that some word was actually in Portuguese and not Spanish, and we move onto the next supposed puzzle box.

Baccarin, despite, er, maybe not really convincing me that she’s Russian, helps to carry the show quite a ways, and then, admittedly, there’s some campy fun just in how full-bore the show goes with the dunderheaded stuff above. It lays down its gauntlet – 7 simultaneous bank heists! – and keeps ante-upping with double-crosses and “we knew what you were doing this whole time” ploys that continually foil coppers and feebs. That doesn’t overcome its forced structure – Federova will frame some “lesson” to Turner in the form of a thinly-veiled fairytale, and then Turner will use that lesson to solve some new quirk – or its technical limitations, in which its sets and presentation never quite feel to the scale of its story, and action sequences seem choreographed in a last-minute rush, lacking any real momentum or inventiveness. And as often happens with shows that seek to turn a limited timeline into a multiple-episode series, the exact passage of time in The Endgame seems to be in some universe where day and night happen simultaneously in the same area, and all locations are either too far away to get to in time or reachable within a walk, as determined by the plot.

Some additional intrigue with Federova’s and Turner’s husbands helps to pad the runtime; playing less cagey with this and bringing it more fully into the story might’ve been better, balancing the tone and story, but then you can’t keep the focus on your super cool ultra crime twists, I guess. And later in the season, when Federova and Turner are past a lot of the snippy cat and mouse and start to bond a bit, the show can relax into some better sequences – again, not having to rely solely on continual ante-ups.

The Endgame is, overall, watchable. It distracts. But there’s not a point when it actually feels successful in trying to craft an event; it’s only getting by on the back of Baccarin probably having a good time with the scene-chewing material, and a kind of fool-hardy bravado.