When emulating a particular genre the way Human Target does, you need to capture the best parts of that genre while discarding the worst. It's trickier than it sounds, particularly when you're dealing with 1980s-style action. They had their share of horrendous ideas back then--more than their share in many cases--and while Human Target knows how to avoid the worst of them, it can't dodge every bullet. Sooner or later, the hoary clichés will catch up to it--as they do in "Lockdown"--and then things get ugly.
Not that it's a dreadful episode. It simply careens into the hard walls of ambitious notions and budgetary restraint. The premise involves a nerdy engineer (Alias's Kevin Weisman) trapped in the high-rise office of his employers. They design weapons for the government--with a lucrative side business selling high-tech goodies to Very Bad People--and Weisman's nebbish knows enough of their dirty secrets to make them very uncomfortable. So they lock him in--surrounded by the most sophisticated security system known to man--and let him continue to design for them until he outlives his usefulness. Enter Christopher Chance (Mark Valley), for whom no challenge is too great and no hurdle too high.
The prospect promises a delicious hour of fun: watch Our Hero breach the unbreachable vault and make his way to safety again by dodging all manner of ingenious traps. Unfortunately, the traps prove much less ingenious than they should: a muddled collection of heat sensors, security guards and proximity alarms of the sort seen in every straight-to-DVD piece of crap since time began. Escape entails an extremely pedestrian cocktail of shooting minions, disabling alarms and (*wince*) crawling through air ducts in an effort to reach the ground floor. A large MacGuffin lies in the middle of the building, allowing them to short circuit multiple obstacles with a fair amount of ease, and while Mitch Pileggi makes a decent foil (playing the company's evil mastermind down in the computer center) we never attain the sense of real danger that the scenario requires.
Some of the fault lies with the budget, which obviously can't accommodate anything too elaborate. But the script by Josh Shaer contains its share of clever notions, most of which don't cost anything (for instance, Weisman's character signals for help by writing a censored letter whose blocked-out words spell out a plea in Morse code). Valley remains as charming as ever, and his banter with Weisman keeps the energy levels up… as do the brief mentions of Chance's troubled past, which may be returning to haunt him sooner than he thinks. "Lockdown" also does itself a service by acknowledging (and eventually discarding) a very easy way out of the building, namely by blowing out a window and strapping on a parachute.
Sadly, those moments don't add up, and the remainder of the episode never matches their quiet inspiration. The same turgidity affects Winston (Chi McBride) and Guerrero (Jackie Earle Haley), who have to perform a little pantomime with the local FBI in order to get Chance some back up. Like the rest of the episode, it sounds good on paper, but the particulars feel awfully stale. Guerrero lacks his usual subversive malice, while McBride's put-upon straight man can't summon the exasperation required to sell the humor.
Granted all of that makes "Lockdown" more pedestrian than bad. Its disposable nature keeps it sufficiently buoyant to more or less hold our attention, and the presence of solid support like Pileggi and Weisman help round out the already stalwart regulars. But Human Target has set a higher bar than this episode can reach, and when it fails to meet those standards, the loss can be felt. That's the trouble with good shows: we always notice when they let us down, even if they only do it once in a while.