PROGRAMMING NOTE: Human Target will be moving back to Wednesdays next week, though it's on an hour earlier--8:00 instead of 9:00--to avoid bumping heads with Criminal Minds. That denies it the tasty lead-in from American Idol, but leaves Idol free to rampage across the 9:00 hour at will. As long as it keeps this show afloat, they can broadcast it whenever the hell they like…
In keeping with the "we can't afford to blow up an airport every episode" caveat, Human Target focuses less on impending explosions and more on Bond-style intrigue this week. It doesn't hurt that Christopher Chance (Mark Valley) looks damn good in a tux, or that he finds a partner in crime (Emmanuelle Vaugier) with whom Daniel Craig would be proud to share a martini. The producers have concocted a typically enjoyable bit of balderdash to put him through his paces--something about a spy selling plans to the highest bidder--while adding a running clock by poisoning Chance and letting his colleagues hunt for the antidote. It keeps the show's marvelously buoyant atmosphere intact without subjecting the budget to undue strain.
Which isn't to say there's no action. While the bulk of "Embassy Row" concerns a party at the Russian Embassy (where Chance needs to ferret out the spy), it still finds ways for him to throw a few punches and blast a few bad guys. It follows a simplistic but seaworthy whodunit structure, embodying a few bits of detective work, but marked primarily by the rapport between Chance and Vaugier's Agent Barnes. They have a delightful fight/tango in the center of the episode, combining imaginative choreography with playful banter that establishes them as well-matched equals. Human Target could use a strong recurring female character, and hopefully Barnes will continue to fit the bill.
The remainder of the episode allows them to play off of each other as they run through the burgeoning espionage scenario. The Russians want the hidden spy too, creating a delightfully confused quagmire of conflicting loyalties and friends who may become enemies at the drop of a hat. The finale holds plenty of excitement thanks to the poison coursing through Chance's system, and director Steve Boyum keeps tension and humor nicely balanced throughout the running time. A few bits of hand waving show up--making a lock pick out of far-fetched items, for instance, or a slow-acting toxin that has no appreciable effect until you drop dread--but as usual, Human Target delivers them with a knowing twinkle that makes them more in-joke than faux pas.
Which brings us to Chance's back-up team and yet another chance to sing Jackie Earle Haley's praises. His nonchalant bagman is charged with finding the antidote for Chance, which he undertakes with the same bemused detachment with which he conducts every other operation. Haley's repeated use of "dude" evokes his old Kelly Leak days, and his appearance in the climax holds the right amount of attitude without upstaging Chance. (Chi McBride sadly, has much less to do, but we'll let that slide this week.)
More importantly, "Embassy Row" demonstrates the exact kind of versatility which the show requires in order to thrive. It moves past the set piece notion for the first time, and while I'm sure we'll get back to the public-transit-in-peril scenarios soon enough, that can wait for now. "Embassy Row" doesn't quite rock the doors off the place, but it never drops the ball either: delivering on its promises while exploring some slightly quieter corners of the genre. It even sheds a little light on Chance's past, courtesy of Barnes whose future appearances should be just as much as fun as this one. Like the rest of Human Target, that prospect more than merits a prime spot on your TiVo list.