Human Target takes a rare dip this week: it's not bad to be sure, but certainly less engaging than previous episodes. Its saving grace comes more in what it sets up than what it delivers--prepping future plot developments without giving us much to watch in the interim. The show has certainly earned a little leeway in that department, and director Sanford Bookstaver knows how to bait the hooks well. As a stand-alone episode, however, it feels much more pedestrian than it should.
The primary culprit lies in the main storyline, sending Chance (Mark Valley) to a remote Canadian monastery to protect a reformed art thief (Sam Huntington). The love of a good woman turned the man around, but now he wants a rare book from the monastery's archives to sell for a mint and escape his former life. His ex-colleagues have other ideas, however: invading the sanctuary with lots of guns and bad attitudes, and forcing Chance and Winston (Chi McBride) to hastily concoct an impromptu rescue attempt.
The plot mainly consists of basic concepts thrown away before they have an opportunity to matriculate. Chance first appears in disguise as a new monk, but that idea quickly falls to the wayside, replaced by an awkward tete-a-tete with the abbey's leader (Peter Bryant) which does little more than spin its wheels. Chance eventually heads into the tunnels in search of the book, prompting some low-level Indiana Jones shenanigans before the villains catch up to him and drag him topside for a contrived ticking bomb finale. "Sanctuary" can't settle on which idea to use, trying and discarding so many that the entire affair gets lost in the pile.
Huntington provides some respite, particularly with an amusing in-joke where he explains DC's Infinite Crisis to a spellbound group of monks. (The actor played Jimmy Olsen in Superman Returns, winking ever-so-quietly at observant viewers.) He maintains an easy chemistry throughout the episode, which meshes well with Valley's always-engaging persona. "Sanctuary" also scores a very funny line during the climax… which Fox naturally broadcast on all the commercials leading up to the episode, thus ruining it for us good and proper.
Then again, the line comes courtesy of Guerrero (Jackie Earle Haley), who once again proves to be a silver bullet for this show. At first, he appears to be selling Chance up the river--taking a big payoff to steal a file from the office--but as the episode continues, his motives grow more and more complex. What does he owe Chance to engender any loyalty? Is he as amoral as he seems, or does Chance represent his shot at redemption? Those questions provide the episode with its principle energy, and while we don't learn the answers to them, it promises to be quite the slice of must-see TV when Human Target comes back to them.
As far as "Sanctuary" itself goes, the real brilliance lies in that subplot, turning the ostensible purpose of the exercise into little more than an amusing distraction. Considering the reasonably high level of polish on the first three episodes, this one definitely stands as the runt of the littler thus far. It still gives us a reasonably good time, but it demands a little more patience, and the rewards aren't quite so grin-inducing as its predecessors were. Letdowns are relative, and this one doesn't merit wholesale condemnation. The cast is too strong and the quips too clever to change the channel, even when the overall concepts need a little more work. Lesser shows have skated by on such assets; why should Human Target be any different?