Human Target takes things a little easy this week, reintroducing a few recurring characters and shedding more light on Chance's (Mark Valley) murky background. The producers did well by casting cockney actor Lennie James as Chance's foil/former partner, now out to assassinate a high-level diplomat. In order to stop him, Chance turns to FBI Agent Emma Barnes (Emmanuelle Vaugier), last seen traipsing through the Russian Embassy with him. Barnes received quite a rap on the knuckles for that earlier fiasco, and has since grown a wee bit obsessed with hunting down our hero. Lucky for her, Chance comes right up to her doorstep, bringing Winston (Chi McBride), Guerrero (Jackie Early Haley), and "new girl" Layla (Autumn Reeser) along for the ride.
Adding the gals to the equation really kicks the show up a notch. Vaugier makes a terrific sparring partner for Chance, launching heated quips and the occasional right to the jaw that counterbalances her essential status as straight man. Reeser does well too--she was the tech gal in that inescapable building a couple of episodes ago, and provides both Guerrero and Winston with some fresh interaction. They treat her with an endearing combination of protectiveness and exasperation that keeps the humor crackling. While Barnes has more of a personality (and gets to do something other than tap at a computer terminal), Layla has plenty of room to grow in the final few episodes of the season.
But the bulk of "Baptiste" stays firmly centered on Chance, as James's title character tries to do in his target and Chance races to stop him. The dynamic between the two men colors in a lot of Chance's missing past: a betrayed mentor, a life of senseless killings, a moment of clarity and a new path as defender rather than attacker. James does a fine job of conveying the complexities which shade that equation. Baptiste feels betrayed at Chance's change of heart, daring the man to shoot him in cold blood just to confirm that he really is a killer after all. Their conflict contains the right blend of familiarity and tension, highlighted by a confrontation in a DC subway station with a mural from Paradise Lost in the background to make sure we don't miss the implication. (The focus on character extends to Guerrero too--reinforcing his loyalty to Chance while revealing a few things about his own life which may come as quite a surprise.)
Their feud also helps keep the ostensible purpose of the exercise fresh, while the script provides a few enjoyable twists to the expected combination of break-ins and car crashes. Unfortunately, because "Baptiste" focuses on big-picture stuff, its immediate plot feels a bit threadbare. We never see the intended target, and most of the material concerns Baptiste's modus operandi rather than specifics of how he intends to commit the murder. When the balloon goes up, it's distressingly ordinary--something about a bomb in the basement--and director Paul Edwards simply has too much on his plate to elevate all the mayhem.
Luckily, that's not really the purpose of the exercise this week. It confirms the show's status as solid, reliable entertainment by stressing the characters at its core. Human Target doesn't rely on flashy explosions to get by, nor the gimmick of the week to keep hooking viewers. It hooks us because we like watching these guys do their thing, because their background intrigues us, and because the peripheral figures bring more to the table than just a pretty face or two. "Baptiste" has only its principles to go on. Thankfully, it doesn't need a single thing more.