By Curt Wagner, @ShowPatrol
7:00 PM CDT, October 18, 2012
After viewing two episodes of Cinemax's new spy thriller, "Hunted," I sat down one recent Saturday intending to watch the third. Several hours later, I had finished the season's eighth and final hour with just one thought in my head: "I can't wait to start all over again."
"Hunted" (9 p.m. CT Oct. 19, Cinemax; 3.5 stars out of 4), which springs from the paranoid and marvelous mind of Frank Spotnitz ("The X-Files") is smart, challenging and completely addictive. Oh, and it's a helluva good time.
Melissa George stars as Sam Hunter, a spy for a private security firm called Byzantium whose secretive clients are usually multi-national corporations with dangerous dealings. When we first meet Sam, she's completed a mission in Tangier and plans to reveal a secret to her co-spy and lover, Aidan Marsh (Adam Rayner). Before they can meet up, she's ambushed, shot and left for dead.
She goes off the grid for a year, staying at a remote cabin in Scotland where she gets back into fighting shape so she can return to Byzantium and ferret out her betrayor(s). She trusts no one. (Important "X-Files" lesson.) Sam's list of suspects includes Aidan and the other Byzantium operatives on their team, Deacon Crane (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Zoe Morgan (Morven Christie), Ian Fowkes (Lex Shrapnel) and Hasan Moussa (Uriel Emil).
Their creepy-cold boss, Rupert Keel (Stephen Dillane), makes The Smoking Man look like one of those sweet over-sharers you meet in line at the market. Throw in a syringe-loving assassin (Scott Handy), a MI6 agent (Indira Varma) and the British Interior Ministry, and you see Sam has a daunting task ahead.
So does the creator, Spotnitz, who picked the right name for Byzantium since the multiple tales he weaves together are downright byzantine. He's juggling Sam's quest for revenge and a mystery from her own childhood over the entire season, while each episode he present a new problem and solves it within her official mission where she poses as the nanny for crooked London businessman Jack Turner's (Patrick Malahide) grandson.
Sam delivers plenty of brutal beatdowns, but Spotnitz's layered, complex storytelling reminds me of the classic spy thrillers of the 1950s and '60s, where numerous intrigues ratchet up the suspense over big action sequences. Scenes in the Turner home are rife with claustrophobic tension that can make a viewer extremely uncomfortable.
The CW's "Nikita" returns Friday, but where that flashier spy series plays up the action and mustache-twisting baddies, "Hunted" spends a lot of time inside the heads of Sam and the other agents. Each struggles with the moral ambiguities of his or her job, which I find fascinating. George is first among the fine cast, revealing Sam's pain, power and paranoia.
There are so many pieces to the "Hunted" puzzle that at times they can be a bit overwhelming. But thanks to intricate plotting, generally excellent writing and tricky visual clues, Spotnitz and his writers reveal bit by bit how those pieces fit together. Sort of.
It'll drive you to scratch a bald spot in your scalp, but "Hunted" is an intriguing and rewarding puzzle worth (trying) to solve.
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