Super spy Sam Hunter was once Byzantium’s greatest asset – her deadly skill set and disarming beauty made a lethal combination. But now the upper echelons of London’s top private security firm have joined the queue of those wishing her dead.
Secretive colleague Aidan Marsh (Adam Rayner) was once Sam’s best ally – their close working relationship giving way to something altogether more intimate. The liaison offered her a chance for a new life far from the high adrenalin, higher risk, confidence tricks Byzantium tasked her with daily. Sam’s survival instinct kept her alive when she was hunted and vulnerable and protected her when she bolted underground to recover. Now she is deliberately breaking cover to draw out her pursuers. Her return to the heart of Byzantium will force the hand of her foes. Which of them will be first to draw?
Melissa George (Alias, Triangle) takes the lead in The X-Files alum Frank Spotnitz’s brand new British drama. The writer/producer found both mainstream and cult success with multiple seasons of the sci-fi smash and its darker cousin Millennium. Now he has brought his conspiracy-centric sensibility to these shores.
Hunted finds its feet early with a cinematic double-cross in Tangiers leaving its heroine headshot, lying dead in the gutter. It may be a little unconventional for the lead to die in the opening moments of a new series but it’s an effective attention grabber. With nearly two dozen episodes of Alias under her belt, and a gutsy turn in 30 Day of Night, Melissa George has all the ass-kicking credentials her role demands and she utilizes them ably. She is, perhaps, a tad too pouty for some tastes but Sam Hunter has reason to pout so those moody lips don’t entirely go to waste.
While Byzantium hardly rolls out the red carpet for Sam’s return, they have need of her services. Her task is to infiltrate a paranoid family, gain their trust and access insider knowledge of the patriarch’s business before a big stakes bidding war begins. The old team is reassembled to begin the assault on the Turner household, granting Sam the opportunity to work alongside each of the suspects in her own betrayal. However the mission takes an unexpected turn – the honey-trap set to snare Jack Turner’s son instead captures the heart of his grandson – the youngest Turner needs a tutor and Sam is swiftly moved into the family home. Her teammates are alarmed to find her breaking rank and powerless to bring her back in line. A year spent in hiding has changed Sam irrevocably and it has changed the way she plays the game…
Hunted’s strengths lie in the pantomime brilliance of its ‘baddies’. Byzantium’s boss Rupert Keel is played with ill-disguised disdain for humanity by Stephen Dillane. You may enjoy him at work in our exclusive deleted scene below. His more recent turn as Stannis Baratheon probably allowed more fantastical room for evil but he does beautifully with the material here – I enjoyed disliking him terribly. Patrick Malahide’s Jack Turner was pantomime-perfect too. Turner is a proper East End villain done good with fingers in more crooked pies than a Bethnal Green waitress. His ruthless, joyless, pursuit of revenge was a nice foil for Sam’s more emotional journey.
One of the first things a ballerina learns is to focus on a fixed point as she turns. Misinformation, double-dealing deceit and plot twists are the staples of any espionage story. Yet, too often, elaborate pirouettes prove their downfall. They distract the viewer from the point of the story. Hunted’s weakness is quite the opposite problem. Despite numerous sub-plots and a long meander into Sam’s sketchy memories of her past (Mum murdered/Sam kidnapped/a labored metaphor with a storybook) the series feels rather insubstantial. It suffers from ticking too many familiar spy thriller boxes without ever daring to try something new. As a result any potential for a more original and contemporary tale is lost.
Touches of Frank Spotnitz’s genius are still evident and joyfully encapsulated in the person of Scott Handy’s Blank-Faced Man – a relentless assassin with a penchant for syringes and a fixation on our heroine. Creative use is made of less familiar corners of London and the juxtaposition of old and new, rich and poor, is played with nicely. There are (frustratingly underexplored) hints about the past of love/lust interest Aidan too but they are left as cards unturned, or saved for a theoretical second series. It is a pity that Hunted had such a strong poker face because the stories left untold were the ones that grabbed me most.
There is nothing to deeply dislike here, although the repetitive gratuitous boob-shots did begin to grate. The series is entertaining if insubstantial and the narrative thread well-maintained. As a fan of the darker things in life I would probably have watched an episode or two for the Blank-Faced Man alone but I can’t honestly say I would have tuned in week-by-week without a stronger incentive to return. My only real quibble is this: as spies go these guys are just a bit…rubbish. They keep getting shot, compromised, blackmailed and kidnapped. It’s a handy device for driving the action but one wonders how such an agency would ever win contracts at all.
Hunted is available on DVD now