TV Recap: ‘Leverage’

July 8, 2011, 12:56 a.m.

Last Sunday, with the season-four premiere “The Long Way Down Job,” the “Leverage” crew hit its peak – literally. The “Ocean’s 11”-style crew found themselves running a con on the top of a mountain, fighting blizzards alongside the usual evil corporation and ultimately producing one of the stronger episodes of the series’ run.

The premise of the episode is standard “Leverage” fare. A woman recruits the team to find the body of her husband Alan Scott (played in posthumous video recordings by Eric Stoltz of “Caprica”), who died climbing a mountain with the CEO of Merced Financial Services. When Alan died, he was carrying with him a notebook that proved Merced was foreclosing on mortgages it didn’t even own. The “Leverage” team has to beat the company up the mountain to retrieve the notebook and expose Merced’s crimes.

The con isn’t anything special to anyone who has seen an episode of “Leverage” before. It isn’t epic in scope, like any of the season finales, nor does it do anything creative, like last year’s “The Rashoman Job,” which told the same con from five points of view. But it still makes for a solid episode.

“Leverage” has been criticized (rightfully so) for its formulaic approach to episodes, but most of the time, the formula works, and this episode is the perfect example of that. In fact, it is episodes that diverge from the formula that tend to be the weakest, such as this week’s “The Ten Little Grifters Job,” which turned into a murder mystery halfway through and failed to capture the show’s spirit. Though the story beats of “Long Way Down” are predictable, they’re still entertaining and play out in an original way.

Besides, it’s not the trappings that matter, but what the characters do within those trappings, and “Long Way Down” nails the character moments like few other episodes have. It was disappointing to see how quickly and lamely the fallout of team mom and dad, Nate and Sophie, ending up in bed together was dismissed. But one of the strongest character moments in the entire series happened with none other than Parker, the team’s always-kooky thief, whose evolution over the course of the series has been unique among all the characters.

Parker stands out in the group, not only because of her borderline psychotic personality, but because she’s the only one who’s legitimately changed since the show began. While some of the other characters have gotten superficial development (Nate, for example, frequently stops being an alcoholic for a few episodes), Parker has changed on a much deeper level. In the premiere, she giggled at her childhood memory of blowing up her house with her guardians still inside; in this episode, she broke down in tears when she realized she wouldn’t be able to bring Alan’s body back to his wife. It’s a scene that easily could have been overdone, but Beth Riesgraf portrayed Parker’s despair as easily as she portrays her craziness, and she was complemented well by Christian Kane, who’s always surprisingly good at tender moments when he’s not glaring down the bad guy’s goons.

In interviews leading up to the premiere, the actors promised that this season would have more “heart.” It’s a trite phrase, but it carries with it a little hope. This episode managed to hit the highs (emotional Parker’s breakdown) and the lows (do we need another reminder that Nate’s an alcoholic?) that, respectively, have carried and burdened the series since the beginning. But “The Long Way Down Job” still carried with it a subtle shift toward more of the former than the latter. Though its follow-up didn’t carry the same promise that it did, the premiere hints at a season that might actually follow through on its promise of “more heart.”

Watch “Leverage” Sundays at 9 p.m. on TNT.

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