There's never a shortage of spy dramas on the big or small screen, but even so, the Cinemax thriller "Hunted" is worth seeking out.
The drama reaches its midpoint this week; this post contains an exclusive clip from the fourth of "Hunted's" eight episodes, which airs on Fri., Nov. 9 at 10 p.m. ET. The video doesn't contain footage of Melissa George, who stars as Sam Hunter, an employee of a corporate espionage firm, but there's a reason for that. George is very good in "Hunted," but this week, I thought, why not tempt "Game of Thrones" fans (and everyone else) with some footage of Patrick Malahide playing a delicious villain? (You can watch that footage above.)
In "Hunted," Malahide (a.k.a. "GoT's" Balon Greyjoy) is terrific as Jack Turner, a very wealthy Londoner who aims to become even richer by winning an enormous construction contract for a dam halfway around the world. Given that billions are at stake, Jack and his cronies are doing everything they can to make sure they land the contract -- and that's where Byzantium, Sam's employer, comes in. (Speaking of "Game of Thrones," Sam's cagey boss at Byzantium is played by the great Stephen Dillane, who will be known to fans of the HBO show as Stannis Baratheon.)
(If you haven't seen "Hunted" yet and want to catch up, you might want to skip the next paragraph, but you can read the rest of this post.)
As viewers of "Hunted" know, Sam's working in Turner's household as a nanny for his grandson, but Byzantium is actually in the employ of a rival bidder, and Sam's job is to try to find out everything she can about the plans of Turner, a former gangster who can still be quite intimidating. Last week, it emerged that, despite his personal wealth, Turner is short on funds for the dam project, and in this clip, he speaks to hedge fund manager Lewis Conroy, a family friend, about how they can make up the shortfall.
As I said in my "Hunted" review, I appreciate the drama not only for its well-crafted twists and turns and melancholy yet suspenseful mood, I think there are interesting ideas at play about how multinational power and finance work and whether personal morality can survive in that cutthroat environtment. And speaking of twists, I've already seen the entire first season of "Hunted," and I'm not only hoping for a second, but I also got on the phone the show's creator, Frank Spotnitz ("The X-Files"), after watching the finale in order to ask him a lot of questions about the story of Sam, Jack and Byzantium.
I'll share all Spotnitz's answers after the Season 1 finale airs, but below is part of the interview that wasn't spoilery regarding future episodes.
One of the things I enjoyed most about "Hunted," especially in its early episodes, was its spare visual style and its avoidance of several expected exposition techniques, and Spotnitz discusses those creative choices below.
There was a very visual approach to the storytelling, especially at the start. Todd VanDerWerff at the A.V. Club wrote a really nice piece on the visual approach of the show, about how there were whole stretches without much dialogue. So many shows, especially shows this dense, rely on a lot of characters expositioning to each other. And obviously, in the first episode, you’re setting up so much, but still, it was very lean and visually oriented. And it helped set the mood, which I think was really important. For me, really great spy fiction is almost as much about the atmosphere, and the mood, and the moral ambiguity as it is about the plot. The plot has to make sense and drive things forward, but if you don’t have that sort of bittersweet element to it, it doesn’t really have the same impact for me.
Well, thank you. And thanks for noticing that. I mean, to me it felt like a huge gamble to do that. But that’s what I wanted to do. And I couldn’t have done it if [co-financers] BBC and Cinemax hadn’t gone along with it. I mean, I think it’s seven minutes or more with almost no dialogue [at the start of Episode 1]. Flashback dialogue is all there is.
And that’s unheard of, especially with a pilot in a television series. And the other thing that was sort of a deliberate choice was, I find a lot of shows, not just spy shows, [have a particular way that] you meet the cast of characters that your hero will be working with. And I always feel like the first episode, they’ve got their sort of obligatory "Like me" scenes: "Oh, there’s the lovable Larry who does this and this.”
"Here’s who I am and what I do."
Yeah, exactly. "Here’s who I am, and please like me." And I don’t want to do that. The risk is [the audience saying], "Well, I don’t care about these people. I don’t like any of them." But I think if you like Sam, or at least if you are interested enough in Sam to keep watching, then the other characters reveal themselves over time. And I just felt like a more honest storytelling strategy [than] the other thing, which I’m sure is what a lot of people would expect.
Well, but I think that’s one reason that "Hunted" was distinctive. I think it's not cool to say this, but I like a good plot that’s definitely pulling me forward. That can be enough for me. Of course, I like there to be more than that, especially over time, but I think a lot of shows, especially the more ambitious cable shows, put the cart before the horse. It’s like, "Here’s the ambiguous mood I’m going to establish. Here’s the interesting themes I’m going to set up. Here are the characters that I think are so cool, and I’m going to reintroduce you to them five times.” That’s all fine, but tell a story. You know what I mean? Establish for me what you want to do and then I can decide if I want to be part of that.
You're absolutely right. And I know for a fact a lot of broadcasters in cable want to keep the plot to a minimum. You focus on the characters, which is great, and there’s some amazing shows like that, there really are. But I just thought, I want to do something different. And so I was looking for the most propulsive, twisty and turn-y [stuff], and really hard twists and turns, not sort of the shadings that we can find.
"Hunted" airs on Fridays at 10 p.m. ET on Cinemax.