It's impossible for every television episode to be novel. This week, Leverage tries to put a spin on a fairly common idea, and only half succeeds.
Team Leverage is recruited to retrieve a valuable computer chip that was stolen from its creator by his high-powered boss. Corporate thievery isn't a new story; Fairly Legal did a similar tale in its first season. What gives the episode some spin is that we're asked to feel some sympathy for the culprit - because we learn about the death of his wife and meet his predictably ill-tempered daughter Molly. (Is there any other kind?) While the team cracks the bad guy's high-tech house, Eliot accompanies the kid to a nearby carnival and has to come to her rescue.
The episode follows the Leverage tradition of revealing a second layer to its plot at the halfway mark. That decision isn't as effective this time out, however, because we fail to connect with "The Carnival Job" on the emotional level that we should for the second part to work. Molly isn't just unsurprisingly abrasive, she's downright annoying, so it's hard to feel too invested in her welfare. By the time she starts sniffling, it's too late to change that opinion.
In addition, the reveal of the real bad guys falls flat; if I had a nickel for every time the Russians were villains on TV, I'd have a pretty hefty sum. Yet that's just one of the things about this episode that's easy to deduce. As a regular TV viewer, I saw much of this episode coming.
Where "The Carnival Job" succeeds, though, is in providing a showcase for Christian Kane. We get to see Eliot's more sympathetic side (although die-hard Leverage fans have already seen it on display, so there's not really a surprise value) and a fight sequence in which Kane squares off against UFC fighter Urijah Faber. The episode reminds us that Eliot is much more than the brawn of the team, and that Kane is a much more versatile actor than that. After years of liking him in guest and supporting roles, it's great to see him getting the additional recognition that comes with being a leading man - it's very well deserved.
It's with hesitation that I have to call "The Carnival Job" the first misfire of Leverage's fourth season. It's just not the show's best writing, and that's the foundation that the rest of the show falls on. However, it's just something to take in stride. After all, you can't win them all...