The first of two all-new Leverage installments tonight looks, at first glance, to be a take-off on the recent Ryan Reynolds flick Buried. How did Hardison end up trapped in a coffin in a cemetery? That's one heck of an open.
It has something to do with a funeral home run by Darlene Wickett (Anne-Marie Johnson, last seen on Fairly Legal), who likes to swipe money at the most inappropriate time and hide it in her spiffy wall safe. The team's attempt to search the funeral home takes a turn when they realize Darlene is also stealing the identities of the deceased. Nate decides to give Darlene a not-so-helping hand, but her greed puts everyone on the wrong side of some nasty drug runners who kidnap Hardison as their own kind of leverage.
There's a whole final act between Hardison's abduction and the end of the episode, which is some good organization on the part of the Leverage writers. They don't play their strongest card so late that we've lost interest, but when there's still enough time left to actually do something with it. As a result, there's real, palpable tension in the end of the episode - not so much whether or not Hardison will survive, but because we get the time to really see what he is going through, and get inside his head.
As far as the acting goes, I have to first give kudos to Aldis Hodge for conveying a lot of terror even when he has very little at his disposal. He makes very clear throughout the episode how squeamish Hardison can be, and when he finally is trapped, Hodge imbues those scenes with the perfect amounts of fear and confusion. His nerves are evident even in the tone of his voice - a small detail other actors might overlook. At the same time, it's nice that Hardison doesn't go to pieces; he's actively working to save himself, not simply relying on his friends to rescue him.
That said, the Hardison/Parker moments in this episode are sweet and more importantly unforced, just another example of how this is a canon pairing that I can actively get behind. It's evident that Hodge and Beth Riesgraf have actively worked on Hardison and Parker's relationship over the last four seasons, because the characters possess a subtle, natural chemistry that no amount of writing can fake. When she calls him by his first name for what I believe is the first time ever, it's one of those moments that you can't help but love.
Anne-Marie Johnson is delightfully evil; I wouldn't say Michael Gladis-level evil, but close. It's fun to see her get her comeuppance at episode's end, even if it may be just an afterthought compared to what Hardison has gone through. And that's the icing on the cake with this episode. Though it tugs at our heartstrings, Leverage ends on a good note that reminds us it will always be a light-hearted adventure. In fact, it's a show that has a great deal of heart, in every sense of the word. That's what makes it one of the best summer shows on television.