I'm actually disappointed that we've reached the Leverage summer finale. The first half of season four has been so good that it's sad to take a break. It isn't a surprise that the series breaks on a high note.
We're treated to the return of Nate's ex-colleague and current nemesis - but fan favorite - Jim Sterling (Mark Sheppard), who's the client this week. He wants Team Leverage to steal a vital piece of nuclear technology to keep it from falling into foreign hands. It doesn't take a genius to realize that the situation must be bad if Sterling is asking Nate to get involved, and thus Nate doesn't need much persuasion.
Everyone, Sterling included, heads to Dubai, where Livingston (Tom Amandes) is hiding the thing they need inside his really big building - while hosting a chess tournament in which his stepdaughter Olivia (Make It or Break It star Ayla Kell) is competing. There are so many ways that this can go wrong.
As the former secretary of my high school chess club, I enjoyed the chess aspect of the plot. All the chess moves pretty quickly, but it's a fun and unique setting nonetheless. We've seen a lot of those in season four, from mountains to carnivals, so it's also clear that there is no shortage of interesting backdrops for capers. Plus, there's one heck of an explosion we get to glimpse at the end, which is always fun.
There's also another meaty moment between Hardison and Parker, as he reminds her that she now has a team behind her, and specifically him. If this isn't the season where these two kids finally get together, I'd be shocked. The writers have done a great job of finally - and more importantly, naturally - leading them to that conclusion with episodes like "The Grave Danger Job" and this one.
The real fun in this summer finale, though, is the return of Sterling, who is once again played to tightly wound perfection by Mark Sheppard. The Leverage writers have always left us wanting more of him but never overused him, so when he comes back it's like an early Christmas present. It's particularly smart to pair him with Eliot, as we've already seen from his various interactions with Hardison that Eliot can also be quite tightly wound.
It's no surprise that Sterling betrays Team Leverage, because he's a bad guy; that's what he's supposed to do. What that does is set up a satisfying final act that includes a brief car chase with Nate at the wheel of an awesome red Ferrari and revealing that Olivia's father is none other than Sterling himself.
That part's a bit shocking, but like all the best revelations, it also makes perfect sense in retrospect. It's not the kind of thing writers pull out of nowhere just because it sounds cool. The reveal also lends a great new dimension to the relationship between Nate and Sterling, because now we know they're both men who've lost wives and lost or nearly lost children. They're even more alike than they were before.
What I love most about this episode, though, is that it's a summer finale that almost doesn't know it's a summer finale. There's no unnecessary extra flash, no "we've got to do something impossibly big because this is a finale" moment - this is just a good, fun ride of an episode, and that's all I ever want.
See you in November!
(c)2011 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. All rights reserved.