Paramount+’s new spy thriller Special Ops: Lioness, hailing from Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan, has one thing working for it—two incredible female leads… and Nicole Kidman.
WARNING: This review has spoilers from Special Ops: Lioness Season 1 Episode 1
It’s unclear if, and when, Kidman will join the ranks of her co-stars Zoe Saldaña and Laysla De Oliveira, who carry much of the weight of the first episode, as Kidman’s Kaitlyn Meade only appearing for a brief three-minute-ish cameo.
The intensity kicks off immediately with a scene set in Syria as Saldaña’s asset’s cover is blown forcing her to order a missile strike on one of her own; while also dealing with the fallout both professionally and emotionally. As she explains in her debriefing of why she made the hard call, her asset was “already dead” after she was made and she wanted to protect the “sanctity of their operation,” and likely, her asset. It’s the kind of thing you can expect when you have women leading the charge, and hopefully, we’ll see more of it in action soon as, for now, they’re simply setting up the trap.
The first few minutes are a little hard to follow at times considering this is the first time we’re even laying eyes on Saldaña’s character, Joe, but as the episode progresses, it all starts to click into place, painting a much fuller picture of where the season will go.
Joe spearheads the CIA’s Lioness program and recruits female soldiers that go undercover and help them infiltrate wives and daughters of key terrorist targets, gaining more intel on them and their whereabouts so that American soldiers can go in and take them out. It’s high-risk-high-reward, but it’s also demanding as hell, as a brief scene at Joe’s mansion, where her husband Neil (Dave Annabelle) seems to be doing most of the parenting in her absence—which has also led to her children hating her. It’s clear that they’ve both accepted that Joe can’t have it both, and her top priority is her career, as her visit is a quick turnaround before she’s back up and running, recruiting her newest asset and setting her sights on a brand new target.
Enter De Oliveira’s character Cruz, a badass in all the ways as life has dealt her a hard hand. She works a minimum-wage job and is stuck in an abusive relationship, a situation that she found herself in after her mother passed away in high school and she stopped caring about her future altogether. One day, she decides to fight back, and as she escapes the grips of her violent boyfriend, she finds shelter at a Marine recruitment center, which opens the door to her new future. She no longer wants to be the victim; she wants to be the one saving people. It’s pretty cliche, but it works mainly because De Oliveira acts up a storm. Pretty soon, she’s the Marine’s top candidate, passing the written test with flying colors, but she’s not just the right fit on paper, proving that she also has the physical strength for the job. She’s their shining star—and the perfect person for the job that Joe has lined up.
Joe and Cruz hold their own in their first meeting, continuing to feed into the strong female character trope, and while it’s a long road to friendship (Joe learned the hard way with her first operative), Cruz gets her first assignment—befriending Aaliyah, the daughter of an Iranian militia leader.
She doesn’t know much about her mark, intentionally, aside from the fact that she has expensive taste. Their “accidental” meeting at the luxury store goes off (almost) without a hitch—Cruz, on a hangover, briefly forgets her cover name but eventually pulls through and pulls it off.
It’s almost too perfect—and I was half expecting Aaliyah to catch on or have some red flag go up, but Joe seems confident that Cruz is “in.”
There’s a lot riding on this, so hopefully Cruz, who is still very much a rookie, can stay emotionally uninvested enough to go through with it as this is not an assignment for the weak of heart; it’s cruel and dangerous. There’s also no telling if Joe’s assessment of Aaliyah was fair, or if there’s much more to the fashion-savvy woman than meets the eye, but only time will tell.
While Special Ops: Lioness served up a gripping as a pilot, it’ll be determined if it has what it takes to stay the course, though, again, with an actress as seasoned as Saldaña, and De Oliveira—who has previously proven herself as Dodge on Locke & Key— I have no doubt. Where the script lags or lacks, these two rise to the occasion and deliver nuanced performances that have you feeling a range of emotions and expressing a sense of understanding even if you’ve never been in a similar situation before.
As Joe and Cruz’s relationship progresses, and Cruz gets closer to Aaliyah, will we see her past come into play? Will Joe’s family life continue being weaved in with what’s expected of her professionally? Will her family be put in the line of danger?
Kidman will hopefully add on a layer of complexity as Meade, but it’s clear that this operation will likely gain more depth as it hits the battlefield with a loaded cast also starring Morgan Freeman as U.S. Secretary of State Edwin Mullins, Michael Kelly as CIA Deputy Director Byron Westfield, and Sam Asghari (yes, Britney Spears’s husband) as an “unapologetic womanizer.”
Special Ops: Lioness airs Sundays on Paramount+.
Only Murders in the Building Recap – Is [SPOILER] Really Ben’s Killer? (309)
Only Murders in the Building Season 3 Episode 9, the penultimate episode, seemingly zeroed in on a murder suspect responsible for taking out Ben Glenroy, but this new development isn’t all that shocking or exciting.
The trio—Mabel, Oliver, and Charles—did what they should’ve done about 8 episodes ago in an attempt to solve the mystery: create a timeline of Ben’s movements from opening night.
By retracing his steps while watching the witness statements, the hope was that they would be able to pinpoint the person responsible. It’s one of the first times this season that they were all on the same page, which is likely why they were able to make some real headway on the case.
But the revelation that the killer is Donna DeMeo falls kind of flat, particularly when she jumped to the top of the suspect’s list following her chat with Meryl Streep’s Loretta in the bathroom, where she declared that a “mother’s love” knows no bounds when it comes to protecting a child (not to mention the creative forces behind the show underscored that this seemingly fleeting bathroom interaction was going to play a much larger role in the grand scheme of things in a post-mortem, thus nearly confirming that she’s responsible).
Donna had the most to lose and the most at stake, and with it being her son’s first production—she couldn’t afford for it to be his last.
The motive was staring them dead in the face the entire time, however, the “how” was unknown until Mabel witnessed Oliver speaking passionately to his biggest vice—dips.
From there, Mabel was able to piece together that the person Ben was accusing of ruining his career in his dressing room wasn’t a person at all, it was a cookie (his biggest weakness) and one that was poisoned by Donna when she read the early review of the play calling Ben the weakest link. If you’re trying to destroy evidence, you should probably empty out the shredder—just food for thought.
They figured they cracked the case with 20 minutes to spare before Loretta’s arraignment, and with time of the essence, needed a fast way to get into the city, which is where Joyce’s bridal dress came in handy.
Since before the seasons even premiered, fans wondered why Mabel was spotted running across NYC in a wedding dress with her two besties in full-on tuxes by her side (the Fathers of the Bride joke was a nice touch), and now, we know—it was murder business, the best kind of business of all.
They made it to the courtroom with enough time to spare for Oliver and Loretta to not only quip about how good they both looked—orange is her color—but for him to warn his true love that she can’t confess to a murder she didn’t commit just to save Dickie because he’s not even the prime suspect anymore.
And that’s when they see Donna, in the crowd, ready for action. It definitely comes off as menacing, but the question does remain—did they pinpoint the right suspect this time around?
And could it really be as easy as Donna? They didn’t put too much thought into Donna’s second attempt at killing Ben, who might not even be the same person. Maybe they only solved half the puzzle?
What about all the other potential suspects? This season hasn’t really done a great job at including them all, including Tobert, who has basically been sidelined for the past few episodes.
The episode was good at giving a deeper insight into Ben—the man, not the movie star, including his struggles, insecurities, and the fact that his best friends were “5 whores,” who weren’t whores at all, not anymore at least, and in actuality, five ladies that made up his sewing circle.
We also learned that Loretta was encouraging Dickie to leave Ben behind and no longer serve as his manager because he “deserved better,” (how did no one realize she’s so maternal to him? Did Dickie know the whole time?) a fact Ben found out right before opening night which led to his spiral. And when he shoved the whole poisonous cookie in his mouth, he’s the one who wrote “f**king pig” on the mirror to torment himself. He self-sabotaged. There were so many layers to Ben that sort of explained his asshole-ish ways, and it was kind of heartbreaking to see them pulled back.
Also, all of this transpired on Mabel’s 30th birthday, with her birthday wish coming true as they were all back together doing what they do best.
The trio may have landed on their most logical suspect, but there’s still much more to the story, and I for one am hoping that the series pulls the biggest twist of all and reveals that Dickie was, in fact, the second killer. Or maybe it was always Loretta and that’s why she’s so at peace with her decision?
They have a reputation to uphold, and they can’t ruin it on a subpar season.
What did you think? Are you convinced that Donna is responsible for Ben’s demise?
Yellowstone Recap – Kill the Messenger & No Good Horses (102 and 103)
CBS delivered 2 episodes of Yellowstone this week—episodes 2 and 3—titled “Kill the Messenger” and “No Good Horses”—and there was no shortage of drama.
In the stretch of two hours, Kayce got into a lot of trouble and dealt with more dead bodies than one ever should within a day, while his father, John Dutton, worked tirelessly to put into motion a cover-up to protect him—his late wife’s favorite child—from being implicated in the death of his brother-in-law, Robert, which took a toll the family as Robert’s widow killed herself in the final moments of the episode, orphaning the kids and making him feel guiltier than ever.
Kayce planned to re-enlist as he was consumed with the guilt over his actions and wanted to “provide for his family,” but his plans were derailed when he witnessed a trailer explosion (likely a meth lab, he told Monica). When he found a badly burned survivor who requested that he “kill him,” Kayce put him out of his misery, with Monica’s approval, and when the cops showed up, they took the fall for the mercy kill at the orders of Rainwater, who has big plans to destroy the Dutton’s and erase their very existence.
The Dutton vs. Rainwater war intensified when the former got the latter arrested for stealing his cattle. It was a battle of the egos when Dutton informed him that he would stay in prison until he returned what was rightfully his only for Rainwater to make it clear that he’s eyeing Dutton’s land, which belonged to his people, and hoped to buy it all up—calling himself the “opposite of progress” and underscoring that he’s “the past catching up with you.”
Dutton’s unphased response was simply, “You’re a thief,” before calling prison a “place where the past catches up with everyone.”
And the past surely was catching up to Dutton, who was trying to forget that it was the anniversary of his late wife’s death. Flashbacks revealed that she was killed on horseback, a death she contributed to Beth’s fear of riding (“She did this, let her undo it” are harsh dying words to your daughter, tbh). It explains a lot about Beth’s personality and attitude, and the anniversary is the hardest on her as she takes a bath outside, watches her father have a “sleepover” with Governor Perry, and then promises to run for office—at his insistence—which doesn’t sit well with Jamie, the lawyer of the family who wants to run for Attorney General.
He confronts Beth about it, though she doesn’t mince words, informing him that no one believes that he’ll win and she’s always brought in to clean his messes. She reminds him that all she ever does is for their father while all he ever does is for himself. As she implores him to “be a man,” he punches her in the face, a blow that does not sit well with John, who promises to support Jamie in his run for AG, but also has no qualms about putting “his head through a wall” if he ever hits his sister again.
It’s clear John will do anything and everything for his children, with Rip helping a medical examiner (with a history of getting high on embaling fluid) die by suicide—in a very intense scene that shows that no one here is messing around or afraid of getting their hands dirty. There are a lot of explosions across these two episodes.
John also has Lee’s body exhumed and cremated so that there’s no evidence that could link it all back to Kayce.
But again, Kayce has a way of getting into trouble, stumbling upon a strange van where he killed two kidnappers responsible for holding a Native American girl hostage. Kayce initially wanted to go to the police, but when the girl refused, he took her home to her parents and helped them brush the whole thing under the rug by joining the girl’s father to bury the bodies. However, the final moments of the episode reveal that it may be the site of a construction zone, which would locate the bodies and link them back to Kayce’s gun. It seems he’s bound to go down for murder in some way, which will surely delight Rainwater.
And Dan, who is in a dispute with John over land rights—and not pleased that John had the river moved to put a dent in his looming residential and commercial developments—pursues Beth as revenge, ignoring all the warnings that she’s an “assassin.” Beth isn’t gullible, however, as she knows who Dan is and what he has planned, though she doesn’t seem to mind either. However, her heart is very obviously with Rip, who she has a long and complicated past with.
How are you enjoying the first season of Yellowstone on CBS thus far?
The Irrational Series Premiere Recap – Memory Is a Conman
The Irrational is NBC’s newest—and one of only a handful—scripted new dramas this season, putting Jesse L. Martin in the hot seat as Alec Mercer, a behavioral science professor who lends his set of skills to law enforcement agencies and corporations to help solve mysteries by getting into the mind of the suspect. In the series premiere’s case, he got into the mind of Dylan, the Senator’s son, who was considered a suspect in the murder of his ex-girlfriend, but who Alec was not convinced was the killer.
Alec’s ability to figure out a person’s motives and deduce whether or not they’re telling the truth is an asset, not only to those being wrongfully accused of a crime they didn’t commit but even to those who are convinced they did the crime, as Dylan confessed to the murder.
What Alec was able to pick up was that Dylan had a very vague recollection of the incident in comparison to very vivid memories from his time spent at AA, which led him to believe that those memories were planted; his mind was essentially playing tricks on him. In one moment, Alec declares that memory is the great conman of human nature as it has the ability to lie to us and make us believe something that didn’t actually happen, which, if you think about it, is somewhat of a scary thought and an interesting concept for a TV show to explore… correctly.
The series is a police procedural in the most straightforward of ways with evidence somewhat falling in Alec’s lap as breaks in the case come without much heavy lifting. This may be a make-it-or-break-it for you, though I think many people will appreciate the simplicity of a series where the case is solved in the fourth act, especially amid such a complex TV landscape nowadays.
Alec was determined to prove everyone wrong who accepted Dylan’s guilty confession at face value—if he confessed to being innocent, we wouldn’t believe him, so why should we believe him when he says he’s guilty (it also begs the question: why can’t the police and other agencies do their job properly without external help? And how many times do they get the wrong guy and look the other way?)—but the investigation seemingly moved itself along. He knew Dylan didn’t do it, but he didn’t necessarily have another suspect until Lila was caught breaking into Jasmine’s place. He didn’t believe Lila’s story in the slightest as he paid attention to the little things and was able to call out her bluff trying to use one of her lipgloss’s as Jasmine’s. When she finally came clean, Lila had a motive, but she also had an airtight alibi, which made her innocent.
During that interrogation, Alec found a 5-year sobriety chip, which helped him pinpoint Ray, the only member at AA who achieved the milestone. He confronted Ray without so much as waiting for backup—because it’s clear that Alec is a bit of a thrill junkie and wouldn’t pass up finding out exactly why Ray committed the crime, and he wanted a front seat to see what he’d do next.
Of course, there seem to be moments of human nature that still take him by surprise; he was convinced Ray was the killer, however, he never expected him to point the gun at him and try to get away.
No one was too pleased with Alec’s thrill-seeking escapades, including his ex-wife, Marisa, who is conveniently an FBI agent, and Elise, the DA who seems smitten by Alec’s skills and determination. Is a love triangle bubbling up? Yes. But as Alec’s little sister underscored, Elise may be hot but she’s still shipping the “OG.” And it’s evident that while Alec and Marisa’s relationship may have hit a roadblock, there’s still a lot left to be explored between them, particularly when it comes to the overarching mystery of how he got that burn mark.
Alec plays with the story he shares publicly about his scar, but in reality, it goes back to a pretty dark moment in his life, one that triggered his obsession with the human mind—a bombing at a church that left him as the lone survivor.
As someone who enjoys the heck out of a murder mystery, or, any kind of mystery at all, I love that this is a bigger-picture focus woven throughout the cases of the week that paints a better picture of Alec and allows fans to get to know the intricacies of his person and what makes him tick. We’ll get to know him better by exploring weekly cases, but digging into his past and what shaped him into the man that he is today is also important and necessary, especially as he desires closure. Marisa was also a significant part of his life at that time since we saw that she was the responding FBI officer when he woke up in the hospital room, so we’ll also get insight into the beginning of their relationship—and what led to their seemingly amicable divorce.
The parole hearing for Wes Banning, the alleged bomber that Alec cannot place and has no memory of, didn’t go as planned as a mysterious figure peered through the door—going undetected by a whole courtroom—and forcing the suspect to tell the judge that if released, he will continue committing crimes and putting people in danger.
As Marisa underscores, someone else is pulling the strings, someone with enough pull that they scared Banning behind bars again, and it’s up to Alec to figure out who it is and why.
The series, which delivered a solid pilot episode and has a good foundation to build on, has promise—and given the NBC audience’s affinity for police procedurals, it definitely found the right home.
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