Ilsa’s gone and gotten herself into it again this week. She’s in South America looking for her kidnapped friend. Chance is not impressed with this decision. Perhaps in order to keep her from being killed, he decides to step in and help her – even if it means relying on his former colleague turned nemesis, Baptiste (Lennie James), who is not a fan of Cervantes, the guy who’s kidnapped Susan Connors.
While Chance goes to Siberia and reluctantly springs Baptiste from his dreary confines – just watch Mark Valley’s facial expressions during their initial exchanges and you can see the simmering hate – Winston gives Ilsa the abbreviated version of Chance’s backstory. The latter is mildly annoying, in a petty way; the audience had to wait all of season one to get that information, and Ilsa gets it without much effort at all. Chance, however, is able to use her assets to get Baptiste on a plane headed for South America. Unfortunately, the plane is met by a bunch of armed goons. Thankfully, they’re not on it.
They make their way to a seedy bar looking for information, and because this is what happens in seedy bars, a brief gunfight breaks out – that ends with Chance and Baptiste doing the inevitable, which is trying to kill one another. This episode is co-written by original showrunner Jon Steinberg, and he displays that he still knows these characters like the back of his hand, by keeping the tension between them high and constant despite their common goal. Much like in Baptiste’s previous appearances, the fight sequence between Mark Valley and Lennie James is on a whole other level, even when compared to the series’ already quality stunt work. Their brawl distracts them and they end up hauled off by Baptiste’s former collaborator, who now works for Cervantes. Does that stop them arguing? Of course not. The fighting leads Baptiste to reveal that Joubert has cut him loose since their last encounter.
Winston and Guerrero, and reluctantly Ilsa, move to help out the bickering pair. Jackie Earle Haley gets more classic lines (“A lot of productive things have happened putting a gun to someone’s head”), and Chi McBride turns on the natural authority as Winston pushes Ilsa to back up her tough talk with action by sneaking into a Defense Department official’s office in order to release her plane and get Chance a way out of South America. This requires her to flirt and wow, is it awkward. It’s almost painful to watch.
Predictably, once Cervantes (Jorge Montesi) is on the scene, Baptiste turns sides and knocks Chance unconscious. This gets him tied up next to Susan, who tells him all about the story that she was chasing. It’s not long before they’re visited by the henchman who gets the job of torturing them, and Chance quickly dispatches of him. While they’re trying to escape, Cervantes challenges Baptiste to prove his newfound loyalty by killing Chance, who turns up just in time. Baptiste turns sides yet again, helping Chance shoot their way out of the compound while Susan arrives with a getaway car.
However, they can’t get out of the country if Ilsa can’t get the plane released. This is still cringe-inducing, but at least the job gets done. She gets the information they need, and Guerrero impersonates said official to get the plane released. Our trio blows through a military barricade, gets to the plane and they make a safe escape. On the plane, Chance and Baptiste discuss whether or not Baptiste really would have shot him. The answer’s surprising, even if Baptiste trying to escape again isn’t. Chance, however, is prepared for that and has drugged him, ensuring he returns to prison.
The moment I heard that Jon Steinberg was writing an episode that brought back Lennie James, I’ve been waiting for it with bated breath. I maintain that no one will ever know a TV show better than the original showrunner; there’s just a level of familiarity that comes from being there at the beginning. It’s good to see that after all he did to bring Human Target to television, Steinberg’s talents are still being appreciated and utilized. Likewise, a hero is made even better by a great nemesis, and Lennie James hasn’t missed a beat from his previous performances as Baptiste. He and Mark Valley still have the same sharpness to their interactions, and he’s still a force to be reckoned with.
If there’s one flaw in this episode, it’s the scenes with Ilsa. Indira Varma is a beautiful woman, and bless the character for trying, but the entire thing is just awkward and frustrating. I’m supposing that the point is to show how out of her element she is, but the way it comes across is that the woman couldn’t flirt to save her life. She was happily married; she has to have some flirting skills somewhere. The scenes drag down what otherwise is a really great hour of television.
And it is a great hour of television. The episode brings back an amazing villain, utilizes him to a great extent, further develops his character, and gives him a chance to fight another day. I’ll be waiting for that day, because “The Return of Baptiste” sets the table for a whole other storyline that should be just as electric as every episode he’s been in so far. James just makes Human Target even better, and watching him bringing out the best in our main cast (and, it seems, the writers) is always a delight.