This week’s Human Target takes a pretty different tack. Chance and Winston are waiting to have an overdue meeting with a man who claims he’s being targeted by just about everyone. As usual, Winston is disgruntled, and Chance is unbothered by Winston being disgruntled. Their new client’s proven right, however, when they have to rescue him from a car bomb right in front of the restaurant where they’re waiting for him. As a result of the car accident, the client has amnesia, meaning they have zero idea about what they’re getting into. Yet since when has that ever stopped Chance? He fakes Ilsa’s signature in order to spring “J.D.” from the hospital, and sets about doing what he does best: try to keep someone alive.
While Ames doesn’t buy the amnesia diagnosis, members of the San Francisco Police Department turn up on the team’s doorstep wanting to “follow up” on their new friend, one of whom is Lieutenant Broward (Nick Chinlund). Broward obviously has a past with Winston, and it’s not a good one by how they immediately start sniping at one another, which only further blackens Winston’s mood. When Ilsa asks what just happened, Winston tells her that he believes Broward is a dirty cop. “That was the guy,” he says. “He cost me everything. My job, my reputation.” Chance tells him to look at J.D.’s case as a second chance to catch Broward.
Chance, Winston and Ames bringJ.D. back to the motel that his car’s GPS told them he was staying at prior to coming to see them. Once they get there, they find a corkboard covered with all sorts of interesting news clippings and a mysterious key. Guerrero, meanwhile, arrives back at the restaurant posing as a member of the bomb squad. He calls Chance to tell him that the workmanship of the bomb makes him think they’re dealing with an amateur. At the same time, Chance and Winston notice a pack of unhappy-looking bikers turn up at the motel. They’re looking for J.D. and happy to shoot their way in the door. While Chi McBride gets to be even cooler by weirding a shotgun, Chance goes the Molotov Cocktail route to the tune of the oft-overplayed “Ace of Spades” by Motorhead. Needless to say, all this action draws the attention of the cops, including Winston’s nemesis Broward. Broward insists on taking J.D. into custody, and a spooked J.D. decides he’d rather take his chances with the police.
Guerrero finds an “old friend” that runs with the biker gang, and tells Chance that the bikers weren’t after J.D., but hired to take out Chance himself. Why? Well, it turns out Broward knows who J.D. really is. Before he can let that slip to the audience, the team rescues J.D. from Broward, who gets the business end of Chance’s shotgun. That means that the SFPD turns up at the warehouse, telling Ilsa they have arrest warrants for the team. When she calls Winston, Winston warns her that these aren’t regular cops and they don’t plan on just arresting her. They break their way into the building, but by then, she’s taken Chance’s advice and gone into hiding in the elevator shaft. This enables her to make an escape, and officially puts all of the main characters on the run from the law.
Ames realizes J.D. has a pen from a self-storage facility, and Winston realizes that’s what the key must be for. They arrive at the storage unit, and amongst all the junk (hey! a jukebox!) there’s a Ford Transit van filled with cash, and J.D.’s passport, which tells him that his name is David Jarecki. While picking up Ilsa, Guerrero recognizes him as a pretty legendary money launderer. Realizing J.D. must have something on Broward, Winston goes back to his old home looking for all the paperwork he used to keep on the corrupt cop, and comes face-to-face with his ex-wife Michelle (whom even Chance didn’t know about). She wisely deduces that he’s not just there to catch up. He’s just barely gotten the paperwork in hand before the cops turn up on her doorstep.
When they return, Ames tells them that she’s figured out that J.D. had a photographic memory – which means now that he lacks a memory, period, they have pretty much nothing to go any further with. At his breaking point, Winston flips out, fearing that his entire life might be going up in smoke all over again. Thankfully, he has Chance to rein him in. Chance’s idea is to bluff Broward into believing that J.D. remembers who he is, and bait him into revealing where his own hidden bank accounts are. Guerrero and Ilsa create a new bank account with some of Ilsa’s money, as Chance walks J.D. into the police station. In order to distract the cops outside the bank, Ames does the unthinkable: she smashes Guerrero’s Cadillac into the car behind it, making him consider killing her.
At the SFPD, J.D. tells Broward that he’s willing to pay two million dollars for everyone’s freedom, if Broward will give him the account number to wire it to. They show Broward the shiny new bank account, but just as he’s about to complete the transaction, the detective starts interrogating J.D. about details he doesn’t really remember. A wrong answer gets him a gun in his face, and he spills the entire plan, as well as his having all that other money in storage. Broward takes him at gunpoint to retrieve the rest of the money, but when they get there, Winston is there waiting. Turns out the whole thing was an act: J.D. memorized the bank account number when Broward entered it earlier, and now Winston gets a good shot in before arresting him.
Chance advises J.D. to get into witness protection, since he probably has a lot of enemies. Ames tells him that they found surveillance footage showing J.D. himself bought the materials for the bomb; he was planning to fake his own death, and that was why he hired Chance in the first place. He was trying to stay alive long enough to pull off the plan. Everyone advises him to take the second chance in front of him and start his life over. Likewise, Winston decides to apologize to his ex-wife for everything he put her through in his quest for justice, and to thank her for helping him when he needed it. It’s clear he still loves her. At least he has Chance to lean on.
Chi McBride doesn’t get as much credit as he should for his work on Human Target; I know that with the introduction of Ilsa, a lot of people were worried that he might be marginalized or written out of the show altogether. Any concerns about his importance in the ensemble can now be safely laid to rest. This episode is Chi’s sandbox and everyone else is just playing in it. This is the man who held together Boston Public, so there’s no doubt that he can carry an episode on his shoulders. He’s ably helped by the underrated Roger Bart, who’s an Everyman actor able to turn not-so-great guys into sympathetic characters (look at what he did with his murdering character on Desperate Housewives). Between the two of them, they put on a heck of a show – so much so that I don’t even mind there’s less Mark Valley in this episode than usual. I’d certainly love to see Tracie Thoms make a return appearance as well; she was stellar in Cold Case, and Michelle’s scenes with Winston just begs for more. Then, as usual, there’s Jackie Earle Haley, making a lot out of a little.
That’s a lot of great acting work, and it’s served by an entertaining, surprising script that has a well-constructed narrative with a unique ending. It develops our characters, taking us on a journey with the client of the week that also shows us more about the heroes we love, and keeps us guessing right up until the end. Yet when it ends, it ends well, and not as if the writers introduced so much that they forgot to tie it all together until the last minute. Human Target follows an edict I love: characters first, plot second, and it never fails to create some great plots out of its wonderful characters. This is a great example of how that works best.
For the facts and trivia from this episode, check out this week’s installment of The Human Target File.