I’ve quipped a time or two that I wouldn’t mind getting Christopher Chance for Christmas – well, I finally got my wish. Kind of. Close enough.
Unlike me, Chance is not in the Christmas spirit (that’s right, it’s Chance and not Winston who’s the cranky one), so he’s glad to get a new case in the form of Richard Applebaum (John Michael Higgins), who’s become a whistleblower against the pharmaceutical company that he works for, and has since found his life and the lives of his family in danger. How’s the team going to handle this one? By integrating themselves into middle-class suburbia, or as Chance glibly puts it when Ames asks, “We’re in hell.” None of them have any clue about a normal life.
Chance goes to work with Richard, pretending to be the office temp and not making friends with Richard’s stuffed suit of a boss named Meachem, while Guerrero gets the unflattering role of office janitor. It quickly gets on his already short nerves. “Were you raised in a barn or something?” he snarks at one employee, before raiding the supply closet for anything he thinks the warehouse is lacking in. Chance, meanwhile, seems completely bewildered by the trappings of a cubicle. Post-It Notes and company calendars are so not his style. After Richard wanders off alone (why do people always do that even when they know someone’s trying to kill them? Did horror movies teach you nothing?) and is confronted by his boss with little more than an angry tirade, Chance determines that Meachem isn’t the culprit. He just probably knows who is.
Meanwhile, Ames is dispatched to protect the Applebaums’ son, Joel, even if it means going to the mall with him as he endures his food court job. She makes the best of it, giving him advice on how to deal with a girl that he’s literally tongue-tied over.
Winston is stuck at home with Richard’s wife, Rachel, which means he can vent to her about how Chance dislikes Christmas. He can also keep her from getting shot by a pair of would-be assassins (one of whom is not, but looks like he could be related to, 24‘s Jeffrey Nordling). This happens just before Rachel’s book club meeting, meaning he greets one of the houseguests with a sniper dot right in the middle of her forehead. At least the poor woman seems to take it well.
Everyone reconvenes to compare notes, and Richard isn’t happy that Rachel’s blog exposes their neighborhood’s dirty laundry, starting a fight between them. After a day stuck in corporate purgatory, Chance is at his wit’s end, declaring their bickering to be worse than when he was thrown out of an airplane or otherwise “generally mistreated” before leaving them to it. Also disappearing is Joel, after Ames tells him she’ll take him to a party where the girl he likes is expecting him. It goes without saying that it’s not long before bad guys roll up on the party as well.
Once he’s cleared his head, Chance asks Richard and Rachel about something suspicious Guerrero found in the office: a Swedish business card. Guerrero’s done his homework and tracked down a Swedish hacker turned game designer named Klemah (David Orth, with what appears to be a really bad bleach job), who’s putting bugs into his games that allow him to access anything else he wants while he’s at it. He was able to do this with Richard’s boss and swipe a ton of their files. Of course, there’s only one person in the Applebaum family who’s a gamer. Winston imparts this information to Ames just as the thugs start wandering through the party, causing a huge scene on the front lawn. He and Chance arrive just in time to keep Joel from being kidnapped – and for Chance to deliver an anti-drug PSA while he’s at it. I do love how our hero is never short of something to say.
Richard isn’t happy with the team’s unorthodox methods, but Chance doesn’t really care. He confronts Joel about his gaming history, and Joel admits that not only did he play one of the games, he hacked into the site of the company that made it and erased all their files. Winston says they can assume that his hacking efforts wiped out all of Klemah’s stolen copies of the pharmaceutical company’s files, except for what’s left on Joel’s laptop. Cut to Guerrero introducing Meachem to the business end of a stapler in order to get in touch with Klemah. An arrangement is set up: Klemah gets the laptop in exchange for the safety of the Applebaum family. Chance leaves the decision up to Joel, who finds his courage and agrees to make the exchange. Where’s the exchange taking place? In the mall, of course!
This means that Winston gets to play Santa, Guerrero is stuck as the janitor again, and Chance gets to pretend like he’s doing routine display maintenance. Just as Joel is about to make the drop, they watch as the girl Joel likes gets in the way. The interruption means that Joel gets a gun in the back and is dragged away by several of Klemah’s men. Of course, our heroes won’t stand for this, so everyone in the mall gets to watch a series of fights break out (several small children will need therapy). Chance rescues Joel, but not before one of the bad guys gets away with the laptop. His solution? Hijack a Christmas display so that he can take Santa’s sleigh and get the drop on the guy, stealing it right back while everyone else just gapes at the entire scene. Really, the entire sequence is brilliance; not only is it another well coordinated stunt sequence, but it’s got added hilarity if you think about how parents are going to explain to their kids that Santa was beating up a few security guards.
When all is said and done, Joel’s would-be girlfriend thinks he’s an action hero for having survived, Winston joins Rachel’s book club, Guerrero swipes some scotch from Meachem’s office before heading off to meet “a plumber.” (He says we don’t want to know, and I believe him.) Chance is left to sulk by himself, at least before Ilsa turns up to brood with him. She’s not a fan of the holiday either, but at least they can be misanthropic together. He suggests ditching the Christmas tree, but even she won’t let him. That’s right, Chance, you’re going to have Christmas and like it.
This is probably Human Target‘s funniest episode this season, just because of the culture shock that our heroes deal with when faced with what the rest of us consider normal. None of them have anything resembling a normal life anymore, and they haven’t for some time, and they all react badly. Chance alone looks and acts as if he’s trapped in his own personal Dilbert nightmare and the others aren’t much better. The show gets just enough mileage out of that conceit without forcing it; they could have easily overdone it, but they got a good amount of humor out of it and let it be, without sacrificing the action sequences that we’ve come to expect each week.
Ames fits really well in this episode, and I’m glad that Ilsa isn’t forced where she doesn’t fit. I’m not particularly thrilled with the bad guys here, but I’m not really sure I was meant to be; it seems like the focus of the episode was more the “out of their element” concept, which we get in spades. As Chance and his team have no clue about normal life, the Applebaums don’t have an idea about what they’ve gotten mixed up in, and everyone meets in the middle to get them all out of it. Human Target is a show that doesn’t beat you over the head with what it’s trying to show you, and it’s great how we get character development where we don’t necessarily expect it, without sacrificing the action that we tune in for.
One last note on my way out: Human Target is in reruns next week (two of them, actually), but things will look a bit different when we come back. On January 5 and also on January 12, FOX will run two back-to-back episodes starting at the usual time of 8 PM (and the return of Leonor Varela as Chance’s old flame Maria). Make sure that you adjust your DVR accordingly! (And don’t forget to check out this week’s installment of The Human Target File for trivia and tidbits from this week’s episode.)