When NBC’s The Player ended prematurely on Thursday, it did so making us want more than any other series before or since. Despite a satisfying finale (read our recap and review), the Philip Winchester-Wesley Snipes drama had such a rich universe of plot possibilities and complex characters that so much was left undone. So much that was so good, we can’t help but want to keep discussing it.
Below, you’ll find a complete analysis of all the unanswered questions – and all of the tremendous strengths – within the series run of The Player. It’s our hope that in breaking down the season, we’ll be able to shine a light on just how well-written, acted and crafted this program truly was. Hopefully those who watched will find a greater appreciation for it, and if you didn’t, perhaps we can inspire you to take a look at what was the best series of the fall.
Here’s everything we wanted to know about The Player, but didn’t get to ask.
Some viewers couldn’t grasp The Player‘s premise of gambling on crime. It’s honestly not that complicated: the organization that runs the action, known as The House, recruits an individual to stop any number of criminal acts, similar to any number of vigilante shows. The only difference is that instead of doing it for the greater good, they’re doing it for profit.
This idea isn’t as farfetched as some might think. Particularly in Las Vegas, where the series is set, you can gamble on just about anything from sporting events to who was going to sing the theme song for James Bond film Spectre to the name of the last Royal Baby. It’s not hard to extend that to wagering on crime. If that’s not plausible, well, it’s moreso than superpowered heroes and we have plenty of those on TV.
In fact, the concept leads to an interesting moral debate. In the pilot, Mr. Johnson (played by Snipes) rationalizes the game to Alex Kane (Winchester) by saying that it provides a stress release for people who might otherwise use their money and power for other ends. By the time we reach the series finale “Tell,” Johnson reveals that there are enemies coming for The House. Might this game be keeping some dangerous others in check? And what happens when they become upset, or bored, and decide that they don’t want to play anymore? We never got the chance to find out.
The House is the name for the organization that runs the game, and The Player gave a very detailed explanation of its backstory in the digital exclusive video “The History of the Game,” released just prior to the series premiere in September. The game involves some of the biggest names in the history of American business, including Carnegie and Rockefeller, and it’s gone through plenty of evolutions by the time it’s introduced to the audience.
In keeping with the gambling theme, The House is run similarly to any major casino. There are always three members of The House: the Pit Boss, currently Johnson, whose role is to announce the bet and make sure that the game is played fairly; the Dealer, who assists the Pit Boss but also acts as the primary resource of The Player; and the Player, who acts on behalf of The House during a given bet, with the criminals involved making up the other side of the wager.
It’s worth noting that the Player apparently doesn’t have to be involved for a bet to take place; according to the video, the idea of the Player wasn’t introduced until after the game was created, and in the episode “Downtown Odds,” Johnson initially sets the wager as being on which gang will win their upcoming war, before Alex asks to be made part of the action. Conversely, a Player can call for a bet, as Alex does in “Tell” in order to locate Jack Fuller. In either case, the final definition of the bet still lies with the Pit Boss.
What is The House looking for to call a bet? There doesn’t seem to be a strict set of criteria; rather, it seems to be a combination of The House’s super-computer ADA flagging certain things and there being enough interest from the gamblers to make it worth playing. This makes perfect sense; it can’t be cheap for The House to bring in the Player, what with the tremendous amount of resources at his disposal, so they likely limit their action to when they believe it will be profitable. As they say, don’t make a bet you can’t win.
Winning a bet is likewise defined as strictly doing whatever is dictated in the original announcement, nothing more and nothing less. Alex is determined to have lost a bet when he loses custody of the person he’s supposed to protect (which happens more than once), and is determined to have won when he prevents a serial killer from killing before midnight, despite the fact that he hasn’t actually apprehended the killer. In the event of a loss, The House is also able to authorize a “double or nothing” second-chance bet, but that apparently requires a consensus between the Pit Boss and the gamblers.
One rule we do know is that it’s not legal for anyone on either side of the game to have a personal stake in the current bet. This happens when Johnson chastizes his old friend for betting on the contract he took out on a college student (“House Rules”) and again when Fuller is the subject of the bet, because of his ties to Johnson (“Tell”). That rule doesn’t seem to apply as strictly to the Player, as Alex is allowed to get involved with the gang war in “Downtown Odds” after stating he did work for one of the gangs, and he’s actually going up against an old friend in the second episode (“Ante Up”).
This is what makes The House so interesting. It’s run like a business, not a secret organization, and it has all the concerns that entails. For example, we never see anyone on The Player doing any bookkeeping, but they obviously have to know their financial bottom line. How do they pay their employees? Alex seemingly still has his ‘day job’ as a security consultant, as in “The Norseman” he tells Cal (Damon Gupton) that the Occam Hotel is just a new client of his, but we don’t learn how either Cassandra or Johnson earn their money. And obviously both of them have to make a living, and seem to be doing so rather well.
There are a ton of operating costs associated with the game as it’s been presented to the audience. The House puts tremendous resources at the Player’s disposal, including a private jet and at least one out of Vegas safehouse (“L.A. Takedown”). But then there are the little things, like the number of bullets Alex goes through, the sets of tires he probably shredded off his Challenger, and other incidentals. Who picks up the tab for those things? Does he expense those to Johnson? After all, if he started buying more ammunition out of his own pocket, wouldn’t that raise an eyebrow over at the local sporting goods store eventually?
And what about The House’s health plan? Does it even have one? Being the Player is a lifetime appointment, so we know that death is a possible (read: the most likely) outcome of the game, and then you get replaced. But in the interim, it seems as if The House must make a good faith effort to keep the Player alive during any given bet. Alex is shown to take a tremendous amount of punishment over the nine episodes, including being shot in one. Is he allowed to take a sick day under any circumstances? It would seem to be bad for business if The House sent out a Player who couldn’t completely fulfill his end of the bet. That would just be setting him up for a loss.
However the business is run, we get some idea of the organizational structure of the game by the series finale. Johnson’s House is actually the North American House, which then infers there is at least one more internationally. We also learn that the Pit Boss(es) answer to a supervisory council and briefly meet one of its members (David Clennon). So there are multiple games, and multiple Players, and there must be a standard set of rules amongst them.
Most of those rules are never defined over The Player‘s run. We know that on a day-to-day level, the Player is never allowed to contact the authorities to assist with a bet; he must use his own resources, but the Dealer counts as a resource. Furthermore, the Player can never expose the existence of the game to anyone outside of it, and that seems to extend to the Dealer and the Pit Boss as well (or Cassandra wouldn’t be lying to her boyfriend).
Higher up the food chain, we learn in “A House Is Not A Home” that there are circumstances under which a Dealer can terminate a Player’s employment – which presumably means killing them, since it’s a lifetime job – and one of those circumstances is exposing the game. It’s a possibility, by Johnson telling Alex not to disappoint him after we see him standing over previous Player Justin Foucault’s body and uttering “disappointing” with no small amount of distaste, that Johnson might have killed Foucault.
But the Pit Boss’s authority is not absolute; in that exact same conversation, Cassandra points out that Alex has done well enough to make his way onto The House’s “hall of fame,” with his popularity amongst the gamblers acting as a sort of life insurance policy. So when can the Dealer pull the trigger? Does it require the approval of the gamblers, the council, or both? What keeps a Pit Boss from just bumping off a Player that he doesn’t like?
We also know that there was at least one circumstance in which a Player killed a Pit Boss and then ascended to that position. Mr. Johnson did exactly that before becoming known as “Mr. Johnson,” so how did he get away with it? Did he break the rules and The House was so impressed that they just promoted him? Or is there any situation under which a Pit Boss – or for that matter, a Dealer – can be deemed as no longer fit for their position and therefore fair game? What if the gamblers become unhappy, as seems to be the case now? Can they call for someone to be replaced – and if so, why didn’t the folks threatening Johnson go that route?
The House’s recruitment policies and procedures are also something worth thinking about, as they appear to have changed significantly from their original versions. In the digital video, it’s mentioned that some of the early Players ranged from soldiers, to thieves, to spies. However, FBI agent Rose Nolan (KaDee Strickland) appears telling Cal that the four missing persons she’s investigating are all men, and they all have special operations experience, including Foucault. Did the North American House get a type?
Nolan also notes that these past Players all moved to Las Vegas, suggesting that the purview of Johnson’s House stretches across the country, which matches with the fact that Alex gets sent to Los Angeles and Chicago. So theoretically, the Player can be handed a bet anywhere in North America, and can be pulled from anywhere therein as well. That’s a wide net, and the job requires a set of skills that not everyone has. How are these people found? Is it simply because, as Cassandra tells Alex in the pilot, they’ve been watching him for a while? Does ADA flag people with certain requirements and The House maintains an ongoing shortlist?
Alex’s recruitment would seem to be a freakish extreme, as he only agrees to take the job once he believes his ex-wife Ginny Lee (Daisy Betts) has been kidnapped by Johnson. We’ll get into the Ginny mystery at the end of this essay, but it does seem like Johnson had at least a hand in that situation, which is a long way to go for every new Player that needs recruiting. Do they all have to be set up, or are some simply approached like a business proposition? And if it’s the latter, what made Alex different? Were they that sure he wouldn’t say yes otherwise? Or does it have something to do with the bigger picture that has started to unfold by the finale?
The House is a very complex entity, understandable given the multitude of factors it must consider not only in overseeing the game but in ensuring that the business runs smoothly. It’s certainly one of the most interesting ‘secret organizations’ that we’ve ever seen constructed on television.
When we meet Alex Kane, he seems to be everything you’d expect of a former special ops operator: comfortably out of the game, with a successful second career as Las Vegas’s top security consultant, making use of his skills on the private market. But in short order, audiences realize that he’s different from the countless other individuals who have gone down a same or similar path.
Cassandra spells out the key facts of Alex’s backstory in the pilot: he began his professional life as a top agent for the FBI, which eventually seconded him to military special operations in the Middle East. At some point thereafter, Alex “broke bad” and began headhunting various terrorists, only stopping his one-man bulldozing when he was shot in the Sudan. That injury caused him to meet his future wife, Dr. Virginia “Ginny” Lee, and because of her Alex re-evaluated his life and career choice, leading eventually to the man we know and love today.
Alex is a fundamentally good man; we know this for a number of reasons. Starting as an FBI agent demonstrates a prior interest in public service, and he’s been referred to by The Player‘s co-creator John Rogers as the “one moral man” in the game. His good heart comes through early and often throughout the season, whether it’s befriending the teenage daughter of the diplomat he’s been hired to protect (“Pilot”) or choosing to save a victim rather than pursue the man who strapped a bomb to her (“A House Is Not A Home”).
However, he doesn’t seem to enforce that morality on his clients. Alex has a past friendship with a local mobster married to the daughter of another mob boss (“The Big Blind”), and mentions having done security work at a nightclub for a Las Vegas gang when their rivals attacked and killed the gang leader (“Downtown Odds”). He has his own moral code, but he doesn’t have an objection to associating with people who aren’t within the law.
Maybe that’s because he draws a distinction between morality and legality; the two can be the same thing, but they aren’t always, at least not in his head when he was justifying killing all those terrorists. It’s easy to see what pushed him to that point – Alex also has a known temper, one that appears when those he cares about are put in danger, whether it’s the diplomat’s daughter, the gang leader’s daughter, or Cal. When he finds out the gang leader’s daughter has died, he seriously considers shooting the drug leader who caused her death until Cassandra talks him out of it.
It could also be because he’s holding himself to a much higher, and frankly impossible, standard. Alex tells Cal that he’d rather be in prison than become his past self again, and in “Tell” the letter from his ex-wife informs him that he should stop punishing himself. Whatever the details are of what he did in that rogue period, they’re so terrible that he feels he needs to continue to answer for them, even though he’s now doing plenty of good after the fact. We know he racked up a body count, but it’s also possible that he’s making it sound even worse because, after all, his opinion is subjective.
Alex’s self-loathing creates an interesting vulnerability in his head. He draws a concrete connection between Ginny and his turnaround; in his head, they’re one and the same, making him not only unable to see what’s really going on with her but also unable to give himself any kind of credit for who he is today. His statement to Cal suggests that he thinks he’s going to regress without her, which turns out not to be true but that’s the way he thinks. He can’t see himself on his own merits, which from an audience point of view is massively annoying because he really is a great guy.
It seems like the only way to break that is for him to have a moment in which he realizes he can do some good without Ginny, which would then only seem to happen if he wises up to just how dysfunctional his wife actually is. But that then risks doing its own damage to Alex’s mind, since he has her on such a pedestal, one that has nothing to do with her disappearance. He never did manage to sign the divorce papers. If anything, he’s only gotten in deeper having to chase her down, and realizing that she’s dirty could break him emotionally because it’s the one thing he seems completely unprepared to consider.
But it’s that internal back and forth that makes Alex such a compelling hero. Professionally speaking, he’s the successor to 24‘s Jack Bauer – the character taking on the bad guys by any means necessary, who is so charismatic and committed that you can’t help but root for him no matter what. Yet underneath that he’s going through a lot more than the usual issues that action heroes face. He needs to do a lot more re-evaluation than he’s already done, and his story would’ve been interesting even if the game had never been part of it.
A lot of that is casting – as we mentioned in our pre-finale interview with him, Philip Winchester brings a certain positive energy to the character that another actor wouldn’t have. He’s such a genuine person that in turn that feeling transfers over to his character. If Alex were played by someone else, he’d be a lot darker and that would take away from his appeal; TV is full of brooding heroes with closets full of skeletons. Alex Kane is different. He has history, but you also can’t help but feel that he’s got a bright future. His biggest question is just is he ever going to see what’s right in front of him?
In our character analysis of Mr. Johnson, we discussed how he is neither the prototypical boss character nor the typical antagonist, even though he plays both roles over the course of the season. The last few episodes of The Player gave some major clues to Johnson’s backstory, telling us that he came from a rough neighborhood in Chicago and spent a significant amount of time in Asia before joining the game and becoming one of its best Players. Then there’s that incident where he killed his Pit Boss.
We still need to know a lot about Johnson for his narrative to feel complete. What has he done that’s ticked off this unknown faction of people? Is it just that they’re fed up with his reign as Pit Boss, or is it something else? In other words, is this vendetta professional or personal? That makes a big difference. If it’s against his House, then that involves everyone else; if it’s his problem, then it really should just be his problem. As he says to Jack Fuller, “You have a problem. Don’t make it mine.”
He also comes from a completely different background than the last couple of Players. He, too, has a history with Chicago mob boss Pauly Agostino (Eric Roberts), the father of Alex’s friend. So at some point, Johnson has been involved with both the mafia and the Chinese Triad. How did he get recruited from there? And who was his Pit Boss, and what did that person do for him to stage a coup? Was it just, as Johnson teases Alex with in “Tell,” that he was starting to like the game and decided to go all-in? Or was there some bad blood involved?
Whatever happened, Johnson is the character who is the most committed to The House and what it stands for, and even if his issue is a personal one, seems completely disinclined to let go of The House anyway. He’s basically ride or die with this organization. It makes you wonder where that commitment came from. Everyone who’s in The House seems to have different motivations for being there, but it almost seems too simple to say that his was purely power. Johnson’s been written as too complex a character for that.
Johnson does believe that he needs both Alex and Cassandra to help him combat his enemies. He asks them for help, going so far as to deliver Fuller to Alex as a goodwill gesture, and he doesn’t appear to be the kind of man to ask for anything unless he has no other choice. Especially since he and Alex are so ideologically different, that he sees Alex as necessary tells you a lot about the severity of Johnson’s predicament.
But he and Alex do develop a certain professional respect for each other, and there are times when Johnson seems to do things out of at least partially good motivations. He shows up to save Alex and his niece Dani (Courtney Grosbeck) in “The Norseman,” even though the bet has been won already, but that might be because he also mentions earlier in the episode that the serial killer “offends” him. In the very next episode, “A House Is Not A Home,” he rescues Alex from the cops – though that’s at least partially to keep the game from being exposed. And he does show concern for Cassandra in her relationship with Nick (Nick Wechsler). So what really motivates him? It’s disappointing that we’ll never find out.
Our character analysis of Cassandra King details how she, not Alex, is The Player‘s real wild card. Cassandra can play either side of the push-pull between Alex and Mr. Johnson, and she’s inclined to play both of them at different points through the season. While she is loyal to The House and to Johnson, she also has a past friendship with Ginny that raises her suspicions and forms a separate bond with Alex that leads her to become his biggest ally within the game, not just because she’s pushing all the buttons.
“Tell” finally gave us information on Cassandra’s history, thanks to that shocking interrogation scene. She was the sole survivor of a murder in London that claimed the lives of her father, mother and older brother. Nolan claims that a man matching Johnson’s description was a person of interest in that case, but that will go down as an unanswered question specifically because Nolan has lied about many things before. There’s no indication that she’s not lying again, and we’d have needed more episodes to uncover evidence to back up her claim, which almost certainly would have blown up The House.
Alex deduces in “L.A. Takedown,” and Cassandra confirms, that she’s had British military training. She also mentions to Johnson in a later episode that she didn’t entirely choose to become the Dealer, suggesting that she was partially coerced into doing so. That, again, opens up questions about The House’s recruiting tactics – and why she’d stay in the job and stay loyal if she was pushed into it. Perhaps it’s, as Charity Wakefield said in our interview with her, that The House has given Cassandra a family to replace the one that she lost.
By the way, is that even her real name? Because the Greek mythological character of Cassandra fits pretty well with her function here, so it would be a perfect alias, much like we’re not entirely sure Johnson is her boss’s actual surname.
Ideologically, it seemed like Cassandra represented the middle ground between her two colleagues. She could be as calculating and single-minded as Johnson, but she also demonstrated compassion like Alex, whether it was worrying about him or following his request to go to the hospital and keep an eye on the distraught boyfriend of the shooting victim in “Downtown Odds.” She also helps Alex locate Cal, and get him to the hospital, in “Tell.” So what exactly is her moral code?
Whatever hand Johnson had in Ginny’s disappearance, it seems like Cassandra was not involved. She appears legitimately shocked when she discovers that Ginny is still alive, and conducts her entire investigation into her old friend’s whereabouts under the radar, which she wouldn’t have to do if she’d been working with Johnson. She’d have nothing to hide. So why didn’t Johnson involve her – he seems to involve her in most but not all of his moves – and how did he hide it from her?
Furthermore, we never got answers as to the extent of Cassandra’s friendship with Ginny and how she fit into the overall chronology of Ginny’s story. Logic dictates that Cassandra must have stepped out of Ginny’s story before Alex came into it, because it wouldn’t make sense for her not to have been introduced to Alex if they were as close friends as has been implied. Or invited to their wedding. Or any number of things; she and Alex clearly are meeting for the first time when we see them in the pilot, so if she’d recognized him from before, you’d think she would have behaved differently.
But the photo we see of them together in the pilot appears to be from the Middle East, so they were all – Cassandra, Ginny and Alex – in the same area at roughly the same period of time. They certainly didn’t miss each other by much, which is something else that will probably cause Alex’s brain to cramp and is another of those weird coincidences that, knowing how well plotted out The Player was, probably was not a coincidence at all.
Think about it for a second – the Dealer just happens to be a former acquaintance of the Player’s ex-wife? The ex-wife whose disappearance causes the Player to cross the path of the game in the first place? It’s possible that all of this just happened, but only by the slimmest of margins. Cassandra was obviously the Dealer for Players before Alex, but what was her reaction when his name came up?
Even if she’d fallen out of contact with Ginny and didn’t know that he was Ginny’s ex-husband, she had to have learned it in all that surveillance she mentioned that The House did on Alex before he was recruited. If they can pull his classified FBI file, they can find out who he was married to. That had to have an effect on Cassandra. You’d think she’d have something to say about it. Or was someone else moving all these pieces into place, finding her and then finding Ginny and then Alex? Just how big is the big picture?
Cassandra’s loyalty to The House runs deep, as evidenced in “Tell” when the audience finds out that she knew that the FBI were going to abduct and interrogate her, and went through with it. She’s also got a certain amount of allegiance toward Johnson, even though she’s also willing to work against him – in “A House Is Not A Home,” when looking for Ginny at Zephyr Cove, she explicitly says “You can’t trust Johnson.”
So when push comes to shove, who would she have chosen? Johnson? Alex? The unnamed third party? None of the above? Cassandra as a free agent is a scary proposition for both Johnson and Alex, who have come to rely on her, but also entirely feasible. She seems to be able to take an inordinate amount of pressure without breaking, but especially if Nolan’s assertion about Johnson was actually true, it would have been interesting to find out if she would get to a point where she’d be the one walking out.
As mentioned in our character analysis of Cal Brown, he’s the character that we didn’t get to dig into because of The Player‘s reduced episode order. The most information we get about him is in “The Norseman,” where Alex mentions that Cal was a rookie detective when the serial killer first struck almost a decade earlier and has been trying to catch the guy ever since. That implies that Cal has been with the Las Vegas Police Department for well more than a decade, as he’d have had to work his way up to detective. We do know from his wedding ring that he’s married, but the only person we ever meet in his life is Alex.
The question is if Alex’s friendship with Cal likewise goes back a minimum of nine years, or if Alex just happens to know Cal’s history well enough to know about The Norseman; either one is technically possible, but the former seems more likely because of the deep bond between the two (though not deep enough for Cal to be aware of Alex’s past crimes, which Alex apparently didn’t even want to bring up with his best friend). These two show repeatedly that they’ll do anything for each other – Cal only sides with Nolan because he thinks he’s saving Alex, and it’s Cal being shot in “Tell” that is Alex’s breaking point.
It’s not hard to see how they became friends, because Cal’s moral code appears to be as strict if not stricter than Alex’s. Whereas Alex shows a willingness to bend the law on occasion (including using Cal’s badge number to track Jack Fuller), Cal is upset with himself for breaking the law and his own moral code by allowing Nolan’s interrogation of Cassandra. He’s a lifetime cop, with everything that entails, whether it’s sticking to the letter of the law or not letting go when something isn’t right.
Audiences were treated to the complete disintegration of the friendship between Cal and Alex; in “Tell,” Cal informs Alex that they’re done because he almost died, and Alex decides that he’s done hurting Cal because of the game. We never got to see that friendship being rebuilt, or explore as much as we could have about it, or about who Cal is.
After all, he had some big choices to make once he got out of that hospital bed. Now that he knew Agent Nolan wasn’t above-board, was he going to go after her? He’d threatened to go to her supervisor at the FBI earlier and never finished that conversation. The safe thing to do would be to walk away from the entire debacle, but the bullet in his gut proved that there was something wrong going down in Vegas, and just like Alex, Cal always tries to do good.
Plus, someone needed to put Nolan in her place, because it was clear that she was taking orders from somebody else (and also, she deserved to be the one taking the bullet, not him). Cal had always been written as a very smart cop, and it was time for him to stop letting Nolan drive the case and assert himself. How far would he go for the truth? And would he be willing to put Alex in the crosshairs if it came to that? He was willing to question Alex in Ginny’s apparent murder, so it seems like for Cal, morality trumps friendship – but we’d never know for sure until that bridge got crossed.
Perhaps the biggest amount of unanswered questions in The Player surrounded Alex’s ex-wife Ginny, whose mystery got more complicated and more questionable every week. The last scene of the entire series was Alex finding her secret cache of weapons at the back of her storage locker in Summerlin, and doctors don’t hoard firearms.
As we mentioned in a previous analysis of her character, Ginny’s recasting changed the direction of her story. Not only that, but as we’ve discussed above, that gear shift had a profound effect on her ex-husband’s psyche. It’s painfully obvious now that she is a huge piece of what’s happening, and yet Alex can’t see it as he clings to this idea of who she is, and destroying that idea is going to cause serious consequences for him mentally and emotionally.
What we do know is that Ginny was scared of somebody (“The Big Blind”) in the recent past. At some point after the breakup of her marriage to Alex, she went back overseas and returned looking to re-start their relationship (“Pilot”). But just as quickly, her death was faked and she hired Jack Fuller to help her disappear (“Tell”). Fuller brought her to Zephyr Cove, but those same people turned up and sent her running again. It’s clear that Ginny was into some serious stuff for a long time now, at least during the period in which Alex knew her and possibly even before.
The timing of the events is questionable, and we still don’t know who exactly she’s involved with. It seems terribly suspicious that she came back and told Alex she wanted to get back together with him, only to fake her death hours later. It also seems weird that she’s leaving him clues to find her with, but then when he is able to call her (“House Rules”), tells him not to keep looking for her. All of this counter-productive behavior points to her manipulating him, or at best stringing him along.
This is quite painful to watch from an audience standpoint, because we care deeply for Alex and therefore don’t like the fact that this woman he’s pinned so much on is treating him so badly. While she genuinely loved him at some point – she did marry him and even in her last note, is telling him that he’s a good person – she’s making decisions that she has to know are just screwing with him, and the biggest question would be if he’d ever notice and be able to hold her accountable.
As mentioned above, Alex is such a hopeless romantic and so ties his redemption to Ginny that he absolutely cannot see the truth that’s in front of his face. He has this idealized notion of her and it’s almost as if, should he discredit that, he’s discrediting the fact that he turned his life around. It seems like the best thing for them both to do would be to go their separate ways, as much as it would hurt at least him in the immediate future. But Alex isn’t going to let her go, and she seems to be counting on that – or why would she ever bother leaving him clues? Or was she not the one doing so? If she wasn’t, whoever was knows way too much about both of them and their relationship history.
It would seem like Ginny’s story would have had to have been wrapped up by the end of the first season (by which, we mean an entire 22-episode season, not the original 13-episode order necessarily). It would be too implausible to have Alex chasing her all year and then not reward him – and the audience – for all that effort. It’d also be ridiculous for them to have a happy ending and get back together like none of this mattered. So what would’ve been the appropriate resolution? Ginny ends up dying to protect Alex? Alex finally gets a clue and leaves her to fend for herself? The show can’t completely demonize her either without making their entire relationship look like the longest con ever, so there were options but only to certain extents.
But she would’ve had to have gone, because within the story she’d already reached the point of no return. The only things left to do were to tell the truth about her – and to make Alex face it.
There was such a tremendous amount of plot left in The Player. If you just thought it was about gambling on crime and good guys versus bad guys, you missed about 75 percent of the show. It was a story in two directions: there was the arc in the present, with the threats to The House and this uneasy relationship being built, and then there was the arc in the past, where the Ginny mystery was our window into a character study of Alex, and eventually Cassandra, and who knows what else we might have found in learning what brought our main characters to this point in which we met them.
The action component obviously came in the former. Who were these people wanting to take down Johnson and come after the North American House? Were they just disgruntled gamblers or were they something more? How many of them were there? Obviously, their reach went pretty far if they were able to employ and protect Agent Nolan, and sanction her doing secret interrogations.
Although there’s one interesting note: she’s FBI and Alex was former FBI, so might he have some inside information that could help The House in figuring her out? Or is it yet another coincidence that the main antagonist of the second part of the season works for the same agency that the hero used to?
That situation would, generally speaking, have ended one of two ways: either Johnson would retain control of The House or he would lose it. The show seemed to be gearing up to force the main characters all onto the same side to present a unified front against this new threat; even though personally they all are fighting with one another, none of them seem like they’d just let the other ones burn. In forming a temporary alliance, would they be able to repair their damaged relationships?
They have to find some way to go on, because the game has to continue into future seasons; the writers can’t take the central concept out of the show or have the main characters kicked to the curb. (Even if they could, like the temporary team on NCIS, it wouldn’t be smart given how strong the main ensemble is. Any new characters, say installed by any new regime, would just look like the second string.) No matter how much they hate each other, all of them have to stay. The existence of other Houses was already spoiled early in the season, so there would have been that whole idea to play with to a certain extent, too.
But the show was also very much about character development, and that’s where the other half of the story came in. Finding Ginny and confronting her would’ve also been our opportunity to explore Alex’s past, to explore Cassandra’s past, for Alex and Cassandra to confront each other over that shared connection, and even to maybe see things like how Alex met Cal or how Cassandra became the Dealer. Every main character had at least one unanswered question about their past, and for two of them they were in the same period of time, so everything was pointing in the same direction.
Once you learn these things about who these people were, that then gives the viewers a greater perspective on who they are and the choices that they make next. So much of the present situation – even though it wasn’t readily apparent – was tied to their pasts. It’s as much an origin story as it is one in the present day, and that made it a perfect starting point to get audiences invested in these characters. It would have been fascinating to see the end of the season, where Alex has dealt with the past and now has a clear and open future in front of him, and why he would have chosen to remain with The House and the game after having such an objection to it at the start.
What The Player was flawless at, even moreso than the action, was creating these deep characters and then evolving them organically. You can take any one of the main characters and see multiple layers within each of them, yet everything that they do makes sense with everything that has been established about them (except for how Alex is a security expert with a completely insecure apartment). There are so many questions left to answer about all of them, because there was so much effort put into how they were built, how they were acted, and how they played off each other. The action on the show was brilliant, but it was the writing that really took it to that next level and made it something special.
Unfortunately, there exists the incorrect belief that an action show is solely about action, and not much else. That hasn’t been true in several years, not with the arrival of shows like Strike Back and Human Target and Transporter: The Series. But that’s what audiences still tend to think, and even marketing campaigns tend to focus on the action. It’s more attention-grabbing that way, and it’s really hard in a 60-second commercial to explain layered writing and nuanced acting. People really have to watch a show for two or three episodes to understand what it’s actually about, and this one just didn’t get that break.
But how short-lived it was doesn’t change the quality of the product. It may not have been commercially successful, but The Player was much better than it was ever given credit for. It was a series that did nearly everything right; in eight episodes there wasn’t a weak one in the bunch. The fact that we can put together an entire essay on all the aspects that stood out, and the talking points they generated, tells you how this show might have been an action series, but it was also as well-constructed as any other. Hopefully more people will come to realize that, and realize that TV audiences let a good one get away far too soon.
The Player is now available on iTunes, Hulu, Amazon and NBC.com.