Don’t write off The Player yet. The show might be counting down, but it’s also building up to arcs we’ve been waiting for with “Downtown Odds.” Alex’s case history comes in handy as he finds himself having to navigate two rival gangs in order to deal with a much bigger problem that they both share, but more importantly, our main characters have their own choices to make.
First, did anyone call for a flaming truck? Because there’s an on-fire big rig going through the background of our opening shot, courtesy of some currently unidentified man. But we’ll learn who he is shortly; first we need to get to the fact that Mr. Johnson is having a meeting about this incident with another old friend. (This guy has friends everywhere.) He’s told that the semi was carrying drugs for a local gang, and their enemies decided to dispatch it in a battle for business.
Alex gets his weekly briefing, where he’s not happy to be dealing with Los Bravos, run by the Salvado family. They were the top criminal organization in the year until the Pharoahs took over years ago, and he knows that situation well because he was designing security for a club run by the latter when the former attacked. Now it’s time for round two, and he’s annoyed that he’s not part of the plan to fix the problem. “I want in,” he insists, and Johnson revises the bet to to see if Alex can stop the gang war – because you know, Alex does everything but make Julienne fries.
While Agent Nolan (KaDee Strickland) builds her FBI conspiracy board, Alex hits the street to connect with Imani, the teenage daughter of the man who was killed in that prior attack. She tells him she doesn’t believe Hector Salvado hit the flaming truck, but everyone else does, and it’s easy for Alex to track down Hector’s apartment. Unfortunately, when he gets there, the place has already been trashed beyond repair. As for Hector, he’s out in the middle of the desert, and you know how that goes for people on this show. Despite proclaiming his innocence, he’s soon beaten to death.
When Cal finds Hector’s body, his first call is to Alex. He wants to know if any of Alex’s new mysterious friends are involved in the murder, pointing out that this particular day happens to be the biggest day on the Pharaohs’ calendar. This is great for The House’s action, but no one’s really noticing because Cassandra doesn’t want to talk about her boyfriend Nick with Johnson. Johnson wants her to cut ties to protect both of them; she doesn’t want relationship advice. “I do my job and I do it well,” she tells him. “The rest is none of your business.” Burn.
An awkward scene ensues when Alex pays a visit to Hector’s family, friends and fellow gang members; he’s looking for information, and guess who’s playing Mr. Salvado? That would be Lombardo Boyar, whom you should know well from playing a cop on TNT’s Murder in the First. He’s a bit of a blowhard here, and wants Alex to respect his authority. But Alex doesn’t let himself get pushed around, and advises Cassandra that either the Pharoahs call off their get-together – also an easy target – or The House needs to get its money out of there. As well as a whole bunch of people, probably.
Nolan wants another word with Mr. Johnson, unfortunately. She’s hoping he’ll answer a few questions; she calls the FBI and asks them to track her phone before agreeing to…go out on the town with him? Yeah, that’s what’s happening here. While they’re playing the faux-schmoozing game, Alex is trying to work his problem from the other side now and getting a much warmer reception. But one gang is as hard-headed as the other, and he’s barely able to get the teenager down before massive gunfire breaks out. Basically, we’re going to need a new nightclub.
Cassandra calls Johnson to tell him three people are dead and four more are wounded. An edgy Alex thinks he’s lost the bet; Johnson clarifies that it was if he could stop the gang war, and of course this is just phase one. Making an example out of seven people doesn’t really count as an entire war. It’s time to call Cal, who tells his friend to stop being a jerk before stalking off in the other direction.
Examining the now-crime scene, Alex asks Cassandra to review the camera footage, noticing that some of the gunfire missed on purpose. That and a cell phone trace sends him chasing a new lead, inviting himself to the apartment of Hector’s brother Listo and accusing him of being in league with the enemy. He doesn’t even give a damn that the kid wants to point a gun in his face; he’s more concerned with what’s a real-life Romeo and Juliet between Listo and Imani. “Something’s not adding up,” he insists. “Who torched the truck?”
That would be Option C: A third party named Mislav Subek (Christopher Heyerdahl from Hell on Wheels), a foreign drug dealer and general villain whom you should have spotted sitting in the diner in the opening sequence. He’s done this exact same thing in many other places, and Vegas is just his latest new market. So how can Alex bring him to justice and stop the two sides from destroying each other simultaneously? You play the hand you’re dealt, and that means using the two kids to find Mislav and ostensibly dish out the proper punishment for getting five people killed.
But no sooner has everyone stepped outside the apartment then a couple of thugs turn up to join the party. Alex does his best to hold them back, but Imani is wounded shoving Listo out of the line of fire. Our hero has Cassandra call an ambulance because he needs to chase down the one bad guy that got away, and because he knows angry people quite well by now, he asks her to head to the hospital to keep an eye on Listo while he burns the tires off the Challenger again. Does he get an expense budget for all the tires and ammunition?
Cassandra offers up the address of a warehouse in Henderson that Alex should check out. As she plays the supportive friend of a friend at the hospital – and the conversation makes her realize that she needs to dump Nick after all – she cautions Alex to stay focused, but he’s gotten to the location and he’s going in hot.
It’s easy enough to get through the first couple of henchmen, but then he’s making a mess of the drug lab and not paying attention to his six. Mislav gets the drop on our hero, or so it seems until he realizes Alex has palmed his lighter and used it to start a fire that’s going to burn the whole place down.
Alex is able to turn the situation around and lead Mislav out at gunpoint; his initial plan is to deliver him to the gangs before they kill each other, but when Cassandra informs him that Imani has died in the operating room, he contemplates splattering his brains against the passenger-side window instead. “The only reason you’re breathing,” he says, “is because you’re no good to me dead.”
So instead, he drives directly into the literal middle of the armed standoff and shoves Mislav in front of everyone. He’ll give up the Croatian if they give up murdering each other. Trying to save his own bacon, Mislav first tries to make business partners and then to speak ill of the recently dead.
But while everybody keeps arguing, Listo has returned from the hospital and pulls the trigger – the first time he’s ever done so, after years of trying to avoid violence. Everyone else is forced to admit that Alex was right, and they go their separate ways, leaving our hero with a corpse he can glare at.
The next morning, Nick tells Cassandra that he’s gotten a huge and unexpected promotion that will send him to Asia for the next two years. She encourages him to take the job, even though he tells her that he’d regret walking away from her for the rest of his life. Since he’s not taking the bait, she has to break his heart. “I was ready to give up everything for you,” he says, to which she replies, “Now you don’t have to.” And when he leaves, she cries.
Alex has understandably passed out on the couch for the umpteenth time, but wakes up to find Cassandra having invited herself over (does everyone know how to get into his place?). Having been motivated by the demise of her own relationship, she wants to give him a better chance than she was dealt.
She tells him about Zephyr Cove and takes him to the now-abandoned house there, but of course his ex-wife isn’t there. Alex is heartbroken, but he respects that Cassandra was willing to put herself on the line for him. He hands her the key and asks for her help, and it’s draw a line in the sand time for these two.
Much like last week’s “A House Is Not A Home,” “Downtown Odds” is an episode in which the bet of the week is really secondary to what’s going on amongst The Player‘s main ensemble. Smart viewers, or those who know your Shakespeare, could probably map out the second half of the episode. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have appeal, but it’s not where the real action is – despite providing some great fight sequences that continue to prove that Alex Kane is TV’s successor to Jack Bauer.
Putting Alex in the middle of a gang war only serves to give us a little more of Alex’s backstory and some further evidence of the kind of man he is, though if you’ve watched this far it’s just reinforcing what’s already been established. What makes Alex such an appealing hero is that he’s a fundamentally great guy. While he’s certainly tested and isn’t always perfect, he has integrity, loyalty and a tremendous amount of compassion, whether it’s for people he’s never met or people from his past.
He’s always trying to do the right thing, and there’s a nobility in that. The fact that he just happens to also be able to kick ass, take names and wreck meth labs is really just an added bonus. He’s the guy you’d want as a friend and whom you’d trust with your life. Really, everyone should have an Alex Kane in their life.
(Detour moment: This is also what makes the developments in the Ginny storyline so downright infuriating – Alex is such a good guy and has her on a pedestal and she’s at least semi-knowingly hurt and probably lied to him. It’s impossible not to believe that he deserves better, even though as we discussed last week, he’ll never see that. The combination of the writing and the performance out of Philip Winchester makes us root for Alex so much that we become a little bit protective of him, too.)
It is nice to once again see a plot where Alex’s skill set comes into play, in this case in the form of his life experience. He’s always been written as much more than just the next body in line. He contributes to the game by being who he is, and here he knows both sides of the argument and he’s not only willing to get involved, but actively campaigning to do so – not to belabor the point, but because it’s the right thing to do. One can’t help but think that for any other Player, this situation would’ve had a different and much worse outcome.
But where the heart of this episode lies is really with Alex and Cassandra. It’s very brief here, but in the one scene in which they’re physically together, you can see the strain continuing on the relationship between Cal and Alex, despite the fact that they kind of reached a common ground in “The Norseman.” Cal has an idea of what’s going on, but that doesn’t mean he has to like it. There really should be more Cal in these last few episodes, because watching the decline of that friendship really is one of the hidden joys of this show, as is usually the case when you put two talented actors in the same room. Even with one scene, they communicate everything they need to.
Then there’s Alex having to take a pause as he once again wrestles with a desire for revenge. Being a fundamentally good man doesn’t mean that Alex is above reproach; you can see where he detoured down that proverbial dark road, because when bad things happen to good people there’s that temper that’s instant and intense. He’s got no problem pulling a trigger to right a perceived wrong. Cue the line about the road to hell being paved with good intentions. That one scene with Mislav in his car is a nice tease toward a future exploration of Alex’s less amenable backstory, because you can see how that character trait may have been the impetus.
It also happens to raise another one of the many, many unanswered points about the rules of the game. We know that the resources of The House can be utilized by The Player, usually in the form of The Dealer. But there’s other stuff in the toy chest; we’ve brought in the jet twice (last week and then previously in “L.A. Lockdown”). So just how much does The House provide? Do they make sure Alex has a gun and ammunition and tires to replace the ones he burns off speeding down Vegas streets?
If so, is there accounting involved in this – it seems ridiculous that The Player would sit and do paperwork, but is someone like Johnson counting up the cost of maintaining The House’s end of the bet? Or if The Player is on his or her own, how does that work? Would it not get conspicuous if somebody started regularly purchasing a ton of ammunition or certain other things? If Alex decides he needs a new gun, how does he avoid creating a paper trail?
The game is fundamentally a business, and some businesses do have expense accounts. Alex sounds like he’s kept his day job to a certain extent, as evidenced by the line in “The Norseman” when he tells Cal that The Occam is just a new client. This makes sense, as he’s got to keep the lights on somehow. But with the stuff he gets himself into, he needs a fair amount of resources and that’s the kind of stuff that would add up eventually. After all, this is a lifetime appointment.
It leads to a thought. You could just see a loose cannon like a Justin Foucault finding a way to requisition a rocket launcher. But Alex Kane is a different man. He’s a more measured one, and someone who’d rather do his own work than have someone do it for him. It’s been mentioned how Alex is a different type of player, and that probably extends to his approach to the game as well. He’s a true professional.
Then there’s Cassandra. Oh, where to start with poor Cassandra? Again, you can sort of draw an obvious straight line here, in telegraphing how her conversation with Listo leads to her being persuaded to dump Nick which leads to her changing her mind about informing Alex. It’s easy to see how A becomes B becomes C. But despite that, the development still packs a punch because of the performance of Charity Wakefield. We get to see Cassandra break. Like Johnson, she’s not a robot; it might be easier to pretend that she is, but she’s a human being.
As Alex points out, her decision to trust him says a lot about who she is at the present moment. Yes, she has loyalty to The House and to an extent to Mr. Johnson, but that doesn’t take away her desire to be a good person. She cared about Ginny, and she’s come to care about Alex (note that she calls him “a friend” and not “a colleague”), and she knows that what would mean the most to Alex is finding Ginny. She’s not doing what she does at the end of this episode for her, or for The House, but purely out of a desire for him to be happy.
These two have the most intriguing relationship on the show because it’s never just one thing. They’re working with each other as pieces of The House and yet against each other because of Alex’s own agenda, so it’s a constant push and pull where they can be getting along in one moment and in each other’s way the next. But there’s a fundamental respect there, much like he’s begun to build with Johnson, perhaps moreso because he’s gotten to know her a little more (and he doesn’t outright suspect her of abducting his ex-wife).
Now they have a mutual interest, which is finding Ginny and getting closure, and so it becomes something more unified and more intriguing because she’s about to step over that line from one side to the other – that is, if there are even clear-cut sides anymore.
Viewers have to remember that in the big picture of The Player (the original one, anyway), this episode would’ve been more than halfway through a 13-episode run or about a third through a full 22-episode season. This is the point where the pipe has been laid and the ball starts rolling; we’re past the appetizer and onto the main course. This show started the ball rolling a long time ago, so now we’re seeing the momentum and the possibilities of where that groundwork goes. It’s absolutely a terrible shame that we’re not going to get to reach at least the end of where it was always headed.
The Player airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.