NBC has a true winner on its hands with The Player. As if the success of Blindspot wasn’t enough, the network’s other new drama crashed through a window and onto our screens Thursday, with an equally big bang for very different reasons. Between another breakout performance from Philip Winchester (who is as close to a sure bet as exists on television), some clever scripting and enough ‘oh no they didn’t’ moments to last a week, The Player launched big and it’s going to stay there.
At the start, a man we’ll come to know only as Mr. Johnson (Wesley Snipes) is having a bad day. He’s standing over a nameless corpse in the middle of the desert, regarding it like he just took an old appliance out to the junkyard. “Disappointing,” he says to himself. Then Mr. Johnson calmly reaches for his cell phone and asks the person on the other end, “Who’s next?” Dude, that’s cold.
But in beautiful Las Vegas, it’s a great day to be Alex Kane. While his best friend, Detective Calvin “Cal” Brown (Damon Gupton), is downstairs in a luxury hotel trying to get a foreign dignitary (that’s Carlo Rota from 24 and La Femme Nikita) and his stuck-up head of security to cooperate with the Las Vegas police so no one gets killed, Alex is hanging out in the dignitary’s penthouse suite enjoying a beer. He got in several minutes ago, having been hired by the foreign government to double-check everyone else’s work.
Alex calmly explains everything that everybody else screwed up: the balcony has to be sealed off because it’s an easy point of entry, there’s an unsecured catering entrance in the kitchen, and the security chief needs to check his ego at the door. Cal just stands there like this is the forty-ninth time he’s seen this, because it probably is. Speech concluded, the dignitary’s daughter Shada asks Alex how he anticipates the moves of the bad guys; he tells her it’s simple – think like a bad guy. “How do you think like a bad guy without being a bad guy?” she asks, and we don’t get to see his answer.
Instead, Alex gets the 411 on the situation from Cal as both are on their way out. A hotel employee bumps into Alex as they go, but our hero is astute enough to notice that the random doesn’t really work there; he’s wearing the wrong pants. Like a bad-ass Jessica Fletcher, this guy. With time being of the essence, he decides to take the service elevator to the roof and take the roof through the previously sealed balcony window to clock the impostor with an expensive bottle of wine. “It’s a point of entry,” Alex repeats for emphasis.
But after getting absolutely no thanks for saving the day, Alex soon has a second emergency on his hands. His ex-wife, Dr. Virginia “Ginny” Lee, has texted him wanting to meet. Cal is amused by this, reminding Alex that she’s not really an ex-wife if you don’t sign the divorce papers and still show up to help around the house. His BFF’s response to this is the usual “It’s complicated.” Because it’s always complicated. Alex also points out that if he had any sense, he wouldn’t be jumping off of buildings.
He makes his way to a bar, where Ginny (Daisy Betts) has given up on her sobriety thanks to losing a nine-year-old patient to leukemia that got into his brain. Ginny also mentions that Alex once played Santa Claus at the hospital, just before he stops the overzealous bartender from hitting on her. We’re ten minutes into the show and this man is already racking up all kinds of brownie points.
Alex drags Ginny back to her house, so they can order a pizza and crack jokes about her finger tattoo that he hates. It’s absolutely no surprise that the conversation turns to their pasts. “You’re not that man anymore,” he assures Alex, and it takes about a minute and a half before they’re falling into each other’s arms and deciding to make another go of their failed relationship.
But don’t break out the sappy violin music just yet. Later that night, a mysterious figure breaks into the house to shoot at Alex. It’s not that hard to surmise he might have something to do with the foreign assassins our hero just ticked off. It is hard to swallow that Ginny gets killed, which makes Alex want more than a few good shots back at him.
Alex grabs the intruder’s discarded gun and proceeds to chase him down Fremont Street, but the gun jams before he can take the man out, which leads to the bad guy getting away and him getting taken out by the front end of a car driven by the woman we’ll soon know as Cassandra King (Charity Wakefield). “Sorry about that, Alex,” she says in a tone that suggests she is not at all actually sorry before our hero loses consciousness in the middle of the street.
When next we see him, he’s in a hospital recovery room still trying to process what happened the night before. Cal arrives, having the unfortunate job of questioning his best friend about his ex-wife’s murder and the subsequent chaos. According to Cal, not one of the countless people on Fremont Street saw the killer or Cassandra, leaving Alex looking incredibly guilty. “You were found with the damn murder weapon in your hand,” he points out, reminding Alex that as a former FBI agent, he should know how this looks.
Despite knowing that, Alex is insistent that someone else killed his wife and he’s going to end that guy when he finds him. But when he attempts to leave the room, he gets pushed back in by another officer and handcuffed to the hospital bed. Well and truly pissed at this point, Alex uses an IV needle to pick his handcuffs and escapes through the ceiling, but is soon sighted in the parking lot. The only thing that saves him? Getting into an open car that just happens to be driven by Cassandra.
As she begins a high-speed chase with multiple cop cars (or as she probably calls it, Tuesday), she gives us the rundown on Alex. He was top of his class at Quantico, got loaned out from the FBI, and spent two years hunting terrorists – one of which he shot in the face. (The way she says “in the face” is epic. It’s the same way Jeremy Clarkson says “in the plums.”)
He wants to know who she is to know all this stuff; she claims she’s from an organization bigger than either MI6 or the CIA, and proves it by snapping her fingers and making the entire police armada go away. Then she tells him he has just over eight minutes to start believing in “the impossible,” and delivers him to Mr. Johnson.
Johnson explains the rules of “the game”: that a group of wealthy people developed a system to predict crime, and have thus uncovered a plot to kidnap Shada and kill her mother as a way of gaining her father’s compliance. The man Alex stopped the day before, Johnson explains, was the human equivalent of a test balloon. Now the nameless group wants Alex to stop the kidnapping, and to convince him to do so they’ll let him have the man responsible – the one who just killed his ex-wife.
As soon as Alex acquires Cassandra’s car and takes off, Mr. Johnson turns to the data screen Cassandra has pulled up, and instructs the group members to “place your bets.”
This would seem fairly simple for a man of Alex’s smarts and skills, but naturally there’s a wrench involved; when he tries to go the sane route and call 911, the call gets intercepted and Johnson warns him that one rule of the game is that he can only use his own resources. But as soon as he leaves, Cassandra helps Alex realize that another rule is that she – and everything she’s shown him that she can do – counts as one of his resources.
She gives him the access code for the hotel’s fire system control panel, which he uses to trigger the alarm and force an evacuation in order to identify the kidnappers. Once he’s spotted the kidnapping in progress, then it’s game on. Alex dispatches several nameless thugs in various entertaining ways, including impaling one on a gaming table, but the man who killed Ginny is still able to get away with Shada. Naturally, the cops get there two minutes too late and assume all of this is Alex’s fault.
Alex retreats to Ginny’s house, where he treats the shoulder wound he suffered in the altercation while also looking to see what else he can uncover. He finds her wedding ring on the floor and then a mysterious playing card on her bookshelf. The symbol on the back of the playing card leads him to the Occam, while someone (guess who) remotely wipes the hard drive of Ginny’s computer after he’s left.
The Occam turns out to be the headquarters of the game, which is naturally referred to as The House. Time for some more details for him to digest: Johnson is the Pit Boss, who as Alex has discovered is responsible for the rules being followed. Cassandra is The Dealer, who also gives a handy speech about the history of the game and how it came to be possible (note the hint about how very long the game has been being played). Basically, the group has been everywhere that technology is, and they therefore have access to nearly everything imaginable – including him, as they’ve been following him for “a little while.”
Why did they do all this? Simply put, they were really bored.
Alex feels another headache coming on, but when he tries to go after Mr. Johnson for what he perceives as The House letting Ginny die, Johnson drops him like a sack of potatoes. Brushing that off like it didn’t just happen, he identifies Ginny’s killer and Shada’s kidnapper as a man named Tomas Edribali, and explains that as the group has already bet on the kidnapping’s outcome (as we saw earlier), they’d like Alex to finish the wager. Alex agrees to do so only to be able to utilize The House’s resources to save Shada and avenge his ex-wife, promising that he’s going to come back when he’s done and throw Johnson through the window. What is it with this show and breaking windows?
Anyway, Alex poses as a doctor to conduct an impromptu interrogation of the decoy he busted earlier, who suggests to him that the situation is an inside job. Cue Alex returning to the hotel and knocking someone else upside the head; this time it’s the head of security. When Alex explains to the dignitary and his wife that there’s an inside man, the wife stabs the head of security in the hand to get him to confess.
He thus gives Alex the burner cell phone that Edribali gave him, and Alex forces him to call his co-conspirator so that Cassandra can analyze the recording. She can’t trace it, but she can use it and traffic cameras to confirm that the crew is still within Vegas city limits. Alex knows they will need someplace to hide the girl, so he needs to find it – not by relying on Cassandra, but by hitting the streets and gathering some good old human intelligence.
That means talking to a homeless friend and sending him off to see if any of his fellows have spotted a black van. No sooner has he done that, then Cassandra calls him back – on someone else’s cell phone, no less – and uses a storefront TV bank to show him the terrorists’ demand video. “I’m officially terrified of what you can do,” he admits to her, while trying to figure out what his next move is.
When he asks Ginny what he should do, Cassandra says what Ginny would’ve told him: “You do good.” Um…we’ll get back to that, because here’s the homeless guy coming back to tell Alex that a mall where some of his friends were holed up was recently cleared out by some guys with a black van pretending to be security but not actually wearing uniforms. Bingo.
As the odds continue to adjust in Alex’s favor, he arrives at the mall and spots some dirt bikers driving around in the dirt lot outside. The light bulb goes on over Alex’s head, and when next we see him he’s on an appropriated dirt bike, crashing it through a wall into a thug whose gun he also acquires. He then ducks some passing gunfire, drives up an escalator, and takes it through a railing onto the aforementioned van.
Edribali is insistent that Alex can’t capture him and save Shada; unfortunately for Alex but great for the show, he chooses saving the girl, and is protecting her from the remainder of the bad guys when Cal and the LVPD arrive, having been alerted by the dirt bikers. Cal just gives Alex another flat look before arresting him.
He wants answers now, and confronts Alex with his FBI file and his whole sordid past. “FBI put you on a task force to find terrorists, not kill them. This is not due process,” Cal seethes. Alex explains that he just kept going down that dark path until he took a bullet in the Sudan and Ginny got it out of him. That’s why he credits her with saving him. The two of them watch Shada being reunited with her family, and Alex tells Cal that he’d rather go to prison than turn back into the man he used to be.
But that’s before an FBI agent arrives looking for Alex. And by FBI agent, we mean Mr. Johnson, who conveniently has security camera footage that exonerates Alex in both Ginny’s murder and the kidnapping. He also presents federal paperwork squashing any further investigation. But just before you think it’s deus ex machina time, Cal points out to his colleague that the hotel where Johnson claims the footage came from doesn’t actually have security cameras. He’s not going to let this drop.
Alex has reluctantly left with Johnson, who brings him back out to the desert where he dumped the body of his predecessor. Given Alex’s success in his trial run, the group wants to offer him a job as their new player. Still refusing to reduce human lives to profit and loss and frustrated by the immorality of it, Alex refuses and is left literally in the dust.
He eventually makes his way to the morgue, intending to put Ginny’s ring back on her finger where it belongs. But when he goes to do so, he notices the absence of her tattoo. This is not his ex-wife, and when the coroner tells him “some FBI agent signed off on the paperwork,” he knows The House is complicit in the whole goddamn thing.
Thus, a newly dedicated Alex returns to The House and tells them that he’s changed his mind. “Mr. Kane, don’t disappoint me,” Mr. Johnson warns, before Cassandra gives him his new phone and tells him that he has until midnight the night she calls to solve whatever crime is put in front of him. But when he leaves, she’s swallowing pretty hard.
That’s because she has a whole file on Ginny Lee, which includes a photo of her and Ginny together. Cassandra stares at the file before she gets the perfect last line: “Place your bets.”
And with that, here we go on the ride of the season. There’s so much to appreciate about The Player on a multitude of levels, much more than the show appears to have or is given credit for. Firstly, every good story needs a hero and we’ve got one for the record books in Alex Kane. Alex is Jack Bauer if Jack had ever lightened the hell up (which is delightfully ironic since Philip Winchester appeared in a few episodes of 24: Live Another Day).
He shares some background similarities with an early Bauer; both are men with very staunch morality, who had great careers in government service before leaving their agencies to go hunt terrorists on their own, and both went a little crazy when they did so. Both also lost their significant others of record to a murder (although in Alex’s case this later turns out to be untrue). They both also have that same appeal, of the badass who will do anything to save the day. And just like the TV audience rallied around Jack Bauer because we needed that kind of hero, it’s easy to rally around Alex Kane, because that need still exists.
But Alex is his own man in many respects. Setting aside the fact that he can beat people with expensive wine bottles, he’s funny, he’s charming, he has a very big heart, he’s a little bit of an idealist (expecting that the technology behind the game should be used for more than personal benefit), and you can see he puts a lot of effort into everything, whether it’s his job or trying to help his ex-wife. There is a lot to love about this guy. Even if the game had never come into his life, you could still do a show about Alex Kane, like a modern-day Equalizer or Rockford Files. That’s how engaging of a character he is just on his own merits.
In fairness, at least half of those qualities come from the person who’s playing him. Any Strike Back fan who’s ever watched the show’s behind the scenes videos will tell you that Philip Winchester is funny and charming and works as hard and has just as big of a heart as Alex Kane. His positive energy just gets a chance to come out because of the way his character is written. If he’s playing a good guy so well, it’s because he is a good guy – honestly one of the best.
Not to belabor the 24 references, but just like Kiefer Sutherland was a perfect match for Jack Bauer because of his personality and his life experiences, Philip Winchester really fits into the role of Alex Kane. Already, you get the sense that nobody else could’ve taken this character where this character needed to be.
As an example, take a look at Blindspot, which recruited Winchester’s colleague Sullivan Stapleton to play hard-ass FBI agent Kurt Weller. Two equally talented actors and equally wonderful people, but you could not really switch those roles. Blindspot requires Weller to be somebody who can sort of keep his distance, which Stapleton does so well without losing that connection to the audience, and The Player needs somebody with a certain warmth and that’s Winchester.
And if that’s not on purpose, it certainly works out that way. It’s Alex’s winning personality, his moral center, his aspiration for better that provides a delicious and necessary contrast to the emotionless, calculated and apathetic world of the game. The fundamental bottom line of any show is always the question “Why should we care?” Whether or not a bunch of faceless people we haven’t met win or lose money is not a reason for the TV audience to care. Whether or not this great guy survives is a reason to care. The fact that he cares about other people is a reason to care. And that’s why you have a show.
That’s not to say that the concept or the other characters don’t have value. The “gambling on crime” angle is a different twist on the idea of mysterious organization recruiting random person to save the day (which has been done a lot). It also introduces all sorts of logistical wrinkles that could come into play, because who knows how many rules there really are? It’s not like Alex got a manual (we can see it now: “So you’ve decided to enter The Game…”)
If he prevents the crime he was asked to, but something else happens, is that still considered a win? If he doesn’t achieve his objective because he deviated from the plan and wound up saving more people, is that a loss? If he wins too much, will it be like it really is in Vegas where you wear out your welcome? These are all little ideas that can add drama later on down the line, because of the gambling aspect of the show that wouldn’t be there otherwise.
Plus, it allows the show to really get the most out of its Las Vegas backdrop. Though it is not actually filmed in Vegas (and spoilers indicate that it does not have to stay in Vegas), that’s a great place to set a show. Ask CSI about that. It’s the North American home base of gambling, after all. People gamble in Vegas 24/7 on everything from sports to who was going to sing the next James Bond theme. The city fits the premise, and because it has its own distinct identity, it lends its own personality to the series, in the same way that Law & Order was a New York City show. Even though it’s not filmed in Vegas, it still brings that Vegas energy.
As far as the other three main characters are concerned, there’s not a weak link in this ensemble whether you’re speaking of the characters or the actors. As Mr. Johnson, Wesley Snipes is basically just doing Wesley Snipes – being cool, being funny, and being able to beat people up. He provides that element of dread, because he’s supposed to – if Alex is the heart of the show, Johnson represents everything that the game is and stands for. He reminds the audience that this is not just about having a good time; there’s some serious stuff going on too.
That creates a unique contrast, a push and pull between these two characters. Right now, they are diametrical opposites and Alex hates this guy (though one thinks Mr. Johnson doesn’t have an opinion on Alex beyond being satisfied with his work). But in reality, and probably the realization of this would disturb them both, they actually are in each other’s ballpark.
In our interview with Wesley Snipes, he revealed that Johnson is a former Player who took out his Pit Boss. So was Johnson like Alex, determined and wanting change and seeing the Pit Boss as an obstacle to that change, and then he got to the top and found out what the view was really like? Or is there an even more complicated story in his background? Is he the cautionary tale, should Alex find out, that Alex’s desire for revenge on Johnson would only turn him into the man he wants to throw out that window?
Remember, as is repeatedly stated – and as we see a glimmer of when Alex fights with Cal in the hospital and there’s that unbridled rage – Alex Kane didn’t always use to be the guy that plays Santa Claus for sick kids. He was, by his own admission, a loose cannon and he made choices, with Ginny’s help, to become someone else. He’s almost like a recovering addict in that sense; although he’s changed into as good of a guy as you can ask for, he knows he’s just one wrong choice away from losing it all. (So how appropriate that he also married a recovering addict, too, but we’ll get into that when Ginny is more than just a fake corpse on a morgue slab.)
Then there’s Cassandra. Oh, Cassandra, who shares a name with the Greek mythological prophet. You really have to take a step back from the episode to appreciate Charity Wakefield’s performance. So much of what she does and so many of her lines are made out so that she appears to be even more frosty than her colleague.
But here and there, there are these hints that she is the character more sympathetic to Alex; she leaves him the clue that brings him to the Occam, and her very function – acting as his fundamental resource – is to his benefit. The former makes more sense when it’s revealed that she was a friend of Ginny’s; of course she’d want to help him then.
But that situation opens up a whole other can of worms for the character and for the show. Alex doesn’t recognize Cassandra, so Cassandra obviously knew Ginny before Alex met her. Yet the fact that Cassandra can tell Alex “You do good,” just like Ginny tells him that if he does good then he is good, may or may not be a hint as to how deep that relationship goes – and if it got twisted along the way.
Cassandra and Ginny cannot have been BFF’s, because common sense would then dictate that once Ginny met Alex, she would have introduced him to Cassandra at some point (if on no other occasion than their wedding). But Cassandra invoking Ginny’s favorite phrase opens the door for a little malice aforethought. Is she quoting Ginny because Ginny also said that to her, which is plausible? Or is she doing so because she kept in touch with Ginny to a more casual extent, and her friend told her about Alex and potentially about all the things we know Alex confided in Ginny when those two met?
If you want to go the full conspiracy theory route, that leads to this: Alex was the “next” on the list of potential Players, as implied by Mr. Johnson in the opening scene. For his name to be on that list, the people behind the game must have been aware of at least his skill set, so as to know that he was qualified. (They’re not going to pick up the guy who works the drive-thru at Arby’s.) This fact is supported by how Cassandra can rattle off Alex’s abbreviated career history, and how she later mentions that The House has been watching him prior to his involvement in the game.
So did Cassandra, knowing about Alex and what he was capable of through her conversations with Ginny, have something to do with his involvement in the game? Did she recommend him either before or after he was short-listed, or even have a hand in getting him recruited – since after all, the catalyst for his agreement was the apparent murder of the woman she once called a friend? She certainly looked at the end like she had something to fear, but that could be as small as just feeling guilty that he doesn’t know that she knew Ginny, or as big as being a major piece of his puzzle.
It could even work out to his advantage: if Cassandra is involved with wherever Ginny is being held now, then you’d hope she would show some concern for the other woman or potentially look out for her, rather than someone like Mr. Johnson who doesn’t give a damn. If later on in the season push comes to shove, that history could lead Cassandra to helping Ginny, or helping Alex on Ginny’s behalf. (Think about it: if she left him the playing card, it’s not a huge reach to suggest that she could’ve also left the wedding ring – the clue that leads Alex to discover his ex-wife is still alive.)
It also gives her a reason – but not the only reason – to have her own agenda. The pilot never explicitly states, but gives a certain vibe that Mr. Johnson and Cassandra are not a united front. They work for the same organization and their roles require that there’s collaboration, but like co-workers at any office, they don’t have to like each other. On two separate occasions in the first episode she does things that he questions. What that then allows is a power play within The House.
She could break the rules for any number of reasons: she could try to overthrow Mr. Johnson, she could want to help Alex or Ginny, she could just decide one day she hates her job and go all Office Space on the Occam. Again, who knows? But that means we’ve got four main characters, all of whom have their own stories, own agendas and can therefore be all played off each other in all sorts of combinations. Cassandra is a particular wild card, because in working for The House and then given her history, she could pick either side in any confrontation.
All of this gives Charity Wakefield an awful lot to work with, and understandably so. Without all that backstory, Cassandra is a non-character. She’s a walking deus ex machina who delivers exposition and comes up with magical ways to get Alex out of jams. She’s every other tech expert character on every procedural. The Player gave her important pieces to make her more than just the genie behind the keyboard. Now its biggest challenge will be not to go too far the other way, and wind up using her as an easy way to solve every problem.
There’s one scene in this pilot that really is key, and it’s Cassandra and Alex’s “high tech/low tech” conversation. You’re probably thinking it’s the least interesting moment in the whole show, but it says a lot about how this series is set up. It proves a lot of things: that Alex can think and act and most importantly succeed on his own merits without the resources of The House, and that this is not a one-way relationship. Alex might need Cassandra’s help or Mr. Johnson’s help to stop crimes, but they need him, too. Without him, they don’t have a Player and without a Player, there’s no game.
Yes, as Johnson says, he can be replaced if need be; but once he’s taken the job, can they fire or otherwise remove him in order to replace him? We don’t know. That scene shows them that he brings something to the equation that they wouldn’t have thought of, and that they can’t dismiss him or just move him around like a pawn. They wanted a guy with the resources to fight crime; well, that means he’s resourceful and smart and he’s going to have opinions and do what he wants to do. For the audience, we realize that both sides of this screwed-up partnership are equal and they’re stuck with each other until they’re not anymore.
Which brings us to Cal Brown. Cal, who could easily be either the rote sidekick or the only-as-smart-as-the-plot-allows detective who never really solves anything. He hasn’t been really brought up enough, which is a shame because he’s broken both those stereotypes, thanks to the performance of Damon Gupton, who can and has been a leading man in his own right.
Cal is not stupid; he knows right away that something is up and even point-blank asks Alex what he’s involved in. That he catches on immediately shows us that The Player is going to have him realistically asking questions, and of course with those questions he’s going to be putting himself at risk, which will also then give Alex someone else he loves that he must worry about lest history repeat itself.
Cal serves his own important functions in the show’s grand plan. Number one, he’s the voice of common sense here (because as Alex admits, he doesn’t have any). Cal is like that friend at the party standing there saying “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” He’s going to sort of ground the show as he tries to do the same for his best friend.
Number two, he’s going to be asking all the questions that the audience is going to start asking. Like is anyone ever going to notice that body dumped in the desert? And if the game has been going on since the days of telegraphs, you would think there would be a history of either and/or both dumped bodies and the same person turning up to all these crime scenes. Somebody better check that stuff out.
Number three, he provides Alex someone to interact with who is completely not connected to the game. We know from the trailers that we’re going to see more flashbacks into Alex’s relationship with Ginny, but at least as of right now, Cal is the only person physically present in Alex’s current life that is free and clear. As such, he’s Alex’s sort of touchstone and he’s also the audience’s window into who Alex is.
In some respects, he seems to know Alex better than Alex knows himself; in other respects, Cal doesn’t know enough (as in having to pull his FBI file to find out about his past). But Cal will always be there to give that perspective on Alex and illustrate things about his character that we might not get just from watching Alex himself, in that way that best friends often do.
And last but certainly not least, his presence gives the game a threat of its own, something to challenge its belief that it is this near omnipotent construct that is firmly in control. No one wants to watch a show about an organization that is infalliable and gets away with everything. Between Alex’s strong personality and Cal’s smarts, the game is definitely not completely in control, no matter how many calculations anyone wants to do. Therein lies the ongoing drama.
There are pitfalls, of course. The fact that Ginny has to die and then winds up not being dead is sort of cringe-worthy; how many stories have involved a woman being killed as the catalyst to start off a main character’s journey? And the whole fake death is one of those subplots that’s been treaded over so many times. It sets up The Player potentially painting itself into a corner, because especially with Ginny being a present character through the use of flashbacks, you figure that by the end of the season one of two things happens: Alex rescues her or she really dies. Either way, the show has to be careful not to turn that part of the story into overwrought melodrama.
That then creates a future issue, because Ginny is Alex’s investment in the game. He first becomes a player for no other reason than because he wants to avenge her and save Shada, whom he’s become friendly with. He wants to do well by them. Even when Cassandra points out how much good he could do if he takes the job, he originally turns it down. So if she’s alive and he does rescue her, where does his motivation come from to continue on? Is it actually seeing all the good he will wind up doing, which can make sense? Or if she really dies, how long can the show stretch out him working with The House to avenge her death before we just want him to get on with it already?
But those are concerns for much later down the line. If there’s one thing we learn most of all from the pilot of The Player, it’s how much we don’t know. And not how much we don’t know in that “look at us, we’re trying to be a mystery show” sense of so many other series that set up these complicated mythologies that usually blow up or get retconned anyway. It’s how much we don’t know in the sense that the show is built in such a way that it’s easy to ask genuinely interesting questions and speculate about directions in which it might go.
There are all sorts of possibilities at hand, and they’re in front of characters that all have their own individual stories to tell, played by actors that are all incredibly watchable and incredibly capable of making us root for them. This first episode opens up an entire world of options in front of you, just like sitting down at any gaming table. If you’re placing your bets, you can bet on The Player for the win.
The Player continues next Thursday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on NBC. For more on the series, be sure to read our interview with series star Wesley Snipes and read our interview with series star Damon Gupton.