SPOILER ALERT: Do not read this review unless you have seen Hostages episode one.
Hostages’ billing as a chance for C4 viewers to plug the gap left by the third series of Homeland does it a disservice. Yes, both are American imports based on original Israeli dramas and have plots centred around government secrets, moral dilemmas and a highly successful woman, but Hostages is far more direct in its approach, opting for heart-thumping thrills rather than ambiguous plot twists.
Dr Ellen Sanders (Toni Collette) follows the Carrie Mathison-model as a high-flying surgeon whose family life is far from rosy. Her husband is having an affair with his assistant, her son is in deep with a violent drug dealer, and her daughter is pregnant and dating the unsuitable Boyd. To top it off, the night before she is due to operate on the President of the United States, Ellen’s family is taken hostage by badass FBI agent Duncan Carlisle (Dylan McDermott) who gives her an impossible ultimatum: inject the President with an untraceable poison so that he dies on the operating table or her family gets it.
It’s clear that this is no Homeland wannabe. While there’s certainly not the same level of moral ambiguity or questionable loyalties about Dylan McDermott’s Carlisle, there are far more high-octane thrills, such as the opening bank robbery or the tension-riddled hostage-taking, to make this compelling Saturday night viewing.
Where it may struggle, however, is in maintaining the same level of tension across an entire series. There’s only so many ways to delay operating on the President – switching his IV to make him sick is one of the better options – before Ellen has to make her choice. Perhaps the focus will shift to how Carlisle uses his knowledge of the family’s secrets to manipulate the outcome, or quite possibly to a sort-of Stockholm-syndrome effect where Carlisle begins to empathise with his hostages, casting his loyalty into doubt – he’s already agreed to hide the daughter’s pregnancy, after all.
My hunch is that Hostages will eventually run out of steam with the Hollywood-style twists seen in this episode suggestive of writers who haven’t got enough original ideas to stretch out a limited premise across an entire series – was anyone surprised that the President’s Chief of Staff is in on it? Still, though it may not be as intelligent or considered as Homeland, it’s full of compelling performances and heart-thumping thrills, and that makes it compulsive Saturday night viewing; especially when the only real competition is yet another series of Dancing on Ice.
Click here to watch the trailer for Hostages