So, this “Equalizer” is in many ways the best episode ever. There are still many problems—starting with the A-plot being about Queen Latifah taking on the Saudis and continuing with some bad acting from one of the principal guest stars—but it’s pretty darn good. Especially for “The Equalizer.” Randy Zisk’s direction is strong, Latifah’s performance is strong, the other principal guest star is excellent. The last episode didn’t promise improvement for the show for the second season; this episode starts making that promise.
The A-plot is about college student Arash DeMaxi going missing. He’s the son of the Saudi ambassador (Nasser Faris); his sister, Melis Aker, is the one who calls Latifah. But we don’t see the call. Instead, the action picks up with Latifah already on the job, complete with disguise. It’s a nice change; she’s more comfortable as her super-spy secret hero.
Though that comfort figures into the home plot with Latifah and daughter Laya DeLeon Hayes, who’s still distant since discovering her mom’s the star of a weekly action-thriller show on CBS. The home plot, with aunt Lorraine Toussaint fretting over Hayes’s behavior, has good acting, good directing, and weaker writing. Not the weakest writing. The weakest writing is the details in the A-plot.
The episode starts hammering in the Saudis as bad guys, then takes it up a notch to say they’re bad guys the U.S. needs to be exploiting better. There’s a bit about the country’s sexism and homophobia (ignoring it’s based in the state religion), but also about online dissidents. Adam Goldberg does the expository dumps about the dissident stuff, and he’s pretty bad for a lot of it. Like he can’t pronounce characters’ names correctly. Luckily all the actual espionage stuff plays well in action. It feels like a dated plotline, which might be why the show feels so comfortable; they’re not reinventing the wheel; they’re just doing the Saudi episode.
Plus, Chris Noth—sporting a bad dye-job because “Equalizer” pretends he’s a very wealthy, erudite scrub—meets Liza Lapira. Lapira, who’s got some annoying scenes with Goldberg as usual, doesn’t like Noth, but at least there’s some energy to her acting in the scenes. Again, signs of improvement.
Meanwhile, cop Tory Kittles has a subplot about low-key racist white cop Dominic Fumusa now hunting Latifah. Not much for Kittles to do, but he’s good in the scenes.
It may just be a solid episode, but Latifah’s in much better control of the show than usual. I’m hoping it’s a sign of things to come.