The Equalizer (2021) s02e03 – Leverage

Every time I think “The Equalizer” is getting better, it stalls out, though at least some of this episode is fine, and the worst stuff (Liza Lapira acting tough) is predictable. This episode, writing credits to Keith Eisner and Erica Shelton, is a combination of “The Wire”-lite and “The Shield”-lite. And it’s directed by Eric Laneuville, a very measured, thoughtful, experienced TV director.

If Laneuville can’t make it play, it just can’t play.

The plot has Queen Latifah trying to rescue teenager Justiin A. Davis from a life in the game. The show goes out of its way to imply that situation, only to reveal he’s being forced into it by yuppie DEA agents Michael Drayer and Jacqueline Nwabueze. Drayer’s a white guy; it’s clear he does not give a shit about Black teenager Davis. Nwabueze’s a Black woman; it’s clear she knows they’re doing the wrong thing but is hoping Drayer’s imperviousness to accountability will go for her too. Neither are exactly bad, just terribly miscast. It’s unbelievable Latifah doesn’t beat the shit out of them after meeting them.

So while she’s trying to figure out what gang they’re trying to get Davis to infiltrate, a new cop on the vigilante case, Dominic Fumusa, is after her. But most of his pursuit is making “is the okay sign really racist” comments to Tory Kittles, who’s demoted to office work this season, where Fumusa likens himself to a Great White Hunter. It’s weird. Like “The Equalizer” can’t really address some things because then Kittles’s whole character falls apart. Like cops can’t be villains, even though whenever they’re on the show too much and get too many lines, they’re clearly villains, racist villains.

It’s actually downright subtle compared to the DEA blackmailing Black teens into working undercover, which the episode spotlights in three or four expository dumps. Sure, the dumps feel contrived, but they’re at least informational, save maybe when Lapira and Adam Goldberg are doing one.

The home plot is Laya DeLeon Hayes giving a eulogy for the kid who got killed in the last season finale when Hayes found out her mom’s “The Equalizer.” Lorraine Toussaint provides sturdy support. It’s not particularly well-written, but it’s at least effective, thanks to good acting.

Maybe next episode will be better. It usually goes better, worse, better, worse, so the show can’t get any real momentum going.

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