The Leonard Matlin capsule review of 1987’s other Mannequin movie, Lady Beware, describes Diane Lane’s lead performance in the film as “uneven, but her rage is convincing.” That phrase has stuck with me for decades now. This episode of “The Equalizer” feels similar. It’s about general hate crimes against Asian-Americans escalating to murder, though the NYPD doesn’t take them any more seriously once someone dies. It hits close to home for Asian-American Liza Lapira. The episode brings in a guest sidekick for Queen Latifah (and Lapira) with Perry Yung, a Chinese ex-cop whose investigating since the cops won’t.
There’s also some material for Yung and current cop Tory Kittles, who have a solemn discussion about their white police “brethren” actually giving a shit about them. It’s probably Yung’s best scene, which unfortunately isn’t saying a lot. His performance is uneven, but his rage is convincing. Ditto Lapira. Both of them make some really ill-advised, really unconvincing decisions to move the plot along. Maybe if Yung mentioned he was a fan of one old man Clint Eastwood movie in particular, since he borrows the plot twist for this episode. Just be obvious about it.
The scenes between Lapira and Yung ought to be great; they are not. Uneven performances, convincing rage.
The episode gets a lot of mileage from the shitty white supremacist villains being so awful—not to mention their victim, sweet old lady bakery owner Jo Yang, being such a sweet old lady. Despite initiating the case for Team Equalizer, Latifah keeps getting called away because of returning guest star Imani Lewis. Latifah is semi-mentoring Lewis, who’s currently fretting over doing a “Scared Straight” presentation to a high school class.
The Lewis stuff ought to be great, but it’s an even lesser subplot than the unlikely family one for Laya DeLeon Hayes and Lorraine Toussaint. Toussaint wants to make an old family recipe and teach Hayes—it’s one of those all-day cooking recipes, and Toussaint needs help, only Hayes wants to hang out with her friends, which seems very out of character for Hayes. She’s rarely callous, especially so obviously so. But Toussaint doesn’t want Latifah to interfere because Hayes should want to help, not be forced to help.
It’s a nothing-burger, busy-work plot, but somehow the episode still manages to prioritize it over Lewis’s return appearance.
The episode’s still reasonably effective—the bad guys are very bad guys, and the good guys are incredibly sympathetic, but it’s all pretty rote. The occasionally strong character moments (like Yung and Kittles) are too muffled. I’m actually surprised to see Zoe Robyn with the script credit since her name’s been on more thoughtful episodes.
But while the main plot is lackluster, Hayes and Toussaint’s subplot is downright disappointing. And Lewis seems like an afterthought instead of a guest star.