For years, The X-Files was the only television show I watched. It featured some of the best writing on TV in the 1990s. And although the conspiracy eventually fell apart under its own weight (and the small fact that the series’ essentially irreplaceable star abandoned the project before it went off the air), The X-Files defined dark, intense, edgy primetime drama. Writer-Producer Frank Spotnitz created the series with Chris Carter, writing many of the darkest conspiracy-arc episodes during the show’s run.
Spotnitz’ latest project is a brand new Cinemax series, debuting tonight called Hunted. Created with the BBC, the eight-episode drama stars Golden Globe nominee Melissa George (In Treatment) as Sam Hunter. She works for Byzantium, a private intelligence firm led by the enigmatic Rupert Keel (Stephen Dillane, Game of Thrones, John Adams). Byzantium isn’t concerned with the moral standing of its clients, turning a blind eye except to the profit margin.
Sam is a skilled, fearless operative, but In the first episode, Sam is badly wounded, left for dead, perhaps betrayed by her own colleagues, including lover Aidan Marsh (Adam Rayner, Hawthorne). When she turns up back in London months later, much to the surprise of Keel and everyone else, she isn’t sure of who to trust (if anyone at all).
The plot of Hunted as it unfolds follows Sam’s quest to learn why she had been targeted, and also to uncover the true mission of the organization for which she works. Spotnitz explains that as a fan of the espionage genre, he created Hunted as a complex thriller. “I didn’t know,” he says in the show’s production notes, “that there are actually thousands of these private spy agencies around the world. They draw their personnel largely from special forces and government spy agencies. They are really interesting because their operatives aren’t told who their clients are, and I realized I haven’t seen that before in movies or TV.”
Sam’s complexity as a character goes back to her childhood when she saw her mother (presumably) murdered in front of her eyes. Clearly she has trust issues, and is naturally wary. But her background also gives her a resourcefulness and resolve–an inner strength that makes her excellent at her job, but also lends the character a vulnerability.
In the first episode, with Sam back in business with Byzantium and Keel, Sam gets a new assignment. Infiltrating the household of a rich and powerful man with a sketchy past, Sam is sent to spy on the family, whose interests run counter to one of Byzantium’s clients.
The episode (and hence, the series) takes awhile to really get going. It plods along until Sam returns to London. Although there is plenty of action, the pace is often far too slow a build. But if you have patience, the pace kicks up, and we finally get a good sense of the series’ actual plot. But once Hunted gets going, it doesn’t relent for eight episodes.
The acting is first rate; Melissa George makes a great action hero (if perhaps a bit too perfect an action hero, which is no fault of George). Dillane (whose role in episode one is fairly small) has a patent on a certain sort of intensity no matter what role he plays. Rayner also brings an edginess to Aidan, but also a vulnerability. We want to trust him, but should we? Should Sam?
The series is a good, tense conspiracy thriller, much more sophisticated than Spotnitz’ The X-Files, and ultimately far more satisfying. Hunted airs debuts tonight on Cinemax at 10 p.m. ET.
All images and video courtesy HBO.