Having enjoyed its share of success with “The Blacklist” and various imitators, NBC treads similar terrain with “The Endgame,” whose major wrinkle and upgrade involves casting Morena Baccarin (icily similar to her early “V” role) as a mysterious femme fatale. Slickly made and fast paced, it makes for an enjoyable thriller, although it’s a dice roll as to how long that can last.
Like “The Blacklist” (which has lingered past its expiration date), the series opens with Baccarin’s Elena Federova, an international arms trafficker with just a tuch of a Natasha Fatale accent and plenty of gleaming menace in her eyes, taken into custody by the FBI. But it’s quickly demonstrated that she’s playing a much bigger game and several steps ahead of them, with her operatives hitting seven banks around New York City, toward what end remains to be determined.
“You’ve messed with the wrong woman,” Elena informs her captors, later warning them, “Don’t poke the tiger with a short stick.”
Although the big brass are predictably clueless, one agent, Val Turner (“First Wives Club’s” Ryan Michelle Bathé), has a history with Federova, recognizing the scope of the plot. Yet she comes with baggage in the form of her disgraced husband, while clearly representing the only person on the other side of the chessboard that the criminal mastermind respects.
Unlike “Blacklist” and indeed many network crime dramas, “Endgame” proceeds on a densely serialized path, laying out not only this elaborate plot but flashbacks involving Elena’s upbringing and marriage to Sergey (“The Americans’” Costa Ronin), a structure that does provide some hope of teasing this out for a while.
That said, “The Blacklist” worked best during that initial introduction to Reddington, becoming more tedious as it piled up red herrings and kicked the can down the road. One benefit here is that the conflict feels more focused, setting up a classic battle of wits between the central duo, with Elena having seemingly calculated each potential scenario and anticipated every eventuality.
Created by Nicholas Wootton, this series might face similar hurdles over time, but it’s highly creative in the early going, down to Elena negotiating, in the middle of everything else, to maintain her nicer-than-prison-orange wardrobe. Plus, it launches after plenty of promotion in the Olympics and Super Bowl – hardly an assurance of success but not chopped liver either, even in the streaming age.
For now, “The Endgame” makes enough of the right moves to inspire curiosity about where this intricate scheme ultimately leads. While it doesn’t tell you much about its endgame, as this sort of exercise goes, that’s a good place to start.
“The Endgame” premieres Feb. 21 at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.