Photo: Greg Lewis/Paramount+
Get your fluffy slippers ready, folks, because it’s a Rainy Spa Day on this week’s Special Ops: Lioness! Here’s where the show locks into full gear, deftly switching back and forth between the boots on the ground at the private Spa sesh and all the inter-departmental intrigue and 4D chess going on in D.C. With all the relevant levels of power finally visible on the “big board” (the top one ushered in by Morgan Freeman’s Secretary of State Mullins in a ball-busting late-season entrance), the Apocalypse Now of it all is coming into full view. Joe and the Lioness team are soldiers turned assassins, ideally situated to run roughshod over the American military-industrial landscape, both abroad and at home. There’s no end to the ways in which their cowboy special ops can be used to further some murky agenda somewhere else.
“Three days alone with this girl, every lie you tell her, she’s going to remember,” Joe tells Cruz over the phone, everyone en route to their next round of spycraft. “Tell the truth; just change the names and locations. Answer questions with questions. Then do a lot of listening.” That’s advice Cruz’ll follow to a T and a well-placed broadcast of what’s going on in every room at every level of power for the next hour of TV.
When we last saw Kaitlyn and her husband Errol at home, Kaitlyn was lamenting that Islamic terrorists were coming through the border and “we can’t stop them,” real nostalgic Tom Clancy ass Bush-to-Obama era fear-mongering to raise the tension. Now the location of her next debrief or whatever’s been changed to … the White House, heyyyooooo!! And Errol’s got some dirt on who’s going to be there. So they do a little back-and-forth information bartering. Basically, a national security advisor called up asking if Errol went to San Antonio (sight of the bombing fiasco), which means they were nervous, worried about loose lips, and wanted to know if Errol knew.
Kaitlyn plays the “I’m your fucking wife, tell me” card too early in the match. Errol reminds her of the rules she lives by, “If you give something, you get something.” She tells Errol they’re about to catch a big fish. “He runs a sort of … what we call a bank for terrorists.” And getting him puts $80 million worth of black market oil back on the market. But apparently, that’s not necessarily a good thing for Errol, even if he knows it beforehand. “It’s a matter of perspective, I suppose.” Who’s perspective? Lies and truth meet in the soup of facts and secrets, and Kaitlyn’s starting to see something is amiss above her head, too.
Meanwhile, Cruz arrives at Aaliyah’s Hamptons spot — outside the on-demand Spa staff and the Lioness team listening in from a safe house nearby, their only company is a single card posted outside. Aaliyah’s up to some Thomas Crowne-level cat-and-mouse romance here, oh so casually laying out a series of high-life gestures to code it all in safe, open-ended mystery. It’s up to Cruz to lay out a series of truths masked in seductive fabrication, walking the emotional tightrope of a spy in enemy territory. Intimacy is the weapon to wield here, and wield it she does. Throughout their Spa treatment, which ends in like a giant sexy Bond villain shower and steam room, Cruz strategically lets it fly that this is all the fanciest shit she’s ever been up to with Aaliyah; she gave Cruz her first private jet ride, fanciest dinner, even her first ride in a fucking Range Rover. She’s someone who stands up for their beliefs, no matter what their beliefs are (kind of unhinged there, but okay, girl, speak your truth), and the last time she saw her boyfriend, she beat him with a skillet and ran for her life. That last one she had to cloak in a lie when Aaliyah asks about her bruises. “It was a man,” Cruz says.
The hidden truth is that Joe ordered the bruises Aaliyah’s asking about. And Aaliyah’s response (though weirdly victim-blamey, if taken literally) will surely give Cruz something to think about as this operation progresses. “They start with shoves and slaps. Then punches, then the beatings. If you get a beating, you let him because you didn’t leave with the slap.” If that accurately describes the path Cruz is on with Joe, the danger will only escalate under her watch. “What the fuck am I doing?” Cruz asks herself in the space of a solitary breath. She’s gone all in on the “tell the truth, just change the names” part of the objective, but the “answer questions with questions” part, not so much. As a result, she’s made herself a little too vulnerable. If they’re going to be BFFs, that means no more lies, says Aaliyah. The game’s far from up here, but Aaliyah’s suspicious of Cruz’s mystery now, even as she remains enchanted by it.
Around 10:00 at night, Joe and Kaitlyn are still waiting at the White House. “You ever been iced this long?” Joe asks, circling the room with the energy of a busybody who kills. “Nine-eleven,” Kaitlyn says. I mean, yeah, I guess Dick Cheney ain’t got no time for you when he’s in a bunker somewhere plotting the dystopia of America’s next 20 years. Anyway, a couple of minutes later, they’re brought in to meet with Secretary of State Mullins (Morgan Freeman, working his recognizable Dad-movie voice with a sinister spin to match the occasion). Running point at his right hand is prestige ice queen Jennifer Ehle as Chief of Staff Mason. The big guns are out to use and abuse these CIA freaks.
First, they put Kyle on blast; what’s his excuse for the “events” of the last week? Oh, which events, he lets on at first. Mason sets the tone for the rest of the meeting right quick. “We are NOT FUCKING AROUND TODAY. Extraction at the border. Kill mission in San Antonio. Your version now.”
Kyle’s got his excuses all laid out like a good boy. He’s unaware of any border extraction. Not authorized for that shit on U.S. soil, you say? Well, the request for surveillance was made to the ATF through NSA. I love when conversations like this in spy stories get wild with a snowball of abbreviations and acronyms. Reminds me of Colonel Flagg in M*A*S*H saying shit like, “I’m with the CID; although I told your boss I’m with the CIA. It throws people off who think I’m with the CIC.”
Anyway, it goes on. “Why the ATF? Why not the FBI?”
“ATF chases bombs, sir. FBI chases headlines.”
Mullins cracks a guffaw. Nice bullshittin’, kid. Everyone gets to have some fun with well-placed f-words in this scene, dude. It’s a bit much, but Freeman and Ehle are cooking with ‘em.
“So we’re all just going to pretend that a CIA quick reaction force did not execute a kill mission in front of CBS fucking news?” Mullins says. And here’s where Kaitlyn claps back some good old-fashioned CIA truth-loopholing. “Secretary Mullins, I’m confused. Did CBS news report that a CIA QRF operated within the borders of the United States? I’ve not heard that.”
No, they didn’t, Mullins admits. “They’re too busy filming a victory lap that the local police are taking for saving the city.” But isn’t that the most important thing, that the city was saved? For Mullins, “protecting his president” from a CIA team operation on US soil is the primary concern here (at least, the primary stated concern). But as always, the narrative is the thing. The truth and the lies and the protocols and the loopholes around them, whether fabricated out of thin air in the moment or there by design, as if passed down by the gods of chance, are all tools in the hands of the yarn spinner. The saboteur. If it plays, it stays. End of the day, there’s no evidence of their team executing a kill mission on US soil.
Here’s where Westfield chimes in with the big mic-drop. “So what would you like to do here? Should we turn this over to senate intelligence and have a hearing? It’s gonna be hard to prosecute because it’s such a win.” There were warnings about 9/11. What did we do about it? What threats could we have neutralized before it all went down? “That is what we avoided here,” this sicko argues. These guys in San Antonio had enough explosives to knock out the Elton John concert down the block that same weekend.
For the moment, it seems like that’s the end of it. Kyle’s dismissed, and they move on to Lioness updates. Aaliyah’s dad has been clearly established as a non-ideological banker to the world’s ideologically bound terrorists. Same job as Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre in Casino Royale — another Hollywood emblem of a society haunted by the ghosts of the failed war on terror. The point is, this is a big get, and though they don’t have a location, they have the upcoming date for their anticipated point of contact: Aaliyah’s wedding. That’s where they’ll order a strike. And the Lioness? Joe makes it clear if they can’t contact her before the strike, she’s a sacrifice. Unfortunately, seeing how the Lioness team blew up the Interstate with their little side quest with Kyle, Mullins and co. will be taking over command in the situation room for the final chapter.
But San Antonio is just the excuse, as Kaitlyn points out to Joe in the car afterward. The higher-ups don’t seem to have the resolve on their target. Seems everyone just wants to destabilize the reason, and it’s up to Kaitlyn and Joe to figure out why.
Back at the slumber party, Cruz and Aaliyah have just finished up one of the most cursed but immaculate double features I’ve ever heard — Paranormal Activity and The Notebook. The millennial heart of darkness, am I right? Cruz has never seen The Notebook, and it gets her crying at the end just as Aaliyah told her it would. “You said it was a good cry. This is fucking heartbreaking.” (About then, I half-expected Kidman to walk in unannounced, look at the camera and say, “Somehow, heartbreak feels good in a palace like this.”)
Instead, Cruz takes the emotional opening here in the direction of “You don’t have to get married. You don’t have to do this.” But for Aaliyah, saying yes to love and no to obligation means certain death. Our gals are nestled in the eye of a storm that’s bigger and louder and more complex in its rumblings than either of them is fully aware of, but they sense the extent of their shared vulnerability. The red-alert magnetism of it all comes to a head the next morning when Aaliyah gets a call from home with the wedding location (Majorca!) and lands a juicy kiss on Cruz’s lips. After an eternal, sexually charged pause, Cruz hungrily reciprocates. Is this useful for the op, or too much heat, bringing the whole thing to a premature boil? Cruz stops herself before we get the chance to find out, and Aaliyah awkwardly plays it off as an “oh, what was that LOL, let’s go shopping” type deal. Still, passions are rising everywhere you look in our special ops. And that’s usually where fate takes the reins with force.
• Just want to re-iterate my love for Nicole Kidman and Martin Donovan as an on-screen pairing. Kidman fills their scenes with the same flirtatious venom that underlies her best work. Martin Donovan’s been playing these money-men-in-the-shadows types for the last decade. Scary effective, unnervingly smooth every time. There’s a pulpy familiarity to their chem.
• “We are not the only people studying this. You know Russia is gonna come down so fast on every police officer involved in this investigation, and I would love to meet the watch commander who can resist the racehorse of a woman they will sick on him.” What the … LOL Russia catching some obligatory strays over here.
• I love this portrait of America this show is painting as a place where anywhere you go, you might run into a crime being foiled by some messy CIA operation in progress. Seriously, this team can’t not run into some civilian shenanigans or another. This week, middle of the op, some pack of doofuses try to rob the house they’re hiding out in. Naturally, Joe calls in her favor from Kyle, who gets a chance to torture these petty criminals (mostly psychologically) out of talking to anyone about anything, you know the drill. He also gets a chance to alert a cheating senator to a reporter in the room on his way out of the bar. “Just doing my part.” Real Tom Wambsgans I’m here to serve energy with a little American Psycho bravado on top.
• Alright, either I’m a dumbass or it’s been a wild ping-pongy ride with Joe and Neal? Seemed to me like Neal’s hesitancy to say I love you back to Joe and also his sudden realization that his CIA operative wife might be …. a KILLER (shock) had him spooked. Now we’re back to another bottle of wine by the pool and “looks like these two kids are gonna be okay” vibes, know what I mean? But I guess the guy who told Kaitlyn that Joe still takes his breath away every time she walks in a room won out. For now, these two kids are going to be okay. Sheridan loves a rough-and-tumble power couple on the edge, defending their homestead and rediscovering their combined strength in the process.