‘The Brink’ Recap: The Non-Metaphorical Minefield

HBO's diplomacy farce is devolving into a sketch show. Good.

The Brink’s fourth episode proved to be its strongest thus far, auguring good things for viewers and very very bad things for the show’s protagonists, who are at the whim of a war lord, under the custody of rebels in a Kashmiri minefield, and peeing involuntarily respectively. “I’ll Never Be Batman” — the episode title refers to the realization of fighter pilot Zeke Tilson that he can only have one family at a time —puts the characters at the heart of their own private dramas, splintering the narrative into something just this side of a sketch show. And it works.

The obvious problem with Jack Black’s Alex Talbot is the way the character’s fundamental mediocrity — he’s just a Foreign Service stooge — doesn’t jibe with the actor’s performative strengths. In other words: Black does big and loud well and remains a truly terrible character actor. That’s why it’s such a relief to see him getting out from under the thumb of the plot and starting to make his own (shitty) decisions. In lying to General Zaman, the man who would be Prime Minister, about America’s intention to hand over a nuclear submarine, he’s stepped out from behind the Secretary of State and starting playing the game on his own. He’ll now have to play the U.S. government against the Pakistani shadow government, which one imagines will lead to the sort of unsubtle screaming fits that Black was born to have on camera.

Also, Jon Larroquette wants him in custody so he doesn’t prevent the end of days, which is a whole different thing to yell about.

Pablo Schreiber’s Zeke is a bit of a screamer too, largely because his personal life, a footnote no one gives a damn about, is a mess. At least it’s now secondary to the imminent danger he faces as a prisoner of war. Judging from the outfits worn by the gunmen who stick him up after he’s strafed out of the Kashmiri ski, Zeke is gonna be in Abbottabad in no time. He’s now a bargaining chip. But for who? We don’t know just yet, but, within this self-consciously madcap world, every bargaining chip is also a justification for action. The question is whether pilot and co-pilot should break free, or if they’re more valuable as hostages. It’s honestly hard to say.

As for Secretary of State Walter Larson, he’s getting the hell out of dodge/hospital/India, having made a deal to stave off South Asian overreaction, lost the faith of the President, who’s kind of a passive-aggressive dick, and had a kidney stone removed prior to penis detonation. That this character, who switches pivot feet constantly, comes across as intelligent is a tribute to Robbins’s performance, which is getting better and better as the show gets more ludicrous. Robbins has that remarkable Middle American face and those devious, ambitious eyes that, in concert, spell: E-L-E-C-T-A-B-L-E. And his lack of respect for the President makes for free-wheeling fun. One has the sense that he’ll emerge smelling of roses. Or poppies.

It seems like Robbins may be spending the rest of the show hanging out with and Bullworthing character actors of various ethnicities. The fact that the Israelis are next makes the show that much more interesting because the politics are going to get real. We don’t yet know how severe the mockery of the Likud Party will be, but — given Robbins past political activism — we expect the gloves to come off.

If that’s what this show becomes, a sort of roast/road tour through global trouble spots, it’s going to work/get renewed. The dumb Americans insulting others while mocking themselves thing never gets old. But if the writers are going to try to make the plots cohere, well, good luck to them. It’s about as likely as a Pakistani getting into Augusta National.

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