‘The Brink’ Recap: This Might Be the End

Jack Black and Tim Robbins might not save the world and that might be for the best.

The Brink appears to be a show about an incompetent member of the diplomatic core and an oversexed Secretary of State saving the world from nuclear annihilation. But what if it isn’t? What if The Brink turns out to be about something else altogether, namely the apocalypse? In “Swim, Shmuley, Swim,” the show’s fifth episode, the audience is given the sense — really for the first time — that Secretary Larson is fallible and that brinksmanship could quickly devolve into bombsmanship. Success no longer feels guaranteed.

Plotwise, Secretary Larson did this week’s heavy lifting, flying to Israel, having his catheter removed in a car, and confronting that country’s speedo-wearing Prime Minister with his plan to install a less crazy Pakistani dictator. And he would have succeeded if it weren’t for that meddling insurgent’s decision to grab $80 million in cash and book it for Germany. Now, the Secretary of Defense has the U.S. on war footing and Larson is distinctly out of the loop, which might turn out to be a vicious cycle.

In Kabul, we see Talbott capering around Tenancious D style in the hopes of wooing Aasif Maandvi’s thinly drawn driver’s beautiful sister and accidentally delivering a sign of the apocalypse to the American ambassador. In the hills somewhere (maybe Kashmir, maybe not), Zeke has landed in the hands of a black market antiquities dealer, played to the back of the theater by the inimitable Rob Brydon (the not-Coogan guy from The Trip). There’s no way to know where this plot spur is going — and little reason, Brydon aside, to care.

Basically, our would-be heroes are failing to get the job done on every literal and figurative front. The likelihood of a full-scale unclear conflict is doing nothing but going up and, well, there’s no readily apparent way to re-wind that doomsday clock. Given all that, we the audience must accept the possibility that this thing doesn’t end well. And that’s a pretty great possibility.

Unlike Ballers, the other realpolitik show on after the somnambulant True Detective, The Brink has not found a mass audience. It has also not been heaped with critical praise. Historically, HBO demands that a show either provides eyes or accolades and, given that this one has done neither and the actors’ salaries likely add up, it appears to be fitting that The Brink is set just next door to the “Graveyard of Empires.” But The Brink is a suspicious show: It looks more like an experiment than a failure; more like a set-up for a joke than the set-up for a multiyear series. Here’s a conspiracy theory for you: The show was never meant to last longer than a season. It will end when everything blows up.

If HBO goes this route — and, let’s be honest, they probably won’t — The Brink becomes this biting satire that can live in infamy on the interwebs. Critics will have to rethink it and HBO will have a shot at the FOMO streaming audience. It wouldn’t be the worst play in the world nor the worst thing for the show’s cast, which is full of people who can get other gigs. Is it more likely that The Brink just gets frozen out? Sure, but it’s more fun to consider the possibilities of a final, nuclear conclusion. To inappropriately quote Robert Frost:

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.