Spoiler Alert: The world didn’t end
This week on The Brink, Secretary of State Walter Larson and Navy pilot Zeke Tilson saved Tel Aviv (and thus Islamabad, Riyadh, and New Delhi according to the show’s twisted domino thinking) from nuclear annihilation. The Secretary accomplished this while reaffirming his relationship with his wife and saving his own flagging career, meaning that — all in all — it was a big day for Larson. Presumably, it was also a big day for Tim Robbins, who has left the White House portico wide open for a second season of madcap containment. But the show is at a political disadvantage now that its audience can see just how divided its sensibility truly is. Larson’s smashmouth realism reads as liberal, but his show is reflexively conservative, an international sitcom wrapped in HBO branding.
The happy resolution of season one is nothing more than the status quo (almost) maintained.
The problem with The Brink is that it’s located at the spot where principle meets plotting. In order for the show to maintain its breakneck pace, each episode needs to be action dense. To that end, we see Zeke chase down two planes launched toward Israel over the Gulf of Aden/Red Sea by General Zaman, who kills himself after Alex Talbot, who never did anything relevant or likable after all, tried to negotiate with him. We also have POTUS retreating to a bunker under a Virginia Neiman Marcus but pausing to do some shopping, and Larson speaking offensively to every leader in the known world within the space of about two minutes.
And all in service of what? Saving Israel and by extension the world, but also of maintaining a very specific sort of order, one in which a U.S. Secretary of State is allowed to yell at the President of Russia and the Prime Minister of India without ramification. At the end of the episode, the President refuses Larson’s fake resignation. It’s supposed to be a heartwarming coda, but it’s utterly insane. You’re going to keep the guy who told all those commanders-in-chief to go fuck themselves? That’s the sort of wrongheaded thing that can only be squeezed out of the exact sort of exceptionalist worldview Larson is supposed to despise. If we believe that Larson is brilliant, we must also believe that he understands that he should step down, which he never plans to do.
What does that say about our hero? Nothing good.
The Brink’s ideological inconsistency doesn’t make it a bad show per se, but it does make it a deeply unimportant show. Unlike The West Wing or Veep or even The Americans, The Brink does nothing to illuminate or explain the current state of our political benightedness. Given that it focuses on international relations, a subject viewers may be a little less informed about, it’s impressive how little wisdom the show imparts. When Larson accuses the president and his cronies of attempting to “Bomb brown people” to make up for the sexual inadequacies, we’re supposed hear his pacifist sentiment. But Walter Larson doesn’t care about brown people. The show isn’t about saving Pakistan, it’s about maintaining the peace. The show is about keeping different types of brown people in their place.
This is not to say that a show championing a Pakistan-India war, which The Brink does in a strange way, would be more watchable, but it would at least have a historical vector. The best thing we can say for Larson’s world is that it’s stable. America’s interest — stasis — is maintained. This isn’t three dimensional nuclear chess, it’s three dimensional nuclear checkers. Larson’s next opponent: Eritrean rebels of unknown ideology. So, yeah, looks like it’s not gonna end so well for brown people after all.
It’s a dumb show that does nothing with Jack Black, but Tim Robbins is good in it. Let’s call that progress.