[Editor’s Note: The following review of “The Brave” Season 1, Episode 1, “Pilot,” contains spoilers.]
“The Brave” may chronicle the actions of courageous men and women, but, as a series, it’s anything but. The pilot is a paint-by-numbers kidnap-and-rescue story with an unrealistically happy ending, and the military drama only approaches any kind of haunting authenticity with an ending as dark and terrifying as it is likely not to come true.
Beginning in Syria, the first episode picks up Dr. Kimberly Welles (Alix Wilton Regan) as she’s getting a ride home from her posting with Doctors Without Borders. But when her driver takes an alternate route and then abandons the car, gunmen descend on the car and take Kimberly by force.
Enter Patricia Campbell (Anne Heche), the Deputy Director of Intelligence at the D.I.A. who finds out about Dr. Welles’ abduction about three hours after it goes down. Campbell is back on the job just 10 days after her son died in combat. She keeps a picture encased on her desk, but otherwise doesn’t refer to her son (or indicate she’s in any pain whatsoever). Helped by Hannah Rivera (Sofia Pernas), her mission coordinator, and an analyst named Noah Morgenthal (Tate Ellington), Director Campbell puts a Special Forces team on the case and sets a tight window to safely recover the abducted doctor.
Captain Adam Dalton (Mike Vogel) is the team leader, a classic American man with short blond hair, heavy muscles, and skin as white as the stripes on our beloved flag. Joining him are a diverse array of gun-toting soldiers, including Jaz (Natacha Karam) — a woman Dalton doesn’t think of as a woman but also won’t forget is, indeed, a woman — and “Preach” (Demetrius Grosse), who offers wise words to his teammates, like “Unfortunately there is evil in this world,” and “Sometimes power only bows down to more power.”
Modest in its jingoism but still painfully blunt in its moral assessments, “The Brave” is surprisingly uncaring about these characters. We don’t learn much of a backstory on any of them, getting just names, titles, where they work, and maybe one or two identifying characteristics. We know Hannah looks good at all times because she carries a go-bag with her. We know Amir (Hadi Tabbal) is a proud American and a proud Muslim because he literally bleeds for his country and regularly attends mosque. We know Campbell has feelings because she touches that photo of her son ever so gingerly, and certainly not because Heche does any kind of strenuous emoting.
Such shallow development would actually make sense if the writers knew everyone would be dead by episode’s end, and that leads us to the fateful final moments of “The Brave.” After a couple of minor twists that both the audience and the characters should’ve seen coming — of course they kidnapped a doctor to operate on a dying terrorist leader, come on Anne Heche! — the initial ending is a happy one. Dalton, with Campbell’s stealth blessing, saves Dr. Welles and kills the terrorist whose life she just saved. The bad guys got got and the good guys get to go home for some well-deserved R&R.
But wait. What’s that on the satellite display? Is that a truck driving off-road, heading straight for the beach where a shirtless Dalton and his sweaty team are playing a friendly game of soccer with local children? Could the car be wired with explosives and sent to take vengeance on the soldiers who just murdered an Al Qaeda operative? Get off the beach, Dalton! Get off the beach!
Though the final shot of the episode sure looks like the Special Forces team is up bomb creek without any wire clippers, it somehow feels doubtful that any of these series regulars will be dead and buried next week. On the one hand, a near-total cast turnover could work: The D.C. intelligentsia was slightly better established than the Turkey-stationed crew, so we could stick with Campbell as she mourns another major loss and then gets to know a new team. Killing off the military characters would emphasize the danger “The Brave” wants viewers to feel these soldiers are in, and it’s not like there are any A-list actors who the show can’t survive without. (Sorry, Mike Vogel — you were fun in “Under the Dome.”)
Hell, that kind of twist might make viewers think twice about taking anything for granted on “The Brave.” It might feel like broadcast television could suddenly replicate the truly shocking surprises of premium cable and streaming, where main characters get axed all the time and pilot episodes aren’t always what they seem. Such a twist might make people look twice at new one-hour dramas that look so similar to the stuff that comes out every season (including this one).
But that seems doubtful. Nothing about the first episode makes us think “The Brave” is any different than most case-of-the-week fare built for mass appeal. Even without any real character development, the deaths of so many characters, so early, might be too jarring for mainstream audiences to handle. I guess we’ll wait and see, but it sure feels like “The Brave” is happy playing it safe.
“The Brave” airs new episodes Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.