In the single episode the network made available for press, it sets up a clash between two determined rivals: international arms dealer Federova (Baccarin) and relentless FBI Agent Val Turner (Bathé). Directed by the “Fast and Furious” franchise’s Justin Lin (who is also an executive producer), the episode opens with a series of coordinated bank heists that leave the FBI flummoxed. Federova and Turner are introduced separately, their personalities immediately established. When authorities believe they have finally apprehended Federova, a most-wanted queenpin, it quickly becomes clear that her capture was an intentional play on her part, signaling what is only the beginning of a complicated master plan that will unravel throughout the season. Turner, an agent with a strong sense of justice, who earned her way up the FBI ranks — facing misogyny, racism, and other intersectional obstacles — is set up to be her main foil.
It teases elements of international intrigue, conspiracy theories, and a story that unfolds at a rather rapid pace, with a ticking clock and shadows of “24” looming.
Women-fronted, action-packed crime dramas in primetime on major broadcast television, are a rarity. It’s even more uncommon for women of color. That’s why NBC’s new series, “The Endgame,” starring Morena Baccarin and Ryan Michelle Bathé, is notable. Although, for its two leads, while the novelty is certainly worth calling attention to it shouldn’t define the series, just as it wouldn’t if it starred two men.
“We care, but it feels like the conversation is about just that aspect of it,” Baccarin said in an interview with IndieWire. “It’s very late in the game for this to be happening, but we are glad it is; that the story happens in a way that it’s not about just these are two women. I think the best part is that it’s just two really strong characters.”
Bathé concurs. There was certainly an awareness that their involvement helped make the project atypical and the conversation around that was inevitable. They also acknowledge that they aren’t simply inserting themselves into roles that would traditionally go to men. That they are women does mean something to the series. Based on all available marketing materials, the show seems to play up the femininity of the characters, notably Baccarin’s Federova, who is introduced in a slick, blue, formal floor-length dress coat with a plunging neckline and high-slit.
“I also think that we’re willing to not let [the fact that we’re women] be in the background, but to be there somewhere informing the series. At the same time [it’s] very focused on what’s in front of us, both as actresses and then of course as our characters,” Bathé said. “I think most women know what we carry, what we bring into the room, the things that we face, the challenges that we face. But most of us turn to each other and we get through it. That’s pretty important for these two characters because everything is happening in real-time and it’s all very much with me.”
The trailer suggests what may come in future episodes, including the revelation of a personal connection between Federova, who seemingly holds all the cards, and an unwitting Turner, in what will be a chess match that may result in the two ultimately teaming up.
Comparisons, however superficial, can be drawn to the Spectrum Original series, “L.A.’s Finest,” a spinoff of the “Bad Boys” movie franchise starring Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba, as a most recent example of an action-driven crime series starring two women of color — a term that Baccarin remains conflicted about.
“I’m from Brazil originally, grew up in the United States, and I was only ever auditioning for the role of the friend,” she said. “And then I went to Brazil once and was approached by a casting director there about a movie that was being done and I was offered the lead. I remember being very confused and realized, ‘well, in Brazil I’m just a person. But in the United States I’m a person of color. I’m different. I’m brown. I’m Latina.’ Whatever you want to call it, depending on the person you ask. And I feel like maybe, hopefully, Hollywood is finally catching up to it’s just about creating parts for people, not people of color.”
Bathé is just as conflicted, although more specifically within the boundaries of what it means to be Black in America. She sees the complication as a way into understanding the character she plays. “It’s hard because the reality of things is I’m still sorting it out because I’m blackity Black, Black, Black, and I’m used to bringing so much of that to the characters that I play because there is no one way to be Black,” she said. “There are people like the Candace Owens of the world, and the Condoleezza Rices of the world, and that is a form of being Black. I’m trying to figure out where Val falls in that, as well as sussing out how I, Ryan, feel about that versus Val, and where those things collide in the specifics of the character.”
Fronting a series of this scope and with this kind of mainstream awareness is a first for Baccarin, who previously appeared in “The Good Wife,” “Homeland,” and “Gotham”; as well as Bathé, who co-stars in “First Wives Club,” and plays a recurring role in “All Rise.”
It’s a dream for each of them, both recalling the thrill of getting the call that they had been cast in their respective roles.
“I was in absolute complete shock,” Bathé said. “I was jumping. It was an easy ‘yes’ for me. But I didn’t believe it and thought that they had called the wrong number. I thought to myself, ‘surely you heard it wrong,’ and they said, ‘no, you heard us right.’ It was 30 minutes of disbelief and then I talked to my agents, and managers, and [husband] Sterling [K. Brown], and the kids. It was a whole thing.”
New mom Baccarin’s “big reveal” was less lively and more business-like.
“I really wish I had a story like Ryan’s but, for me, I felt it was a serious conversation,” she said. “I read the script. I liked it. I had meetings. It was important to me to feel like a female, to be strong, and I wanted to know the plan. I wanted to make sure that everybody was on the same page. I wasn’t ready to go back to work. I just had a baby so that was really what I based the pros and cons on and, ultimately, the script spoke for itself. The creative team was really strong and they really expressed ideas that I thought were interesting.”
The show got an awareness boost when a 30-second spot aired during the Super Bowl, titled “Bow Down to the Queen,” a catchphrase which is used in the pilot in reference to Baccarin’s character specifically, although in the trailer the “Queen” could be either or both. While it emphasized its female leads, it also signaled a rivalry for the ages between the two — one that is aimed to keep viewers guessing and, hopefully, hooked.
“The Endgame” premieres February 21 on NBC.