Christopher Chance isn't wasting any time.
The second season premiere episode of "Human Target," titled "Ilsa Pucci," resolves the cliffhanger ending of season one well before the first commercial break, paving the way for an entirely different adventure that still has thematic ties to where the show's core trio of characters - Chance, Winston and Guerrero - were heading last year. But like any strong opening episode, "Ilsa Pucci" deals less with the past and looks more towards the future, laying down the foundation for what the second season of "Human Target" will presumably focus on, even if the hour moves a little too quickly at times.
When "Ilsa Pucci" begins, two days have passed since the closing moments of "Christopher Chance," last season's action-packed finale. When Chance and Guerrero are finally able to catch up with the captured Winston, it's not enough for Chance to just save his old friend - the fact that he's put good old Laverne through so much turmoil doesn't sit well with him, resulting in his withdrawal from the espionage game. But Chance isn't one to sit on the sidelines for too long, and when opportunity comes knocking in the form of billionaire philanthropist Ilsa Pucci (Indira Varma), he answers the door. What follows is an explosive hour brimming with gunfire, betrayals and zippy one-liners - in essence, everything that fans have come to love about "Human Target."
The arrival of Ilsa Pucci means an upgrade for Chance's "specific non-gameplan services," as she describes it. Although it's only teased by the episode's end, Pucci's newfound status as the team's benefactor will undoubtedly pave the way for new types of cases and clients as Chance starts stepping into an elite world that's only accessible when you have millions of dollars at your disposal. But even with a charming performance from actress Indira Varma, the Ilsa character doesn't have sufficient time to flesh herself out in this opening episode, leaving one to wonder whether or not she has anything other than money to offer the core group of Chance, Winston and Guerrero. Still, Varma boasts an incredibly likable presence, and even if Ilsa is a bit thin at the moment, there's certainly room for growth as the season presses on.
Janet Montgomery suffers from a similar dilemma as Ames, an expert thief that crosses paths with Chance's team during the Pucci case and has ties to Winston from her days as a street thief and his time as a beat cop. Like Ilsa, Ames has the potential to flourish on "Human Target," but the episode doesn't have nearly enough room to truly develop the character into someone that the audience can care about. She's smart and sexy, sure, and she provides a few amusing moments, but one has to wonder how necessary it was to include Ames in this episode - there's little doubt that she would have benefited from having her very own hourlong introduction, much like Ilsa's self-titled debut.
Indeed, if there's one major flaw in "Ilsa Pucci," it's that it's far too condensed. There's little room for mucking about in this opening hour as the story pushes quickly from one scene through to the next. A brisk pace is perfectly acceptable, especially on a show like "Human Target," but sometimes you need to know when to come up for air. In an ideal world, the opening episode of the season would have dealt solely with the fallout of season one's finale, with Ilsa making her grand arrival in episode two and Ames getting the spotlight in episode three. That said, the realities of creating a television series sometimes necessitate something of a rushed speed - and even though "Ilsa Pucci" might prove too fast for some, the "Human Target" team certainly handles that kind of speed better than most.
In all honesty, "Human Target" could be weighted down with flaws and it would still remain one of network television's most watchable shows thanks to the core trio of Mark Valley, Chi McBride and Jackie Earle Haley. All three actors do a terrific job in "Ilsa Pucci," thanks in large to their well-earned chemistry with one another from season one. If any one actor stands out above the pack in this episode, it's Haley: as Guerrero, he finally gets to spend meaningful time out on the field with some very cool weapons and a thing for shooting hands. He's also got some of the episode's best lines, including: "I'm going to give you a choice, because I believe in every human being's right to be tortured democratically: pull your fingers off with this, or shoot you in the kneecaps. I have a preference, but I'm going to leave it up to you." Needless to say, it doesn't stop there.
Everything that "Human Target" fans love about the series is on full display during "Ilsa Pucci," an hour that features some of the best action the series has ever seen, some truly great character moments and, of course, hilarious one-liners that stick with the viewer well after the show is over. It would be a lie to say that the episode doesn't feel overly rushed at times - it would definitely benefit from some breathing room or being spread out over a number of episodes - but even the hour's mile-a-minute pace isn't enough to detract from the wonderful performances and the tense action set pieces.
If "Ilsa Pucci" tells us anything about the future of "Human Target," it's this: season two should be a very fun ride for fans of the series, assuming it pauses to catch its breath every once in a while.
The second season of "Human Target" premieres on Wednesday (November 17) at 8/7 PM central on Fox.