NBC’s ‘The Endgame’ Depends Upon a Criminal Queen With Almost Too Many Answers to Be Compelling: TV Review

Say this for “The Endgame”: It knows what it has in Morena Bacarrin, an actor so immediately telegenic that making sure she has everyone’s attention is as simple as her walking into a room. As notorious mastermind Elena Federova, Baccarin commands her every scene in NBC’s newest drama with a sly grin and slightly raised eyebrow that usually spells disaster for those trying to test her. It’s a good thing, too, since most of her screen time in the first two episodes is limited to prowling a concrete holding cell — and because the rest of “The Endgame” gets fuzzier the further it gets from Elena as the planet everyone else orbits.

From writer Nicholas Wootten, “The Endgame” sets up a high stakes game of cat and mouse between Elena and Val Turner (Ryan Michelle Bathe), a once formidable FBI agent who’s been trying to claw her way back into the bureau’s good graces ever since her husband (Kamal Angelo Bolden) went to jail under mysterious circumstances. Elena’s all ice to Val’s fire (a mode Bathe taps into with admirable ease), but both women have enough pride and guts to keep them intrigued by the other despite themselves. On paper, it sounds something like the twisted dynamic at the heart of “Killing Eve” — which, in its best moments, confronts and transforms feminine stereotypes with sharp enough insights to draw blood. For “The Endgame,” however, Elena and Val feel like the kind of aggressive women characters that men write when trying to upend their own expectations. Most frustrating of all, as much as the first few episodes try to make it seem like Val has a fighting chance against this unstoppable machine, Elena’s power so greatly outstrips Val’s that there’s just no real contest — at least, not yet.

In between Val and Elena’s confrontations, we see flashbacks to Elena’s past in war-torn Ukraine and romance with the Sergey (Costa Ronin), the son of a powerful arms dealer who made her the untouchable force she is today. Meanwhile, her apparently innumerable foot soldiers stage elaborate kidnappings and bank holdups to keep the FBI distracted and confused, which “Fast and Furious” director Justin Lin films in increasingly dizzying loops. It all looks quite sleek and impressive, but even after just two episodes, Elena’s ability to pull off the impossible out of nowhere begins to get old. The show seems to include flashbacks to make sure we know Elena’s human, but her present day self, whose only weakness is her lingering love for Sergey, seems anything but. She’s so many steps ahead that there’s no possible way to know or understand how she got there, but “The Endgame” is more interested in throwing in as many cool shocks as possible than writing them in a way that makes much sense. For as fun as it can be to see adversaries pull off heists without breaking a sweat, Elena’s grip on…well, everything, makes it tougher to feel the thrill of “how did she do that?!” when she inevitably always succeeds.

“The Endgame” premieres Monday, February 21 at 10 pm on NBC.

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