Christopher Heyerdahl may be better known as The Swede from AMCs Hell on Wheels, but in this penultimate episode of The Player; Downtown Odds. With a Romeo & Juliette riff on a thug’s life, Yo, the segment felt like a slow methodic waltz with the dancers moving toward an almost preordained ending. Although unlike the bard’s unlucky lovers, both do not wind up dead.
There is also a “Man with No Name” twist with Heyerdahl’s character “Ivan” playing both sides against the middle. His plan, one that has worked before, is to have both gangs kill each other off and allows him to stroll in and take over their turf. Winchester, who plays Alex Kane, manages to evoke an image of fearless avenger, as well as the man who believes that the young “thugs” have earned the right to leave the “life.”
Cassandra King (Charity Wakefield) is shown to be a damned character behind all that sophisticated cool sexiness. King, like Philip, Mr. Johnson (Wesley Snipes) and even, apparently, Ginny (Daisy Betts) are all sinners caught up in web of redemption, punishment and, possibly, restitution. And like all truly damned people she further “sells” herself out to Johnson in order to save Nick.
KaDee Strickland as Agent Rose Nolan oozes that smoldering amount of control that allows her to play give and take with Johnson in a slow sexy dance where she promises to punish this bad man when, and not if, she wins. Nolan is real danger, something that may look like it is outside the game but could well be from within. Rose knows a lot about the Pit Boss; too much to have picked it all up from beyond the game itself.
This week’s episode does feel little “West Side Story” meets the “Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s.” Two young people, from different gangs, or clans, meet outside the battle zone and fall in love. It is this portion of the bet that pushes Philip to take on the game aggressively. It does not end well at all. However, the entire storyline moves Cassandra and Philip that little bit closer to an allegiance and drives another wedge between Winchester and his friend Detective Brown (Damon Gupton).
Perhaps it the impending too early finish of The Player, but this story felt downbeat and overly sad. Although the entire thing was saved from morbidity by guest star Heyerdahl’s splendid underplaying of the boogeyman pulling the strings of the opposing factions. The actor leaves the “crazy” back at Hell on Wheels and instead focuses on controlled chaos creation. In essence, his Ivan is kicking the hornets nest in slow motion and enjoying the collapse of an uneasy truce between two “fams.”
Watching Strickland’s FBI super agent take on Snipes’ uber cool pit boss was entertaining and leaves one feeling that despite being on two different sides, the two could be a item of the hottest tension imaginable. This is coitus interruptus taking place before either party even thinks of “getting it on” and the chemistry between these two is so palpable it seeps heavily from the screen.
Watching Downtown Odds leaves one feeling down thinking of what could have been with this NBC castoff. The Player has a cast of superb performers who make the most of their roles and has some damned impressive guest stars. Granted, some, like Richard Roundtree, are given short shrift but this could have been show to be proud of.
All the players even Damon Gupton, who took some time to warm up for this viewer, has hit his stride and this could have been a major, for lack of a better phrase player for the network. Action, stunts, well choreographed fight scenes, intricate plots and chemistry that threatens to simmer off the small screen and into the living rooms of Mr and Mrs America.
Shame on you NBC, for turning your back on The Player and all who sail her. Treating Snipes, Winchester, Wakefield and Gupton like a “red headed step child,” is not big and it is not clever. May television karma bite your big unprotected network butt.