In the ninth episode of the third season of Leverage, I WASN’T READY. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Leverage.
Sweet mother of god, what an episode.
Just… there’s so much to “The Three-Card Monte” that’s deliberately disruptive. The brilliance of Christine Boylan’s script is layered, yes, but I love that it never lets us get comfortable. There’s always some threat or chaotic twist laying just around the corner. We’re led to think from the start that this will probably progress like most of the other cons; hell, this wasn’t the first time the show had used the mafia. So, I (wrongly) assumed that this would be a con used against another mob mark.
And then Nate’s father shows up.
Like… I DIDN’T EVEN THINK HE’D BE A CHARACTER THAT COULD BE ON THE SHOW. And then it’s Tom Skerritt and IT’S SO PERFECT. But this is not a loving reunion, and the show tries to make it one. What we get to witness is a deeply confusing and complex con, one where Nate has to con his own father into thinking he is a criminal so that Nate can then betray him. Understandably, that’s a difficult thing for anyone to pull off. However, once Nate realizes what’s at stake and who is involved, he does his best to convince the team that he’s fine taking his own father down. Does he succeed at that? I don’t think so.
But I’ll touch on that later. I wanted to talk about how this episode does a wonderful job of explaining Nate Ford better than perhaps any episode before this. While backstories have given these characters depth over the course of Leverage, I feel like what “The Three-Card Monte Job” reveals about Nate is crucial to understanding him. The brief glimpses we get of Nate’s first time in the back room of McRory’s are frustrating, namely because we see what sort of dynamic there was between Nate and his father. There’s no emotional, sappy montage here where Jimmy Ford teaches his son everything he knows.
No, Jimmy Ford berates his son. He goads him into the same scam over and over again, and then he insults him for not immediately realizing he’s been scammed. WHILE HE IS A CHILD. The fact that a father could have expected their child to be a ball of cynicism is a nightmare in and of itself. But I was far more concerned about Nate, and it makes perfect sense to me that he would spend the remainder of his life trying to be the polar opposite of his father. Why would you want to emulate that??? The Nate that we see today is influenced by the path his father sent him on years ago.
Of course, that’s one of the reasons this con is so hard to watch. Like I said, Nate has to con his father into believing that he’s being a dutiful and respectful son. Which is something that most people would want to do anyway, you know? But the context of it all fucks it up. Even in hindsight, I don’t know what I’m supposed to trust! After Nate helped Jimmy steal those plans, I honestly thought that Jimmy had a modicum of respect for his son, but he was always waiting to double cross him anyway, right? Nate was just a means to an end for the man, and I don’t think he ever could have been fully accepted by Jimmy.
So where does that leave Nate? Was he now more willing than before to turn his father over? Maybe, but when it came down to it, he couldn’t do it. I loved that moment when Parker arrived to extract Nate and she knew. She knew that Nate couldn’t turn his father in, and she didn’t judge him for it. She looked sympathetic towards him. And that’s something each of these characters understood, y’all. They all knew that this was too deeply personal for Nate, and they all would have supported him whatever choice he made. In this case, he couldn’t pull the trigger, both literally and metaphorically. I feel like there was a lot left unsaid here, and that’s part of why it’s so haunting. Why did Nate spare his father? Why send him out of the States? Wouldn’t Jimmy most likely harm someone else once he got settled? I suppose that is possible, but I think Nate couldn’t treat his father as his father once treated him. Jimmy insists at the end of this episode that Nate is more ruthless and cruel than him, but he leaves out an important bit of context. To whom does Nate direct his ruthlessness and cruelty, if it’s really there?
He expends that energy on people who commit injustice. So no, Jimmy Ford, I don’t think Nate is like you at all. He has much better aim.
Shout out to Parker, by the way, for picking up a new habit: sarcastically repeating Eliot’s lines back to him. May it continue to flourish.
The video for “The Three-Card Monte Job” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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