In the eleventh episode of the fourth season of Leverage, the team go after a secret society at a university. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Leverage.
Trigger Warning: For consent, nonconsensual medical procedures, medical experimentation, torture, PTSD, homelessness, stigma around homelessness, and hazing.
That was such a fucked up episode.
So, there’s a lot here that is, unfortunately, based utterly on reality. “The Experimental Job” tackles a number of oppressive structures and detrimental aspects of our society and combines them into a surreal and hellish nightmare, one that’s a sign of how power and privilege can intersect to cause grievous harm. LET’S DISCUSS STUFF.
I think that this episode largely references the Skull and Bones Society that was formed at Yale, since it aims to portray the 206 not just as a secret society, but one with a lot of power. These organizations – and the Skull and Bones was not the only one – are historically the playgrounds of straight white men who are usually Protestant. While there are a lot of similarities between them and fraternities, they ultimately aren’t really the same, and I was glad that the show made that distinction very clear. But you’ve still got a lot of the privilege that comes from such institutions, at least the ones that are historically acceptable in United States society. (I think it’s important to note that there are plenty of fraternities here that don’t earn the same sort of standing in American society, such as those that are historically black or gay.) Not only that, but the 206 are big fans of public humiliation during their rush week, and it was just as horrifying to watch as I imagined.
But what fucked me up so much about this episode was the disconnect you could see on everyone’s faces throughout it. One of the challenges that Hardison faces during this con is that he’s got to assimilate into a culture he finds repulsive and disgusting. It’s hard enough that he’s got to appear to be cool. (Though I personally thought he had no problem with that; erasing people’s tickets was cool all on it’s own to these students.) There’s that scene during the first bit of hazing where you can see Hardison struggle to keep his grift together. He’s annoyed and infuriated by Travis Zilgram’s behavior, but he can’t betray how he really feels. Sometimes, that’s easier than others, such as when he’s asked to take the lead in the Black Ops tournament. However, it was so disturbing to me to see how willing all of these men were to turn an eye away from the horrors around them. Actually, that’s not quite correct. Sure, some of these men allowed bullshit to happen, but most of them gleefully participated in it.
Which brings me to Eliot.
I can’t talk about the 206’s horrible behavior without addressing how they used homeless veterans as LITERAL PUNCHING BAGS. That’s just part of the horrific nightmare that these assholes perpetrate on people who are desperate for a meal and a place to sleep. Like the basis for the 206, there is a very real and disturbing history of nonconsensual medical procedures and experimentation connected to this country. From the Standford Prison Experiment (which we get glimpses of when we learn that the “guards” in the basement are beating the test subjects) to the Tuskegee and Guatemalan syphilis experiments, there’s truth to what we see on the screen. In this specific case, the members of the 206 used the most vulnerable people available to them – homeless veterans – to help out people like Mr. Conrad.
I mean, this was already extremely fucked up, and then we find out that the point of these experiments was to cause PTSD, all so that the U.S. government would have a new method of mentally torturing people. THIS SHOW GOT TOO REAL FOR A MOMENT, Y’ALL. But it needs to in order to demonstrate how these people view the homeless: as inhuman. They’re not even worthy of basic respect to the members of 206. That kind of behavior may seem shocking to you, but as someone who has spent time being homeless, I can assure you that this is precisely how plenty of people in this world view homeless people. Today. Just come to San Francisco and ask a random person on the street how they feel about the homeless here, and I guarantee it won’t be long before you find someone who says nothing but hateful, violent garbage about them. Hell, while you’re at it, just ask the San Francisco Archdiocese what they think of homeless people. I’m sure you’ll get some lovely answers.
I know that a lot of the villains and antagonists of this show have made me angry, but fuck all of these people. I wanted them destroyed. I was utterly pleased to see Travis Zilgram be humiliated and embarrassed, and I admit I even wanted to see more. HE’S SO AWFUL. I wonder, then, if Mr. Conrad’s threat at the end of the episode will hold any weight. At the very least, Travis Zilgram is going to jail. But what about those that assisted him in disposing of David’s body at the beginning of the episode? What about Mr. Conrad? What of the 206? I got the sense that while Rachel got some justice, there wasn’t a way to obliterate The 206 completely. That’s upsetting, isn’t it? Oh god, is Mr. Conrad going to come back???
This was a super upsetting episode of the show, but I was surprisingly entertained throughout it. Aldis Hodge and Christian Kane are incredible here, honestly, and the camera work was phenomenal! All those juxtaposition shots for Hardison and Eliot? YES. YES.
The video for “The Experimental Job” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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