Mark Watches ‘Leverage’: S02E02 – The Tap-Out Job

In the second episdoe of the second season of Leverage, the team tries to con a local MMA promoter who uses fighters to make himself rich, and EVERYTHING GOES WRONG. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Leverage.

Trigger Warning: For nonconsensual drugging

What an incredible episode, y’all. I didn’t expect to like this as much as I did because, like Sophie, I am mystified by the sport of mixed martial arts. I remember when I sat down at my friend’s apartment to watch my first UFC match about six years ago. I was willing to give it a chance, despite that I didn’t care for boxing either. (But professional wrestling???? Somehow, that just hit the right buttons when I was growing up because I couldn’t stop watching it, even when I tried to fight it.) It didn’t particularly interest me, and after a few hours of watching two guys beat the shit out of each other, I felt like I still didn’t understand that.

Now, the UFC is obviously not indicative of the entire sport, and I think there’s a lot to criticize about that specific culture and its racism, sexism, and macho nonsense. That doesn’t mean that MMA itself doesn’t have value as a sport or as a personal outlet for a lot of fighters. And that is how “The Tap-Out Job” won me over. Through Eliot’s numerous heartfelt scenes with Sophie, I came to understand the personal angle of this sport in a way that made me care about what happened here. I don’t ever need to fully understand the sport as a whole, and I’m fine with that. It’s not for me, unless we’re just going to talk about eye candy, which we absolutely can. (BAT SIGNAL IS NOW CAST FOR HOTTEST MMA FIGHTER, SOMEONE MAKE A THREAD.) So how does “The Tap-Out Job” keep people like me interested?

At the heart of every case on the show is a corruption and injustice that most of us can understand. Jed Rucker commodifies the bodies that pass through his gym. To him, as Sophie will later put it, these fighters are a means to an end. They are a product that he can manipulate to his liking, and then he can discard them once they stop making money for him or stop building up his notoriety as a trainer. This show routinely goes after leeches and slimeballs, and there’s something pervasively unnerving about Rucker. I could not stand a single word out of his mouth, and I completely understood why he was such a horrible person.

“The Tap-Out Job” reminds us multiple times that these fighters are not coming from a posh sort of background. Hell, most of them have lived in poverty or struggle to make it through each day. These fights are the light at the end of the tunnel for them. So when Rucker cons the Howorths after drugging Mark Howorth during a fight, he tears a dream away from them. Rucker supports fighters right up until they might leave him (because they’ve gotten so good), and then he drugs them so that they throw their fights, making him a ton of money in the process. It’s despicable and disgusting. It’s with this basis that the team sets up a brilliant con against him, one that exploits his greed and his faux sense of Midwest hospitality. (Seriously, sir, YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT MIDWEST HOSPITALITY IS, YOU ASSHOLE.) It was such a pleasure to watch Sophie and Eliot slip into this incredible roles. Eliot playing the conflicted fighter was GENIUS. (Christian Kane’s performance in this episode was my favorite of his so far, y’all.) I loved all those subtle moments where you could tell that the character he was portraying was reluctant to go against Bill Wells, which was the perfect way to manipulate Jed Rucker.

And then the entire thing falls apart, and y’all, I WAS NOT READY. This is the first time that the group’s cover was blown so badly that they had to REVEAL WHO THEY WERE and give up the con. I was so shocked by this because… Jed Rucker was the one to unravel the Leverage team? As I said in the video for this episode, it’s a brilliant writing choice. We don’t expect it because… well, Jed Rucker really isn’t that clever. And yet? They can’t control the situation anymore. At the very least, I figured that they’d hand the $6,000 that Nate won from Rucker over to the Howorths and call it a day. But Eliot – GODDAMN NOBLE ELIOT – knows that the only way to truly give justice to the Howorths is to make sure that Rucker leaves them alone. I think “The Tap-Out Job” reveals a great deal about Eliot’s character by showing just how willing he is to be a human punching bag for other people, and it supports the idea that he, like the others, really wants to right the injustices of the world, even if he did spend most of his life as a thief. Why else would he agree to get the shit kicked out of him for a couple of people he’ll never see again?

My god, that final fight scene was TERRIFYING. I’m so glad this show deliberately hides the cons in plain sight, because it allows me to immerse myself within the action, not knowing how this is all going to come together. When Tank “died,” I… fuck. I was horrified. I was so upset. Had a con actually gone too far? Had this spiraled out of control so badly that someone had lost their life? Was Rucker going to get away with this??? Sure, he’d be out of Lincoln, Nebraska, and I figured that meant the Howorths were going to be okay, but at what cost? That shot where the team looks upon Tank’s body, numbness in their faces, FUCKED ME UP. WHAT HAD JUST HAPPENED?

A really good con. A REALLY GOOD CON. Holy shit. Clearly, the saxophone was the best touch, no? But I love that this con not only took Rucker out of the picture, but it empowered the Howorths. Getting money was helpful, but the Leverage team gave them a future, one where they could still support the sport that they loved. That’s one of the (many) reasons I love this show as much as I do. Money helps – a lot! – but so does hope. So does empowerment. And the team understands that there are other ways to give people a positive outlook on their lives after they’ve been wronged by the system.

The video for “The Tap-Out Job” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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