Kiefer Sutherland Leads a Silly Espionage Thriller Series
Mar 23, 2023
More than any other show to come out this year, there is so much that is just plain ridiculous about Rabbit Hole. Starring Kiefer Sutherland, most known for his role in the series 24, the Paramount+ series tells an espionage story that is held together with wisecracks, bubble gum, and twists galore. Narrative coherence is consistently thrown out the window; this is all about getting to the next development that may just reverse everything else we had understood up until then. It is the type of series that is best when it cuts through all the fluff to just embrace the absurdity of each revelation. While the show does lose much of its steam when it gets caught up in expository flashbacks and conversations that remain more than a bit clunky, the core of just seeing a smarmy Sutherland navigate crisis after crisis is often quite fun. Over the course of the first four episodes, an almost comedic sense of chaos increasingly begins to take hold.
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The story of Rabbit Hole begins with John Weir (Sutherland) as he tries to carry out a job. What is this job? Well, the details of it are both best left to the show itself and, as we will come to know, may not even be what they seem in the first place. Essentially, Weir has assembled a crack team who will be framing a couple of marks. He seems to be doing this in a freelance capacity, without any personal or political investment in the operation. This is because he is the type of man who we are informed time and time again is very good at manipulating the world through meticulous planning crossed with a gruff sensibility. It makes him in high demand, but it may also make him a target. He’s paranoid about almost everything, but he seems to be in control of the situation. This status quo all changes when Weir suddenly finds himself as the one being framed. Specifically, it is for a murder that he did not commit. More importantly than that, this leaves him on the run while trying to prevent something bigger that is coming. This plot looms large over everything, with Rabbit Hole referencing real issues facing the world and how this may soon lead to potential catastrophe. However, none of this is meant to be taken too seriously.
Image via Paramount+
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Any connections to the real world are merely there to instill the plot with some sort of gravity just before it tosses everything into the air. This often happens literally, with multiple characters falling from a very high height and splattering on the ground below. One of these scenes is even turned into a darker punchline of sorts with the impact of the body being followed by a wryly comedic observation. There is a cartoonish undercurrent to such moments, as Rabbit Hole is a show that is framed around the spectacle of its premise rather than a more serious tension. It is a series that isn’t a comedy on the whole, but it is hard not to laugh at many of its escalations. Without tipping off who exactly he is playing, the appearance of Charles Dance brings perhaps the biggest surprise, one which the actor sells with deadly seriousness. Of course, that makes it even more silly when his character gets into bickering with Weir about the best way to proceed. Logic is whatever the series needs it to be as it is all rather slick, waving away most anything that would drag down the story.
That doesn’t mean Rabbit Hole can’t get a little lost in itself. There are many scenes scattered throughout that bring the momentum way down, including delving into details about side characters; even the backstories of the leads feel disposable in their own right. Indeed, much of the plot seems like it is all about setting up misdirects to serve as a smokescreen for what is really playing out. The problem then becomes a distinct shift from being mysterious to more mundane. No matter how many times Weir smashes his way into a wall to uncover a stash at various safe houses, there is just not that much genuine intrigue underpinning the story — despite the show trying to stir some up.
Rabbit Hole is ultimately held back from being as dynamic of a work as last year’s thrilling series The Old Man, which was able to continually strike a far better balance in both creating a solid genre entry and also upending our expectations in a more delicate fashion. In Rabbit Hole, none of the elements have the same levels of charm and grace that it seems to desire. The intentionally written jokes that come from dialogue between characters are not nearly as humorous as Sutherland engaging in some goofy stunts when his character’s carefully constructed plans fall apart. One ends with a car suddenly crashing into the frame and striking one of his adversaries who, miraculously, seems to be just fine a moment later. That is just the way that the show rolls; there is nothing that will hold it back from throwing in more chaos.
Image via Paramount+
One lingering issue surrounds a late revelation at the end of the fourth episode. Again, none of this will be spoiled, but it has the potential to undo almost everything that took place from the very beginning. Could this just be part of the fun of flipping everything on its head over and over? Potentially, but there is a breaking point where the show starts to become less thrilling when there is always the potential for seemingly permanent stakes to be reversed. While this series doesn’t have to ever take itself too seriously, it still runs the risk of shaking things up so much that the structural integrity needed to be ridiculous could come apart. It has to keep light on its feet, but, if you stop to think about it for a moment, its shortcomings may become too much to overlook. If Rabbit Hole can maintain the balance between its silly thrills and a no-frills story, its goofy pleasures have the potential to only grow more fun.
Rabbit Hole premieres March 26 on Paramount+.
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