So many new shows, so little time. Only the thing is, you should be making time for SEAL TEAM. It’s hands down one of the best new dramas on TV.
First things first: they’re not called Seals because they spend a lot of time in the water. Operating in the SEa, in the Air, and on Land, SEAL Team squeezes all three elements into the pilot episode, Tip of the Spear. It’s an action-packed hour that throws us into the team alongside newbie, Clay Spenser. He’s a translator, and if military jargon isn’t one of your languages you may need one of your own for this series.
“Let’s do this.”
SEAL Team’s pilot episode is a little bit gritty. It’s intimate at times, drawing the viewer in until we feel like we’re part of this close-knit team. We’re at their side, manoeuvring through tunnels, or laughing with them on helicopters, taking part in missions with this Tier One Navy SEAL Team and their dog.
We consider their choices, form our own opinions, and question their morals. We
This is a show about people. About the decisions we make, about loss and how we deal with it, and it’s about family – the ones at home, and the bond between team members.
It all comes together in a slickly-produced hour of television, but such a good one.
Of course, pilots tend to be more polished by a larger budget, so it will be interesting to see how all these elements play out in future episodes. But I found myself impressed with this first episode, and I’m ready to follow this team on their next mission, and home again.
This is not a group of people who have recently come together, and watching them interact I believed it. The bonds are tight, and everyone has their place – including the straps.
There are a lot of interactions in this episode, all giving us insight into the relationships between the characters. Some are touched on briefly, others are granted more air time. I look forward to watching these relationships become more fleshed out and involved as the series progresses.
This team includes Cerberus (aka DITA) the hair missile, a Belgian Malinois, who might, without shame, be my favorite character. He’s one of them, and is treated as such, accompanying them on the helicopters, leading the way through tunnels, sniffing out explosives – and finding their HVT.
Be warned, the language won’t give you a second to catch up. Viewers new to military jargon are thrown in the deep end. If this is you, you’ll either pick it up as the dialogue is bounced around, or find yourself picking up your phone and Googling.
Do not expect this show to slow down while you do this.
THE STOIC LEADER
Jason Hayes, played with ease by leading man David Boreanaz, has angst in spades. He may be fighting ISIL abroad but it might just be his inner demons that get him first.
We’re introduced to Jason during a forced psychotherapy session intercut with scenes from a previous mission that went south.
During this mission, he lost Nate, a member of the Tier One SEAL Team that Jason leads, but don’t expect him to deal with that pesky lingering PTSD any time soon. He’s having none of this head shrinkage, only seeing Dr Kruger because he’s been ordered to do so. Doesn’t mean he has to like it, or comply.
We can tell that Hayes is having a hard time with Nate’s death and we can’t even imagine what he’s going through.
One of his PTSD symptoms is a nervous tick. He wipes his hand against his thigh, as he did when he wiped Nate’s blood off his hands the night he died. We see this a few times in this episode, and now we’ve seen the situations that trigger this action I suspect it will be seen less in coming episodes, with perhaps his PTSD manifesting in other ways as well.
The thing that we are so glad that they show is the bond between the unit. These men and women are like family. They understand each other in a way no one else does. Nate may be gone, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t be there for his family. Family is forever – including the family that you make for your self.
But back to Hayes, our stoic leader, who has a wall in place that would give China’s a run for its money – and his wall doesn’t show signs of cracking at home either. Estranged from his wife, Alana (Michaela McManus), the bond this team has means the two must still interact at gatherings, such as at Nate’s son’s first communion. But it’s clear there’s love for one another still present.
“It would mean a lot if you could just be there,” Alana tells him, referring to their daughter’s recital. It’s a phrase that’s likely to have been spoken often in their relationship, one she says now with a defeated edge to her tone. She’s tired of having to ask, tired of Jason being called away, to missions he can never share with her. He’s physically and emotionally absent. Is she wrong to be upset? Did she know what she was getting herself into? Is that even an excuse? Maybe none of us can judge, because – well, we all aren’t in that position.
And he responds with rueful laughter in his voice, because he knows he can’t promise anything.
Work trumps family. It’s no surprise they’re estranged. But again – did she know what she was signing up for when she married him? Was he a SEAL then?
He’s crashing at Ray’s, we find out, suggesting this divorce is a recent event. It wouldn’t be unrealistic to assume the stress fissures finally broke them apart soon after Nate’s death.
Mandy Ellis (Jessica Paré), a CIA operative, isn’t without her own demons. We learn that two years ago in Baghdad she almost had Samir, this episode’s high value target, and his kills since weigh heavy on her. Samir is expected to surrender rather than fight back, and she wants him this time. Preferably alive. Her priority is to snatch Samir, and this may come at the expense of the life of the hostage he has taken. The loss of one hostage’s is a small price for all the lives Samir will take if they don’t succeed in ending his reign.
See a year ago, a woman was taken prisoner and Mandy recognizes her. What does one do? While it seems obvious to some, we don’t deal with the questions of national security. But they are told that the hostage comes first and we cheered. But can they do both?
Hayes is almost cocky in his assurance the team can do both: they’ll capture Samir and save the hostage. And it’s easy to believe him. Hell you want to believe him.
But you also want to pray that these men and women stay safe and that the hostage is safe.
We get too brief of an introduction to the other characters.
Lisa Davis (Toni Trucks) is smart, tough, and underutilized. Sonny (AJ Buckley) is Cerberus’ handler. He brings a fun sense of humor when the situation allows it, and switches easily into serious mode should your hair missile etiquette not be up to scratch, but that’s about all we know about him for now. We learn only slightly more about Ray (Neil Brown Jr.), a husband, a father with a son on the way, who appears to be Hayes’ calming force.
We’re allowed only snippets of insight into the relationships these characters share with Hayes, but there’s nothing negative in their interactions. This is a team that plays well together.
Our first introduction to Clay Spenser (Max Thieriot) is during a training session. A Kobayashi Maru situation. It’s a no-win, and he knows it as he fires smart-ass responses to an always imposing Michael Rooker.
Clay’s dealing with the fallout from a book his father wrote, living very much in the man’s shadow. What does that book contain?
We think that we’ll learn over the next episodes.
He may be the newbie on this team, but he’s observant and asks the right questions. And when he makes a judgement call near the end of the episode, it’s hard to disagree with his actions based on the information he had as the scene unfolded before him.
He’ll make mistakes and clash with Hayes, but this has the potential to be an interesting relationship to watch as it grows and evolves.
THE HOSTAGE AND SAMIR
The team heads into the compound, but with one of the birds being down they are told that it now is a rescue the hostage mission. And they are able to save her. But like on the boat, the one where Nate died, there is a change to the plan. They think that they can get Samir.
They follow him into a tunnel and tell Spenser to stand watch. Of course the cocky ass newbie doesn’t pay attention and he heads into the tunnel. He tries to tell them that the tunnel is not secure, because coms are down in the tunnel they can’t hear. There is a bomber in the tunnel and he has to be eliminated before he blows them all up.
Hayes of course isn’t happy that the newbie didn’t follow direction, but it begs the question. Is he pissed at the newbie fairly or is he punishing the newbie for who his father is?
“This is Cerberus. He’s a pussycat. Now, if he accidentally bites you, well in the unlikely event that he does, do not say no. Part of their training is that biting is never wrong. Ain’t that right? Yeah. Hey, I should probably tell you where we keep the broom handle in case we gotta pry open his jaw.”
When our team is all geared up, on the chopper, heading out. The scene is dialogue-free, faces are tense, but there’s also laughter and a comradery amongst the team. It’s beautifully shot and scored, documentary-like in style. The rich realism of this scene is one I hope to see repeated in future episodes.
For the Shippers:
My money’s on Davis and Spenser (Clisa?), or Hayes and Ellis (Hellis? Jandy? Mason?). In the fic world I expect Jason and Clay fic to start hitting AO3 soon (Clason?) .
Ray might still have hope for Jason and Alana, but, even only one episode in, I’m not sharing his faith.
Now, about that lingo…
Straps (or Straphangers) – qualified personnel from another unit brought in for a mission. In Tip of the Spear, these were the CIA agents, and Clay.
“Straight through the light switch” – an instantly fatal headshot. A clean kill.
ISIL – The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a militant group recognized as a terrorist organization by the United Nations.
APC – Armored personnel carrier.
Humvee – High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV).
Mogadishu – The Battle of Mogadishu took place in Somalia in 1993 and inspired the movie Black Hawk Down.
SVEST – An improvised explosive device worn by suicide bombers.
ISU – light-weight containers for cargo.
HVT – High Value Target.
Five by five – a strong and clear radio signal.
AAR – After Action Review. What happened, why it happened, and how weaknesses can be improved on.
I enjoyed this introduction to a team at the tip of the spear both abroad and in their relationships back home. Fast-paced action and rapid-fire dialogue kept me engaged as the team prepped for, and took part in, missions. The emotional scars and the journeys towards healing will keep me invested as the season progresses.
My only request: Please, CBS, don’t let this become a Beyond Borders-like Rescue of the Week.
Episode two, Other Lives, airs Wednesday October 4th on CBS.