Leverage Goes Out on a High

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Dec. 26 2012 4:56 PM

Leverage Goes Out on a High

Aldis Hodge, Beth Riesgraf, and Christian Kane in Leverage
Aldis Hodge, Beth Riesgraf, and Christian Kane in Leverage

Photograph by Erik Heinila.

After months of uncertainty and a last-minute announcement that the series had been canceled, Leverage, the TNT drama about a gang of scam artists who con the rich to win justice for the poor, had the best possible finale last night.

It’s always been hard for me to greet the news that a TV show has been canceled with anything other than sadness. At the start of the fall TV season, there’s a tendency to crow about the first mercy-killing of the year, but celebrating actors and crew members joining the ranks of the unemployed always feels a smidge tasteless (especially for journalists, whose own profession is hardly a model of job security). Even when an established show is in decline, it can be tough for regular viewers to let go. Instead, they typically run through Kübler-Ross’ five stages: denial (the network is bound to reconsider once they realize how much the show is loved); anger (mostly at the ratings cartel that undercounts their show’s audience); bargaining (time to launch a goofy save-our-show campaign); depression (why must my show die when new real housewives are born every season?), and finally acceptance (it’s pilot season—my favorite showrunner is bound to get something new picked up).

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Leverage was all about sticking up for the rights of the little guy against powerful corporate and governmental interests, so it’s perhaps inevitable that viewers expected someone to fight back against the ax-wielding network. But Leverage had five good seasons, and since every episode required a fiendishly ingenious plot, it wasn’t sustainable forever. Earlier this month, Dean Devlin, the show’s creator, released an open letter telling fans that since there was uncertainty about whether they’d be picked up for a sixth season, the creative team “decided to end this season with the episode we had planned to make to end the series, way back when we shot the pilot.”

So it’s not surprising that the finale felt conclusive. After a satisfyingly complicated (if slightly plot-hole-strewn) con job in which the team beat the world’s toughest security system, Interpol, and even death, mastermind Nate Ford (Timothy Hutton) finally proposed to grifter Sophie Devereaux (Gina Bellman), and they handed the reins to the rest of the team—hacker Alec Hardison (Aldis Hodge), “hitter” Eliot Spencer (Christian Kane), and thief Parker (Beth Riesgraf). Nate and Sophie, the most experienced team members had been mentoring the others on the art of the con, so it made dramatic sense to pass the baton. Sadly, the imminent departure of Hutton and Bellman probably doomed the show. Leverage was all about the smooth working of a team; introducing new members in the sixth season—and losing the best-known actors—was always a losing proposition.

It will be missed, though. Leverage was one of the few shows that pointed out how outmatched individuals are by profit-obsessed corporations. In its last season the show tackled pro sport’s concussion problem, weak occupational-safety laws, how the rapacious policies of big box stores threaten small towns, and the inadequacy of consumer-protection regulations in the toy market—among many other little-guy-versus-the-world story lines. The show also reminded viewers of the similarities between scam artists and marketers. Did you think they’d be allowed to get away with that forever?

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

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