I love spy media. I’m currently writing my undergraduate thesis on the geopolitics of post-9/11 spy film franchises. In other words, I think way too much about this genre, and I’m pretty skeptical of any newcomer, even one fronted by “America’s Spy” Kiefer Sutherland. The new Paramount+ series Rabbit Hole mostly passes for me, with its solid performances and intriguing story overshadowing some of its weaker characterizations.
Sutherland is the poster child for the political thriller TV show, and with good reason – his gruff delivery makes almost everything he says compelling. From his time on 24 as counter-terrorism agent Jack Bauer to his turn as a politician thrust into the presidency on Designated Survivor, Sutherland has become synonymous with tales of nationalistic intrigue. And yes, this story is quite nationalistic, or at least it seems to be in the four episodes that were made available for critics. But hey, that’s pretty par for the course regarding stories about spies.
Sutherland’s character John Weir isn’t your average spy. He engages in what FBI agent Jo Madi (Enid Graham) calls “corporate espionage” and what he calls consulting. Weir and his team specialize in taking companies’ money and doing elaborate stings to screw over other companies. Something goes wrong, though, and suddenly Sutherland is on the run for a murder that he didn’t commit… or did he?
If you want a series that makes you shout “WHAT?” multiple times in an episode, then this is the show for you. Nobody is really what they seem at first glance, and the stakes can change instantly. The smoothest parts of the show are its stings, where John and his team execute Ocean’s Eleven-style schemes. Its humor also works surprisingly well in a show that features so much death.
Sutherland’s performance proves that he’s still got it when it comes to angrily fighting against conspiracies on screen. Rabbit Hole is much more of a surveillance drama than an action spectacular, but Sutherland’s line delivery is just as compelling as any punch. Most notably, Charles Dance stands out as an older mentor of John’s. It’s no surprise that Dance is a formidable presence, but his range allows him to switch from “nice old man” mode to “I have definitely killed people” mode in a single scene.
So far, the biggest letdown for me is the show’s female characters, particularly Hailey (Meta Golding), a lawyer who gets dragged into John’s flight from the law. While the series implies that Hailey has more to her character than we think, it still feels tired and regressive to show her as the unwilling sidekick that this older white male actor has to deal with. I could feel myself getting annoyed at her presence just like John did, and that’s by no means due to Golding’s performance, but more to the series using her confusion as a punchline or for an easy audience insert. Unless there’s a reason for Hailey to be playing up her incompetence, I fear that Rabbit Hole might be falling into avoidable pitfalls.
And I’m not sold yet on the choppy editing. Oftentimes, before a scene plays out, we see images of John intercut with shots of what is about to happen. It’s suggested that this shows him considering all the possibilities, but we’re only shown one scenario through split-second stills, spoiling the surprise with no real payoff. This frenetic cutting back and forth continues throughout the show, mimicking the overall thematic chaos but making the visuals a little too overwhelming.
But despite the series’ flaws, I’m still hooked. The series gets more engaging as it moves along as we spend more time with our characters, especially when we get to learn more about how they’ve gotten to where they are now. Most of the misdirects have paid off so far, and at the rate, this series is going, there will be many more to come.
The best part about Rabbit Hole is that I have no idea what will happen next. Whether this leads to a satisfying conclusion is still up in the air, but I know I’ll enjoy the ride. Just… please give Golding something more to work with.