Leverage Sunday: The Nigerian Job by John Rogers & Chris Downey: Creating a Community

Setting up a community isn’t easy; getting that many people on the page or screen and keeping them all individualized while combining them into a unit normally takes some time, a slow build so that the reader or viewer can get to know each member as the team gradually bonds. Some series–Person of Interest and Arrow, for example–do this over many episodes, adding one member at a time. And then there’s Leverage, a show that dropped five loners into the first episode, fused them into a unit, and never stopped running. The pilot for the series is a great tutorial on how to create a team very quickly while individualizing all its members.

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1. Start with the leader.
Even in a team of equals, there has to be somebody in charge, and that leader is crucial because he or she is going to give the group its identity. But because the leader has so much more power than the rest of the group, it’s important to give him or her weak spots so that the group can challenge authority and keep the group identity fluid and the power dynamic equal. In Leverage, the mastermind is Nate Ford, a former insurance investigator, now broken by the death of his son and the collapse of his marriage, drinking himself to death to dull the pain. But Nate isn’t just any insurance investigator; he’s a legend, traveling the globe to track down missing valuables, part of a symbiotic community of detectives and thieves who circle around each other constantly. That means that Nate has intelligence, skills, knowledge, and connections, things that would make him invincible if it weren’t for that drink in his hand.

All of that is set up in the first scene as he’s approached in an airport bar by Victor Dubenich to steal back plans that have been stolen from him, offering Nate both money and revenge on the insurance company that refused to pay for Nate’s son’s treatment, the real chink in his armor of indifference. Nate is the first to be hired, so he’s the only team member in the scene, and the viewer’s full attention is on him. That’s crucial because he’s the one who’s going to define the group, so he has to be established first. The script lampshades Nate’s identity by having Victor tell him that he’s hired three thieves, so now he needs an honest man to lead them.

That “honest man” designation is going to be Nate’s hallmark for the first two seasons, his insistence that he’s not a thief setting him apart from the rest of the cheerfully criminal group until the second season finale when he finally comes to terms with the man he has become, and when asked to identify himself, says, “I’m Nate Ford and I’m a thief.” Possibly a better tag comes from Sophie when she asks him if he doesn’t like being a black king better than a white knight, being the leader of a criminal gang rather than working for somebody else as a good guy, but the truth is he’s both, and that informs the entire crew. Nate now works outside the law to do the good things he did before while his crew now does good things, working outside the law as they’ve always done. They’re all white knights now because they follow Nate’s black king, but because as the series progresses, they all take turns calling the shots, and because Nate becomes part of the team’s community, the black king/white knight designation becomes the team description, too.

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2. Add more team members, but make them wildly different from each other, then set them to arguing among themselves to highlight those differences. The next three members of the team arrive all at once and are instantly differentiated in appearance, skill sets, and personality. A black man, a white man,and a woman. A hacker, a hitter, and a thief. An easy-going, good-time guy; a taciturn, brooding guy; a child-like crazy woman. As the series continues, the writers can add layers to these cartoons, making them into complex characters, but in the beginning, the team members need to be as different as possible, no subtlety.

3. Put the team in action right away, before they know each other so they learn each other’s strengths on the job rather than having talking heads explain them to each other. Scenes that have people explain who’s who on the team are useless because nobody remembers words alone, they remember words-and-pictures. Leverage drops three strangers into a computer heist, gives each one a very brief flashback to nail their pasts, and then shows them in action doing what they do very well, imprinting each character distinctly in the viewer’s mind. Then things go wrong and Nate tells them what to do, and together they improvise to finish the job, foreshadowing that they’ll be a team even though each one states clearly that he or she prefers to work alone and the leader prefers not to work with any of them at all.

4. Then put them in a crucible. A team can form slowly over time, learning to trust each other, or they can be melded in a blast furnace of outrage and revenge. An the beginning of the episode, the Leverage team is emotionally distant from each other, brought together for one job only by external forces and the promise of a paycheck, but at the first turning point, they’re put into a crucible–the bad guy cheats them and then tries to blow them up–that gives them a shared emotional goal. By the end of the first episode, they’ve formed a community they’re determined to keep, even if they have to convince their mastermind to keep minding them.

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5. Add new members once the basic team is established, but make sure the new member is different from the existing members: different appearance, different skill set, different personality, and must bring something new to the dynamic. In this group, the new kid is Sophie the grifter, an older brunette woman with a seductive personality, the opposite of the other woman in the group, the younger, blonde, socially stunted Parker. Sophie is different in one other respect: she’s the only member of the group chosen by Nate because he’s chased her around the world to recover the things she’s scammed, so he knows how good she is. She’s not only the wild card in this episode’s con, she’s the wild card in Nate’s life.

6. Make sure your stories showcase how the team works together, supporting each other, how, in short, they’re a community, a family. The fun in the Leverage pilot isn’t just in the twisty plot, it’s in watching loners discovering they like working together, a group romance, if you will.

7. Show that the community has a group identity that the individual members value and want to keep. The Leverage pilot did one other thing that was crucial for this team: at the end of the episode it’s revealed that they didn’t just take the bad guy down, they profited from it. Because Hardison is a genius at playing the markets, he can hand every member of the team a huge check, big enough for each of them to retire for life. That means when they follow Nate down the street explaining why they should keep working together, it’s not for the money, it’s because they want to keep the community. The Leverage team pulled their cons for five seasons, but every one rested on the bonding that happened in this first episode.

How They Did It: Plot Analysis:
The community’s plot is developed in tandem with the caper plot, each interlocking with and fueling the other.

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Act One: I’m Only In This For The Money and I Don’t Like Any of You
The first fifteen minutes is the First Job, Victor hooking Nate, and the team stealing the plans and dropping a virus into the rival’s computers. Hardison, Parker, and Eliot are arguing and resisting Nate’s leadership in the beginning to the point that when things go south, Eliot says “You’re on your own” and prepares to desert them, but by the end when Nate gets them out of trouble, they’re working well together, and it’s all shown in the execution of the theft, the two plots unspooling simultaneously.

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The Change of Plans: That Bastard Tried to Kill Us
The first turning point comes when they don’t get paid and Victor tries to blow them up. That swings the caper narrative around from a “Steal back the plans” plot to a “Get even” plot, and the community plot from “this is a one time job” to “let’s work together to get this jerk.” Same characters, new stories.

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Act Two: Get Sophie
There’s a nice moment when loner Eliot stops to help a fallen Hardison right before the building blows, especially nice since Hardison had pulled a gun on him only minutes before, but they’re still not a team. That’s demonstrated in the hospital when the three thieves tell each other that they don’t trust any of them. Nate says, “Do you trust me?” and there’s silence until Eliot says, “Of course. You’re an honest man.” Ten minutes later, they’ve escaped and they’re back at Hardison’s place, ready to run, when Nate says, “We can take him,” and after a moment’s thought, all three are back on the team, this time with a common goal to bring down Victor. His team under control once again, Nate makes a final team-building move, getting them a face Victor hasn’t seen: “Let’s go get Sophie.”

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The Point of No Return: Let’s Go Break the Law One More Time.”
The mid turning point is when they leave the apartment and put the plan into motion, going into action they can’t retire from. Act Two was the story of four people who’d been attacked and betrayed saving themselves and each other and then agreeing to work together one last time; Act Three will be the team of four plus one in action, changing the plot from “plan” to “execution” and the community from four to five.

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Act Three: Get Victor
The Third Act is the Second Job, the team of five eating popcorn and making plans, Sophie and Eliot surprising each other by their common knowledge of a small and evidently hinky town on the Chinese border, Nate surprising everybody with his knowledge of airplanes, all of them beginning to realize the talent they’re surrounded by. The rest of the act is setting up Victor, playing out the scam, problem solving when they hit snags, all of which is new for each one of them and awakens them to the possibilities inherent in teamwork; my favorite example of this is Sophie’s moment of terrified bonding with Parker on the zip line.

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The Crisis: Victor Gets Them
The third turning point is when Victor tells his assistant he’s on to them and he’s setting a trap. This is where Leverage cheats in every episode; you watch the team set up the con, but you never have all of the information, which in this case is that Victor’s discovery of their plan is part of their plan. If you know that, all of the tension goes, but if you don’t know that, it’s a cheat since you’ve been part of the team. Normally, I’d be raising hell about this, but I buy it in Leverage: those people lie to everybody, so of course they lie to me. What this TP does for the viewer is change the story from Our Team Is Going To Get Revenge to Our Team Is Going To Get Arrested. The story doesn’t change for the characters, it changes for the viewers.

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Act Four: The Biter Bit
Victor springs his trap only to get caught in it by the team’s double con, each part of the plan toppling like dominoes as he tries frantically to stop the fall, while they walk out of the building with files, all dressed alike, a unified team. That is, they come together as Victor falls apart.

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The Climax: “I Can Take Your Underpants”
In the caper plot, Victor is utterly and completely defeated and is hauled away by the FBI as Nate returns the stolen plans to his rival along with evidence that Victor was behind the theft.

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In the community plot, Hardison passes out checks that give them each enough to retire on, and then the team, in a 180 turn from the first act, tries to convince Nate to stick with them because they want to keep the community and they know it can’t work without him. He tries to walk away, but there’s Sophie, purring “Black king, white knight” at him.

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The Denouement/Resolution: We Provide Leverage
The next thing the viewer sees is the new stable world the plot has arced toward, the team talking with a couple in trouble, explaining that they understand that the couple is under a terrible weight, and that what they do is provide leverage to lift that weight. It’s important that its not Nate meeting with this couple alone; Sophie speaks first, then Nate, but all five of them are in the room, clearly a unified community.

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Community Status: “This Could Work.”

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86 thoughts on “Leverage Sunday: The Nigerian Job by John Rogers & Chris Downey: Creating a Community

  1. I’m really enjoying Leverage. Glommed the first season over the course of two days.

    It’s been a while since I watched the BBC show, Hustle, but I think I remember the pilot as having many of the same characteristics as described here for Leverage. It might make an interesting comparison. It’s got team members that are wildly different from each other, but sort of match up with the Leverage team — a leader with many of Nate’s characteristics (charismatic and brilliant, bitter divorce and hit bottom when he did a jail term for assault, when he punched the guy his wife was cheating with, IIRC), but he’s black; a female grifter with a crush on the leader; a “fixer” who’s got Ardison-like characteristics, with all sorts of gizmos, not just computers, and perhaps some Elliot characteristics too, although they’re not much into violence. Oh, and they’ve got Robert Vaughn (yes, the Man From U.N.C.L.E.), another grifter, much older than the rest of the gang, sort of like who the team’s leader will be in another forty years. They’re already an on-again, off-again team when the story starts, and in the pilot a new member is added to the team — a young, wannabe grifter.

    Other similarities: the black/white thing, where they’re helping people but using illegal methods, and the tension between their loner tendencies versus their connection to the team, and the “cheating” of hiding information that would ruin the story’s tension, but you don’t mind, because it’s the only way this kind of story works.

    As to the cheating, there was one episode where it did bother me (just as there were a few examples in Hustle when it bugged me). I accepted the cheat in this episode, in part because there was no minute-by-minute description of their plan, where a minute was left out. There was a later episode (can’t remember if it’s one we’ll be discussing, so I won’t go into spoilery details), where a chunk of a scene was cut out, so it was sort of A and B saying blah, blah, blah, and then, in real time, there was a line like “oh, by the way, here’s how you’re going to help us get the bad guy,” and then more unrelated blah, blah, blah between the characters. But they cut out that middle line. That did feel like cheating. I think it’s different from A & B chatting, with a fade to black, where the reveal would have been in the fade to black. If that makes any sense.

    1. I remember that bit but I cannot remember which of the shows it was (I’ve been watching them for the community arc).
      Normally, that would make me INSANE, cheating the reader, but I think in Leverage (I’ve seen a clip of Hustle) I think it’s part of the contract after the first show. At the crisic point before the last act, they’re going to con the viewer, leave out a piece, skip over something, so the viewers know going in that not only are they watching a con, they’re being conned. It’s almost a way of breaking the fourth wall.

  2. I agree, after the first episode we sign on to be conned. I remember watching that first episode and being on the edge of my seat trying to figure out how they were going to get out of the trap only to be amazed at how they flipped it. I don’t mind not knowing 100% of the plan so long as it’s smart and not smug. That moment of not being in on the plan is part of what makes Leverage so watchable. Says the woman who quit watching it because the suspense was making her crazy.

    That’s something that I love about The Blacklist. Red knows waaaay more than me, he knows things I’ll never know and I know that he’s going to keep things from me but I’m cool with that because if I knew everything he did there would be no suspense, no fun, no moments of squirming in my seat with glee as his planned unfurled in front of me. I live for the glee.

    1. I agree about Red. I think the viewer’s placeholder in that show is Lizzie because we always know what she knows, and at this point, we’re aligned with her in trusting Red to the point of keeping the FBI out of some of their interactions. She’s operating in a kind of no-woman’s land between law and anarchy which is where the viewer is in that show. We’re anti-terrorist, but pro-Red; pro law enforcement but anti-anything-that-stops-Red.

      Again, I think it goes back to the contract with the reader thing. The Leverage contract says, “We’re going to con you at the crisis point,” and as long as we agree to that, they can lie to us because they’ll make it all right in the end. The Blacklist contract says, “Red does business with terrorists and kills people, but you can trust him,” and we buy into it and watch him kill people without hating him, sure in the knowledge that if he’s killing somebody, they’re bad guys. And at the end, they always are. As far as I can remember, he’s killed one good guy, and that guy wanted to die because he had six weeks to live (cancer) and they were going to be hell.

      But I also think your “not smug” part is crucial. I don’t want to watch a show that sneers at me because it’s so much more clever than I am, and I think that Leverage avoids that by inviting the viewer into the characters and the community. Leverage isn’t about the cons, it’s about how the cons demonstrate and shape the community and the individual characters in it. As I remember (and I’ve probably got this wrong because it’s been decades since I’ve see the show) the original Mission Impossible shows emphasized the capers themselves; the community was important because it executed the capers. Leverage emphasizes the characters and the community; the capers are important because they illuminate the people who execute them. If that makes sense.

      1. Leverage reminds me more of A-Team in that emphasizing the characters and community (and the designated role of each person of the team — Nate/Hannibal, Eliot/BA, Parker/Murdock, Face/Sophie and then later when they added Amy/Hardison. While A-Team was running around doing good, they were established as a community team before that since they were a team together in the war. There was lots more holding them together and “just the missions.” I wonder if that’s why I never really cared for Mission Impossible, the old one or the remake.

        1. Yes to the A-Team. I’ve only seen Hustle, not Leverage, and first time I watched it was at my parents’ and they described it as a British A-Team. And it was. Hustle struck me as a little more morally ambiguous than the A-Team – or at least I don’t remember the ATeam scamming people out of money, just being hired to bring about justice. But the emphasis on community and team is the same.

        2. From TV Tropes:

          Five-Man Band
          The Five-Man Band is a group of characters whose members fall into archetypes which all complement one another. They are a very specific team with skills that contribute to the group in a unique way.
          The group traditionally includes:
          The Leader — (lead singer) The leader of the group. Can be a mastermind, charismatic, levelheaded, headstrong, or some combination of the four. Often also The Hero.
          The Lancer — (lead guitar) The second-in-command, usually a contrast to The Leader. If the Leader is clean-cut and/or uptight, the Lancer is a grizzled Anti-Hero or Deadpan Snarker; if the Leader is driven and somewhat amoral, the Lancer is more relaxed and level-headed.
          The Smart Guy — (keyboardist) The physically weak, but intelligent or clever member. Often nerdy and awkward played for comic relief. Sometimes unconventionally young (early- to mid-teens). Sometimes a Trickster and a buddy of the Big Guy. May be the one with all the “street” connections.
          The Big Guy — (drummer) The strongman of the team. May be dumb. Or mute.
          The Chick — (vocal effects, tambourine) A peacekeeping role to balance out the other members’ aggression, bringing them to a nice or at least manageable medium. The Chick is often considered the heart of the group. This role is played by a woman or girl. Someone female. Otherwise, it is not a Five-Man Band.

          I found this when I was researching Leverage, and then I realized that the community I was writing had five characters . . .

          The Leverage Team doesn’t fit this exactly, Parker is much too skilled and smart to be the Chick, and Sophie is pretty clearly both the Lancer and the Chick (heart of the team), but it’s interesting that five is the basic team trope.

          1. Hm. Now I’ve got a story community I’ve been kicking around and trying to figure out. Jenny, you noticed the community you set up had 5 people. I’ve noticed while reading this that my community only has 4. Do you think you “need” 5 to successfully build that community trope? Will 4 feel wonky and off to a reader without the reader consciously knowing why?

          2. No, I don’t. I don’t think there’s a magic number. I think a lot of shows hit five because that big enough to sell “community” and give a broad range of characters and skills without being too many to understand.
            But look at Harry Potter: Community of three (and friends). The community on Friends was six (and friends). I do like uneven numbers in narratives just because they’re less stable, but that’s at such deep subtext that it has no practical value.

          3. “No, I don’t. I don’t think there’s a magic number. I think a lot of shows hit five because that big enough to sell “community” and give a broad range of characters and skills without being too many to understand.”
            – Jenny

            Oh, good. I was wondering if I needed to expand my community of 4. Though this will make me go back and see where these characters fit into these roles to see if it *should* be 5. It’s a good exercise.

            Oh! speaking of exercises… Jenny, the one mentioned in a previous post about how the first 10 important things a character says defines how we see them. You mentioned going back to the Arrow pilot to look at that. If you do, would you mind sharing that in a post? Because I’d really like to see what you find. Thanks!

          4. Krissie just said she wanted to watch some Arrow tonight, so we’ll start with the pilot. I haven’t seen it since the first time I watched it, so that should be interesting. We have some other stuff we need to watch because of writing stuff we’ve been talking about, but I can sidetrack her into Arrow pretty easily. She has Amell as wallpaper right now.

          5. You know those roles aren’t any kind of rule, they’re just roles that show up often. If you read through the examples of the trope (careful, there are pages of them) you’ll see a lot of other roles as replacements. The key is that there’s no overlap so each community member is essential.

          6. You know those roles aren’t any kind of rule, they’re just roles that show up often.
            – Jenny

            Yep, I know. I just appreciate new ways of looking at story I hadn’t considered before, and since community is kind of a new thing that this particularly story has branched into… It’s new territory for me. 🙂

      2. THE STING did this–cheating the viewer by withholding part of the plan–and I remember being gobsmacked by it at the time when I saw it, and in love with it, because they’d been conning people (and each other) throughout the movie. It made me feel like I was in their world, not just a viewer sitting at a distance, but part of the outer circle of friends. I could be trusted with “this much” but not necessarily THISMUCH, because they were, after all, about to do something illegal and snazzy, and they had to run everything like clockwork. Stopping to take the time to teach me what they were going to do (from their point of view), was unnecessary and would’ve delayed their clockwork precision. It made it, to me, that much more real (in that moment), because they acted in character.

        I think this is why Ocean’s 11 was such a big hit, when it came out. Like THE STING, it showed us some of the plan, but not quite all of the plan, and then within the plan, they had accounted for variables that were just too complex to stop and explain. Besides, they were conmen, not to be trusted, which is established in the first scene(s), and so that felt absolutely right. (I think the second and third one dragged a little from too much explaining and less surprises.)

        What interests me as a writer, too, is the way the LEVERAGE group, (and the two movies mentioned) gave everyone a key trait: thief, grifter, hacker, muscle, brains… but very quickly, and with deft strokes, expanded on those with enough diversity that even though there were some commonalities, the characters never once blurred. Every one of them, for example, has a heart (even Parker, though hers is well packed in the cotton tomb of her sociopath personality), but their heart strings are often tugged by different situations, so that there’s constantly a push-pull on even that subject (tenderness) within the group. There’s rarely a “group awww” moment, except, maybe, for the client’s plight, which they all unite around, and that, I think, it what makes us willing to forgive them any cheating: they’re fighting for the underdog. In essence, we are the clients, and they’re fighting for us.

        1. Toni, I think that’s what makes great character relations, especially in romance… It’s that characters – no matter how different they seem to be – always have something in common at their core that enables them to relate to the other. There’s a archetypes book out there (I think it’s by Tammy Cowden, hope I spelled that right) that does a terrific job examining that.

        2. One of the things that really sold The Sting con at the time was that Newman and Redford had just done Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and the ending to that movie was so powerful and so devastating that even the tagline for The Sting referenced it, something like “This time, they might just make it.” So when they ran the con, they left white space at the end,and the viewer filled in with Butch and Sundance, and then you hit the denouement and the relief is so overwhelming you forgive them everything.
          That was a great, great movie.

          1. Just came back from viewing AMERICAN HUSTLE, which is essentially the same play on cheating with the plan, because we know they’ve lied, we’re in the POV of the two con artists from the beginning (and a little of the FBI guy), and we’re okay with that. There’s a point [SPOILERS] where Edith/Sydney and Irving say that if they’re going to get out of this, they have to be smarter than everyone, and you don’t see their plan, and even as it’s unfolding, you think you see it, and then it’s different. It’s smart, it’s true to the characters, and almost everyone gets what they want, except Bradley Cooper’s FBI guy (whose name I just blanked on)–and really, he tried to play the players, upping the ante and changing the rules of the game, when he had them against the wall and knew it, so he deserves the karma that came around and bit him.

            What I liked about HUSTLE was that it was almost the anti-team. The most reluctant team ever, with BC’s boss (played by CK Louis) and then Jennifer Lawrence, as Irving’s wife. The anti-team was rather fascinating to watch, because it was as much about which one of them was going to break ranks and screw it up first, so that tension escalated until the final move.

          2. That sounds great.
            One of the things I love about community in fiction is that it is so elastic and you can do so many things with it once the reader/viewer recognizes it as a community. It’s comparable to the million ways you can play with the romance plot.
            Which leads me to the realization that not only is there a romance contract, there’s a community contract.

      3. Ha, I thought if MI, too. As you said, that one was about the caper. But I think it’s important to note that when they tried to remake the series they messed with that, making the show too much about the characters, and it failed pretty miserably. I think Leveraged worked because it WAS about the capers; the characters were fleshed out over the arc, as you said before, but the writers knew that we tuned in for the caper so they kept that central. Other shows have blown it by getting too angsty and forgetting what the audience was tuning in for.

        By the way, I had forgotten that in this first episode I DID like Sophie. I’m not sure what changed for me.

        1. My Sophie issues came in when they were writing her out because the actress was pregnant. I never liked that stretch of story when they had her leave the team and they brought in Jeri Ryan to temp replace her.

          1. I hated that, too, and now I know why. The whole show was about the team and they broke it for those episodes. You’ll notice none of those are on the list we’re watching (although I may fudge the list yet; the Ho Ho Ho Job has such good stuff in it).

          2. I enjoyed the Jeri Ryan character on her own merits, and I love “The Bottle Job,” but that stretch without Sophie felt off for me too. I may be remembering this wrong, but did they try to incorporate Sophie’s absence as one of the factors leading to Nate going off the rails at the end there? He really spiraled down fast in the second half of that season, with hitting rock bottom being the catalyst for the “I’m a thief” revelation. I think. So there was some effort to work the maternity leave into the protagonist’s character arc, which I appreciated, but still didn’t enjoy.

          3. Jennifer wrote: “Yeah, but what else could they do in that situation?”

            Give her a different skill so that when she came in she was the first Tara instead of the second (and therefore second-rate) Sophie. Have her entry into the team shift the dynamic to new places so that when Sophie came back she had to shift to fit in again.

            Or put Maggie in there. She’s an art expert, they could have retconned any number of skills in there for her believably, and her history with Nate would have provided any number of emotional arcs.

            Or don’t add anybody at all and show the team patching her absence with different recurring characters for several stories. Use Maggie, Sterling, Archie Leach, call in favors from people they’d saved in the past like Eliot’s girlfriend who knows horses.

            I think getting a faux-Sophie as a placeholder for those shows meant that no matter how good the replacement was, she was always going to be Not-Sophie.

        2. She betrays the team in “The First David Job.” Also, I love the Leverage writers but they were as bad at writing relationships as Aaron Sorkin is, so they made Sophie annoying as hell to keep the relationship with Nate at bay, staving it off for three seasons. When they finally threw in the towel and made them a couple, it was so much more fun watching them navigate the relationship than it had been watching them stay away from each other that instantly Sophie was more likable.

          I think that a story has to know what it is and not try to be too many things. Law & Order is a show about crime and the courts, it’s not about relationships. Leverage is a show about community first, cons second. You have to pick a lane and say, “The main story is about THIS and everything else will hang from THIS.” If you say, “The story is about THIS and THAT and ALSO THIS and SOME OF THAT,” you’re screwed.

          1. That’s it totally, Jenny, for me with Nate/Sophie. I got so annoyed with her for trying to force things when Nate was so obviously struggling. Add in the team abandonment and it was just unpleasant. I liked them together much better and was happy when they finally went there with them.

            That This, That, Also This, Some Of That mentality is one of the things i have my eye on with Arrow (and the recent Flash comments if it’s a no go with the series which I think it will be so whatever) because it feels like they have the potential to go that way and just blow the community they are building that I like to hell and back. LOL. Then I remind myself the writers are, pretty much all the time, doing a hell of a job with the show and I like it so I’m trusting they’ll avoid these kinds of pitfalls.

          2. Can’t blame the team abandonment on the writers, though, that was Bellman’s baby. But the romance? Yep. Three seasons to fulfill a contract made in the first scene they had together in the pilot.

  3. Leverage did such a good job of establishing the unique place of each member of the team and exactly what they were bringing to the table. I think that’s something some community building stories falter on. They give you too many “like” characters and I start wondering why they’re all necessary.

    I’m not a fan of flashbacks, but the little ones they did for each character in Leverage’s pilot were so short, so perfect in tone for each one, and helped cement who they were that you definitely didn’t get confused about their place in the story either.

    I think since Leverage came on the heels of Ocean’s 11, 12, and I think even 13, I (as an audience) had a pretty good idea how they’d structure the story to leave that Ah Ha! Gotcha! Con Surprise out until the end so you really understood how the team managed to con, not only the bad guy, but you as well, and that’s okay with me because a good con is like a magic trick. There’s no fun in seeing the smoke and mirrors or wires before the trick. Afterwards you want to know how they did it but if they explained it as the trick went along you’d be like, “Booooring.”

    I thought one of the fun twists in Leverage was that Sophie, the grifter, couldn’t act unless she was breaking the law. I still wince whenever I watch the scene of her on the stage. LOL.

    I’m a big fan of smart revenge stories so Leverage was my weekly fix, plus it used humor and brains and action and right there I was hooked.

    1. They have a nice through line for Sophie on that lousy-acting thing, basing it on the idea that until Sophie is honest with herself, she can’t allow herself to be vulnerable enough to be a good actress, and then they pay that off beautifully in the series finale. But I mostly loved how the three original team members reacted when they saw her the first time, horrified that they’d be working with her, and then the realization that she’s a brilliant actress when she’s on the con. There’s this great moment in one of the David Jobs where she invites them to see her in The Sound of Music. When Parker says, “I didn’t know you could sing,” she says, “Well, not as well as I act,” and all four of the others are instantly in sync with their suppressed reactions of horror at how very bad things are going to be. It’s a great example of nailing community in an instant.

      1. That’s the beginning of “Beantown Bailout.” What I loved about that scene wasn’t just that reaction to her singing line, it was that [minor spoiler] after months apart, they all came to see her play.

          1. Yeah, thinking about it, that does lead directly to the “bike of crime” scene. One of Parker’s best lines.

  4. I absolutely adored this show. I was lucky enough to be introduced to it when it was on its third season, so not only I marathoned the show within days I immediately went to buy the dvds available in my country. The contrast among the team and the way they played off each other’s strengths and weakness, making them not just a community, but a family is one (if not the main) of my favorite parts of this show.

    I saw the comments about Blacklist above and now I’m curious, did you make any posts about the show? If not, are you planning to? The Blacklist is one of my favorite shows at the moment and I’d love to read your thoughts.

    1. I love The Blacklist. When the first season is finished so we can look at it as a whole, we might do it here (I try not to schedule myself too far ahead; I really wiped myself out with long range Who). I’ve talked about the show in various posts on different topics because I really love it, and it’s already been renewed for another season so there’ll be more. I don’t think I’ve ever done a post specifically on the show. At the moment, Leverage and Arrow are monopolizing the blog along with the Questionables, and there are other things I want to write about, too. Also, I have to finish a book sometime because the blog is a non-revenue stream, as Nate would say.

      1. Ah, I’d just love to see your take on certain aspects of the show as a writer, on whether it’s leading the fans on the sudden change and shift in storytelling, so on. It’s different when you see it as a viewer enjoying the show and as a writer that has a lot more acknowledge of the technical part of writing.

        1. I think The Blacklist has a much tighter grip on its storytelling because it’s not trying to tell a romance and its demographic is so different.

          Arrow has a fan base that’s incredibly involved in discussing the characters as if they were people, speculating on their love lives, rooting for different relationships and different conflict. The show also has a lot of different plots and conflicts going, so it tends to hit them very lightly in each episode, moving each of the subplots and relationships at a snail’s pace while moving the entire story at warp speed. When you combine those two things–fan base input and lots of story lines–the Arrow writers are inventing a lot on the fly. They’re telling great stories, but they’re scrambling to keep up so there are patches and retcons in there. It’s great storytelling, but it’s kind of sloppy, much like its characters’ psychologies and relationships.

          The Blacklist is the opposite of Arrow.

          It has one main conflict, Red vs. Lizzie, negotiating a relationship that is not and never will be a romance but that is fraught with huge consequences. It has one major subplot: the mystery of Lizzie’s husband. It has a couple minor subplots–the blond FBI agent’s former romance, Alan Alda’s corrupt senator as a threat to Red–but nobody’s really invested in those and I’m pretty sure they’re there because they’re going to get sucked into the main plot at some point. That means that the main plot moves at a fast pace because they can devote all of their plot real estate to Red vs. Lizzie. And because they have so much control over every episode, their storytelling is impeccably precise, much like Red.

          And they’re both really, really, really good TV.

  5. Along the same lines as willingness to accept the “cheat” you describe, I’m curious about the audience willingness to accept the other “cheats” re the tech related methods so often used as integral pieces to making the plots work & the good guys win. How much does this affect the enjoyability of a show/story and our willingness to buy in.

    For me, I think all fiction stretches the bounds of reality–that’s what makes it fun for me–if I wanted complete reality I’d go to non-fiction or documentaries. So I’m willing to buy in to a lot so long as it seems true for the world that’s being presented. Also, as you say in the post, there can be caveats–circumstances & context where something that would bother me in one story becomes something I can buy into in another.

    My hubby, on the other hand, is much quicker to feel cheated when there’s too much reliance on unrealistic tech in a story because he feels like it makes the story less clever. And that it kind of feels like stories where a third party comes in near the end (who we’ve never seen before) and saves the day. A little stretching is okay for him, but constant over-the-top use feels like a cheat to solve unsolvable bits.

    Like a lot of shows, Leverage too relies on quite a lot of unrealistic tech in its stories (or at least the ones I’ve seen). Doesn’t bother me much, but I’m curious how others feel. Is there a limit for you, a point where it ruins the story? Or do the relationships matter more so the “cheat” of using fake tech to make the story work becomes less important?

    1. I think that third party coming in at the end is always a deal-breaker. You have the first act to set-up the story and then you play it out. Anything added after that smacks of deus ex machina.

      I think the rest of it may depend on the reader/viewer. I know as a little as possible about the computers I use; if they work, I’m good. So while I know that the stuff Hardison does on here is probably nigh on to impossible, I buy it gladly for the story. But there was an episode of Designing Women years ago where one of the characters wrote a novel and it was published two weeks later, and I thought, “Oh, come on,” because they hadn’t bothered to even stretch the truth, they’d just ignored it completely (average time for a print novel is a year from acceptance of the ms.).

      io9 did an article on TV computer codes and then referred people to the Moviecode Tumblr: “Other highlights include an episode of Arrow with the main characters checking out some C source code for what turns out to be a program to calculate the position of Jupiter’s moons.” The comments on the io9 post have a lot more examples.

      1. I was okay with the tech on Leverage until that one season where it felt like everything about the con was the tech. I know the episode where they gas-lighted the scientist into believing aliens were trying to abduct him was part of that season.

        1. Was that Season Five? Because that whole season was off. My theory is because the first four seasons really were a perfect whole, a completed story, and then they got renewed, so season five always has the undercurrent for me of an unnecessary epilogue. The team was fused into a whole, everybody had made their individual journeys, all the subplots were finished . . . and oh, here’s comes season five.
          It’s one of the reasons Life on Mars is so brilliant. They told the story in sixteen episodes and then got out even though they were offered another season. Leverage Season Five is fun, but a lot of it feels off.

          1. I went back and looked and yep, Season 5. I think that’s why, maybe they started leaning on the tech as story. The first couple of eps in that season (stealing the Spruce Goose and the alien contact one) set a tech/effect heavy tone that I felt stole away from the art of the con.

          2. Haven’t got to season 5 yet, but I could see what you’re saying about it probably being done at 4.

            Think as we see more serialized shows with finite arcs/seasons planned that will let them go out strong & at the right place in the story.

            And so with you on the publishing timeline being misrepresented–constantly see that & it always irks me. As does the instant fame, success, and money that so often goes along with it. It was fun in Down with Love with Renée Zellweger because it fit the feel of the film but otherwise not so much.

        2. “White Rabbit” was just weird all around; it’s the only episode I don’t ever plan to see again. As far as unrealistic tech, Hardison and the flight computer in “Mile High” was really pushing it, but that episode is so much fun I didn’t care.

    2. The Hubbin work in IT and is a huge tech geek and wants to grow up to be Hardison. Having said that, they’ll roll something ludicris out and I’ll hear a snort or catch an eyeroll from the other side of the couch. But it doesn’t hurt his enjoyment of the show at all. He’s there for the con and the group, not the tech.

      1. I think the show is playing their stories just over-the-top enough to get away with a lot of things that a more realistic story would have people saying, “Wait, that’s not possible.”

        Does he watch Person of Interest? I’ve heard that they’re really detail-oriented, to the point that some people freeze frame the credits to see the small symbol details they change.

        1. No, neither of us have picked up PoI… yet. The more I read here, the more curious I become so I’ll end up checking it out sooner rather than later. ;p I glommed the first season of Arrow because you kept talking about it, but it didn’t really blow up my skirt beyond the obligatory Ollie workouts/training porn. But I also checked out Sherlock on your recommendation, too, and now I ship Sherlolly and made the Hubbin go find it for me in the dark places of the internet because I could not wait two stinking weeks for it to air legitimately here, so who can tell what’s going to catch my attention at any given moment – lol!

  6. All of this! So very much all of this! If Ravenswood had only abided by rule two, it might have come together fast enough to save its ratings. Everybody who writes for TV should look at this.

    1. This is one of the things Arrow is doing with its team assembly that I’m watching. Granted it’s a comic book based show but still, I’m watching to see how each team member differs from each other. With the exception of a few it seems more like Hitter, hitter, hitter, hitter….

      1. Look at the Five Man Band trope
        Leader: Oliver
        Lancer: Diggle
        Smart Guy: Felicity

        Then Oliver and Diggle double as The Big Guy, and Felicity fills in as The Chick/Heart of the Team. Trying to slot Sara in there becomes difficult–she’s not a Chick, so she must be another Lancer– and Roy is what? A Boy Lancer? There’s no requirement to fill those specific roles, but the overlap among Oliver, Diggle, Roy, and Sara is trouble; as you said, Julie, it’s “Hitter, hitter, hitter, hitter, Smart Girl.” Or “Leader, Lancer, Lancer, Lancer, Smart Girl.” The contract for Diggle as second in command is set in stone at this point–touch Diggle and die, writers–so Sara and Roy look temporary if not expendable.

        That Five Man Band/Community Trope is fun to play with in any community show, although most of those descriptions need tweaking. I like Leverage’s “Mastermind, Hitter, Hacker, Grifter, Thief.” The real key is the collection of necessary skills, no overlapping, although Leverage plays with that in later seasons, making characters trade off jobs. And there’s a brilliant move in the David Jobs episodes, where Nate knows the antagonist knows how he and Sophie think, so he thinks like two other members of the team. It’s a lovely story move. There’s another moment when a con goes wrong and Sophie has to take over Eliot’s role when he’s listening in on the comm. She actually takes on Eliot’s character to sell herself as a hitter, and he says something like, “Wait a minute. Is she doing me?” That’s one of the best ways to have fun with a bonded community: switch it up.

        1. I thought Leverage having the characters put themselves in the other teammate’s shoes was a brilliant move. I didn’t feel the writers were ever trying to “replace” one team mate or make the viewer feel like you could drop 1 character because another was there to just step into their shoes. I always felt like it was about building new understanding between pairs, new admiration, etc. I enjoyed those episodes.

          ITA with you on Arrow and the positions, roles, expandability factors. To me the core trio (Oliver/Diggle/Felicity) are no-touch zones. The others I expect to be expendable, temporary, or to experience a story twist to remove them.

          1. I think I could deal with adding others to the team, just not duplicates.
            There’s a little bit of that on Person of Interest right now because Reese and Shaw are doppelgängers. I love both characters, I don’t want to lose either one, but they weaken the team by making the other less essential. They have Harold for the Mastermind and Reese for the Lancer/Hitter and Fusco for the Big Guy and Root for Crazy Smart Person and then there’s Shaw who’s the female Reese. Carter was the Chick, albeit so much more, but definitely the heart of the team, so that’s where they need a new member, but Shaw has such a low emotional affect that she can’t be that, and while Reese is warmer, I’m not sure he can be that for the team. Although come to think of it, he’s probably the best candidate out of all of them since they’re all different flavors and intensities of sociopaths.

            I can also see the Leverage team as the Family-You-Make: Nate as Dad, Sophie as Mom, and then the three kids: the smart one, the athletic one, and the baby. One of the interesting things to me about the first season is that the kids bond together pretty well over the first eleven episodes (the finale is a double episode, 12 & 13), but Dad and Mom are a mess.

          2. “I think I could deal with adding others to the team, just not duplicates. … but they weaken the team by making the other less essential.
            – Jenny

            Yes. That. Exactly how I feel.

        2. I think Leverage does a brilliant job of clear characters. Everyone has a defined role. The A-Team did that well, too. Arrow doesn’t follow the Five Man Band nearly so well. If Diggle is the Lancer, he needs needs more opportunities to be the second. Oliver is the obvious leader. Felicity clearly fills two roles as Smart Guy & Chick. While I prefer the team of three, I can see Roy as the Big Guy. He’s not that bright and he is stronger than Oliver or Diggle. Sara, however, doesn’t fit with the others. She’s not soft enough to be the chick nor is she smart enough to be the Smart Guy.

          The more I think about it, however, the more I don’t think Sara will stick. I think she’s just an obstacle to move the story. I do think Roy will stay so seeing how he changes the dynamic will be interesting. I just wish that the writers had integrated more into the team before throwing Sara at us.

          On a wildly different note, Jenny mentioned Felicity clothes in a post on the other thread. Is it just me or does it seem that in the past few episodes her look has gone back closer to what it used to be?

          1. I’ve always thought Arrow was stuck between a rock and hard place with Felicity’s clothing. I get both POVs, though her clothes in Season 1 were a bit funky but still short and form fitting, but in S1 viewers were all “Oh, fine, she’s socially awkward and a tech geek so of course she can’t look sexy too! Boo!” and then they changed it and the other side went, “Oh, fine, she can’t be sexy because she’s smart and embraces her socially awkwardness and dress weird! Boo!” I think Jenny’s comments about using the clothing as a reflection of character, conflict, change in job, etc., would have been great but honestly I don’t know if the CW is that deep. They use color well (at least on Arrow) but I’ve always found all the CW shows on the air now to just have weird wardrobes.

          2. Hi! This is my first time posting on Argh Ink, though I’ve been lurking for a while. Love your books Jenny! Since you guys have started using TV Tropes I thought I’d chime in. (I’ve spent many an hour learning/lurking/wasting time on that particular site. So addicting.) So here goes.

            If we’re going to Five-Man Band this, IMO Sara would be called the Sixth Ranger, the teammate who joins up later in the story often, though not always, after defecting from the bad guys. Sixth Rangers tend to be ensemble darkhorses, token evil teammates, or potential betrayers, or some combination thereof. Sometimes Sixth Rangers avoid that, but the always shake up the team dynamic for good or ill.

            To me, Roy is a Tagalong Kid/Big Guy combo. He’s shifting from being the Tagalong Kid in presence and personality into the Big Guy thanks (mostly) to the Mirakuru, though his bravery/stupidity/persistence certainly gives him an edge here in addition to his super strength and other abilities.

            And I definitely agree with Paula that Leverage did a brilliant job at giving each character an unequivocal role in their Five-Man Band while still developing them into multi-faceted characters. (They did play with the trope a bit, so it’s a lot harder to define Parker… which is very appropriate, given that it’s Parker.)

            Arrow on the other hand has a Power Trio (Oliver/Diggle/Felicity) that is trying to, a bit awkwardly if I’m going to be honest, grow into a Five-Man Band, or some version of this trope. It’s awkward for me because Ollie, Dig, and Felicity are such a unit and Sara and Roy feel like outsiders. I mean, that’s part of their characters’ arcs, joining the team, but a small part of me can’t help but worry Roy’s going to screw up too badly (I’m acquainted with Comic!Roy) and Sara and Oliver are hooking up. I’m in the camp that hopes (and prays to all the DC Universe deities) that this next bit on the show will resolve most, if not all, the issues surrounding the Oliver-Sara-Laurel triangle, as well as giving Laurel some new trajectory. I think the show’s format (breakneck pace, multiple story lines, crazy amounts of characters) hinders the growth of the community our heroes have been forming, or at least it hinders our ability to see them as such. Don’t get me wrong I love how they cram so much into one episode, but lately Diggle’s been so much in the background that his character growth as the Lancer to Oliver’s Hero seems to have been stalled. I’m pretty sure that the EPs and writers are aware of this, they’re simply struggling to fit all the story they need into forty-five minute episodes. Leverage had the benefit of their Five-Man Band being the core of every story they told, while Arrow is about Oliver and the craziness that is his life.

            *sigh* This post turned out to be a lot longer and ramblier than I intended.

          3. That’s a really interesting way to look at this, trying to expand a Power Trio into a Five Man Band instead of starting with a Five Man Band. That may be why the addition of the newbies feels like its weakening the show. (Well, that and the fact that the newbies are duplicates of Oliver and don’t bring new skills.) If you have a powerful dynamic at the center of your story, you have to make sure that additions strengthen it instead of diluting it.

            Think of Person of Interest that started with Finch who drafted a reluctant Reese who then forced Fusco to work for them in the first episode. But Carter was introduced in the first episode, too, and clearly shown to have different skills, a different approach, so their core group was there even though Carter hadn’t been read in yet. So the first two (?) seasons were building that strong bonded community of four. Then Root came into the picture as the Big Bad and Shaw came in as a number to be rescued. (Oh, and Bear. Bear really was important, seriously. Remember Fusco telling Shaw “The dog is the only who likes you”?) So after the first four and Bear, Shaw became part of the group through trauma and need, nobody thought, “Cool, I’ll join up.”

            So I don’t think it’s impossible to add to a core team, but I think it has to be set up and then earned, the way Shaw and even Root earned their way in.

            I would watch Oliver, Diggle, and Felicity fight bad guys whether Oliver has a romance with anybody or not (and at this point, especially if he doesn’t). And I agree with you that all the soapy romance stuff has sucked too much time away from the central three, especially Diggle. I think making the show about Oliver and the craziness of his life instead of making it about the Green Arrow and his team fighting crime is a mistake, especially since the way they’re writing Oliver in his personal life is so unattractive. Although it probably says a lot about me that I’m more concerned with Oliver playing fast and loose in his personal life than I am about him killing people in his nighttime gig.

            Oh, and speaking of Leverage, I kept reading and found out that TV Tropes considers that team a Five Bad Band:

            Five-Bad Band: Owning to the fact the protagonists are bad guys who happen to be doing a moral right against another bad guy, they are not a Five-Man Band. At the start of the series, they are as follows:
            The Hero/The Big Bad: Nate, of course. He plots out against any other bad guys. In the first two seasons, he firmly sees himself as The Hero working with bad guys. But by the end of season 2 he realized he was no longer the The Hero and sealed it with the line, “My name’s Nate Ford…and I am a thief.”
            The Dragon: Sophie. She is loyal to Nate and the team but more than willing to call Nate out on his problems and bull.
            The Evil Genius: Hardison. As a hacker and forger, he can wreak havoc on any computer system.
            The Brute: Eliot. He is the team’s main fighter and enforcer.
            Dark Chick: Parker inverts some of the qualities of the “Chick” as she is second to Eliot in terms of the team’s fighters but unlike the typical chick, she lacks any social skills.
            Sixth Ranger: Shows up on a few episodes. Sometimes it’s Tara, sometimes it’s Maggie. Or Sterling.
            Sixth Ranger Traitor:

        3. There was an episode in season Two when Sophie was dumped and started questioning her place & that no one knew her. In that episode or perhaps the next one, she took over as mastermind. Parker says early in the episode, “Ooh, I love it when we trade roles!” Also, in the two Davids story, the group gangs up on Nate to say they like how Sophie runs a con and have here direct Maggie. Sophie tells Maggie to run up to the professor because it is harder to hear a lie if you appear out of breath. Elliot pokes Nate and says “See that. Informational and to the point” or something like that. So, yeah, even the characters like playing between the roles.

          1. That was good – “See, you con and you learn.” Sophie and Maggie together are always fun, if only because it makes Nate uncomfortable.

  7. I parachuted into season three–Netflix had a wait on DVDs of earlier episodes. My question as I watched the group achieve justice for various victims was: Is justice a key element in all genre fiction? Romance begins with a disordered community (sometimes the only disorder is that the parties to the courtship are not yet together, but still…) and ends with a better version of that community. (Think Welcome to Temptation, where the community improved is a whole town.) Typically, the new community is not perfect, but clearly improved. This improvement almost always involves justice somehow, doesn’t it? Detective fiction? Yep. Murderers discovered, justice is served. Science fiction? Don’t know. Other forms of genre fiction/narrative?

    1. I think it depends on the way the genre in general and that story world in particular defines “justice.” Romance delivers emotional justice, for example, taking the protagonist who is Good and Alone (an imbalance, aka That’s Not Right) and telling the story to balance things out to end with a protagonist who is Good and Connected.

      Leverage is firmly rooted in an unfair world where people with money can victimize people who don’t have money. That makes for an unbalanced and therefore unjust story world which created tension in the reader/viewer, built from anger and outrage and then released in the catharsis of the climax when the rich guys fall, the pain of the poor guys is alleviated, and balance is restored. But because they’re working outside the law, they’re defining “justice” in their terms. The real Good Guy in the Leverage universe is James Sterling, the good, incorruptible cop who tries to bring them to justice. But because the Leverage Team is the Good Guys in that story world, everything is inverted and Sterling becomes the Bad Guy. And then the show runners flipped that again by making a rule in the writers’ room that Sterling Always Wins. They never defeat Sterling, he always gets what he needs, which is why he keeps getting promoted during the series. I think that’s because the inherent definition of justice within that story world is that it’s the bad guys who get punished, and Sterling isn’t a bad guy, even though he’s an antagonist.

      1. Sterling is my favorite Leverage antagonist. Nate is so good at manipulating people and situations, and it’s such a pleasure when he goes up against the one person he can’t outsmart. Sterling is very much the image of what Nate’s life would be like without the trigger of losing his son, who he would be if he’d stayed strictly white knight; the contrast is always fun to watch.

        1. He’s a terrific foil for Nate. I think he’s what Nate was. Maggie says at one point that she was really attracted to Sterling while she was married to Nate (I think it’s when Nate tells her that nothing ever happened between him and Sophie while he was married to her), Sterling gets Nate’s old job, there are a lot of cues that he’s Nate before he lost his son. So their conflicts are terrific because they’re so well matched.

          1. That’s true; hadn’t thought about that. And the team’s reaction when he shows up the first time is another example of that because they’re worried about him – he’s a threat because he’s Nate when Nate was not on their side.

            He’s so great when he’s pushing Nate. Although I think one of my favorite Sterling moments is in “Frame Up” when he tells Sophie, “I finally understand what he sees in you.” Can’t wait to see that one again.

          2. I love that episode, too, although it’s not the strongest plot by any means. There’s something he says to them at the end as they’re leaving, too, something about if they ever want to change sides . . . I can’t remember, but I know it’s Sterling being backhanded about how much he admires their intelligence and skill.

            I love Sterling. And I think the writers were so smart to make sure he always won because that makes him a n antagonist to be afraid of. He’s as smart as they are, and like them he always wins, so he ups their game considerably.

          3. He tells Nate he’s still the second best detective he’s ever known, and says he’s hiring if they ever want to do it again. Even though he’s worked with them before, that one always felt different because it wasn’t Sterling asking them to con someone or pull a heist, they were actually solving a case. We don’t really get to see much of Nate the detective, and this is probably close to how it was when he and Sterling were always on the same side – interesting to explore that. I like that he seems to warm up to them a little at the end there. Not just the usual worthy adversary respect, but something a little more personal. It was a nice lead-in to what he does in the series finale.

  8. I’ve been binge watching Eureka for the last few weeks, so when I read this, I realized they fit the 5 Man band set up too. They even draw attention to that super hard in a season when they send the 5 back into the past and then back into the future where everything’s changed and they’re the only people who remember. But every time something is wrong, it’s the core group of 5. I’ve never noticed it this way before. Now I’m going to have to re-examine my favorite community-based shows.

  9. From your post, “Nate is the first to be hired, so he’s the only team member in the scene, and the viewer’s full attention is on him. That’s crucial because he’s the one who’s going to define the group, so he has to be established first. The script lampshades Nate’s identity by having Victor tell him that he’s hired three thieves, so now he needs an honest man to lead them.”

    Since the 3 thieves were already hired, I’ve always viewed it as Nate being hired last.

    1. Last hired but the first scene. I loved that airport moment. LOL. “You know this part of the conversation where I punch you in the neck nine or ten times? We’re comin’ up on that pretty quick.” Ha!

    2. You’re right. I should have said, “Nate’s the first one to appear, so all the viewer attention is on him.” Good catch. Thank you.

    3. Kelly S points out that Nate is actually hired last, although his “interview” is where we start. This is super important because Dubenich picks Nate to run herd specifically because Nate has previously chased all three (and he knows the IYS connection will seal the deal). During the first job when the sh*t hits the fan and they want to scatter, Nate holds them in place by telling them they each know what THEY can do but he knows what they ALL can do which beautifully sets him up as the Mastermind. Nate is also the one to bring in Sophie – he knows the team needs a grifter and Dubenich made this personal by using his son so Nate chooses the best grifter he know with whom he also has a highly personal connection. He didn’t just chase Sophie, there’s unrequited attraction there. That makes Sophie an intimate and the gateway to questioning the genius mastermind later on. This show is so.stinkin.good!

      Fun (possible) Fact: I think in one of the commentaries it’s casually mentioned that IYS stands for Insure Your Stuff. LOL

      1. I love Insure Your Stuff. Now I must order DVDs.

        ETA: EIGHTY-FIVE BUCKS you people have cost me, for a show I already owned streaming. Never mind, I learn more by studying this show than I do by reading writing books at this point.

        1. If the commentaries in S1 alone aren’t worth it, I’ll send you $20 for my part in your spending spree. ;p

  10. I’m only seven minutes into the pilot of this show…SEVEN MINUTES…and I’m already on board for the entire five seasons. Thank you for featuring it!

  11. Throughly enjoyed watching the Nigerian Job last week – My ‘writers comprehension mode’ has gone into melt down between the Community/Antagonists posts so I can only say thanks for all the awesome things about writing that I have to think about.
    P.S Your blog is addictive.

  12. This is the best pilot I’ve ever seen, and a large part of that is how well it introduced the team/community dynamic. They established the characters so clearly, and while they layered them and arced them over the years, there was never any need to retcon them (something I’ve seen from time to time – I think Big Bang Theory did that when it hit season 2). They understood the team so well from the beginning, and that meant we did too.

    There’s such detail to this episode, and you notice more every time you watch it. The way they don’t have someone tell Nate he has a problem, they show him with an empty bottle on his beside table. The spoken and visual callbacks – “I’m the one with the plan/That gives me the edge, gives me the plan,” “An honest man,” “Black king, white knight” (my favorite), “There’s something wrong with you.” And then there’s the bookend: standing in a circle and saying goodbye (eagerly the first time, reluctantly the second time), walking away in different directions. And then the others chasing Nate down to get him back the second time, because they want keep doing this together and they need him. Making that scene echo the first time they walk away from each other with dialogue and visuals highlights the difference the events of the episode has made in their relationships. And there are callbacks to “Nigerian Job” at key points in later seasons (“Last Dam,” “Long Goodbye”). Have I mentioned I love this episode?

    I find the flashbacks in Leverage really interesting because they work for me in this show in a way they don’t in others. They’re so brief, and so integrated into the structure, that they do what they were intended for without dragging the plot down. I think they were intended to be a “show, don’t tell” kind of thing. Parker is psychologically damaged and has difficulty interacting with people, a lot of which is a direct result of her painful childhood; that flashback delivered the basics of that information in under a minute. If it had gone on any longer, it would have been annoying, but those introductory flashbacks are so short they can be seen as a brief trip into that character’s POV when something reminds them of the moment shown and it doesn’t slow the plot. Nate’s flashback to the hospital, and the repetition of it over the course of several episodes, drives home how haunted he is by it. There’s also a scene in “Second David” where we get that flashback from his ex-wife’s POV, tying them and their shared pain together in a powerful way. The other way they use the flashbacks, revealing the piece of the con the viewer doesn’t have, is so much more effective than a verbal, Psych-style wrap-up where someone explains how it was done. The “cheat” in the plot doesn’t bother me either, but it would have gotten old fast if I had to have the missing piece narrated to me on a weekly basis. The flashbacks solve that problem.

    It’s an interesting contrast with the Arrow flashbacks. I get why they want to have them, but I don’t think they desperately needed them in season one. They were longer then, and so disconnected from the present-day plot. The Leverage flashbacks illuminate the plot at the end of each episode; the first season Arrow flashbacks were taking run-time away from the main episode plot. They’ve more relevant now, not to mention shorter, so that’s an improvement.

    1. I hate flashbacks and they’re used brilliantly here because they’re done in such a hit and run fashion. You see Parker’s foster father yelling at her and taking her bunny, and then you see Parker leaving her house with the bunny and the house blowing up. Bam. Parker’s back story.
      With Arrow, the back story is like a second story and it goes on FOREVER. I watch them the first time; after that I fast forward through those parts. They’re not the story.
      I love Person of Interest, but they abuse back story in the same way too often. The one time I loved it on there was the grief episode that showed Finch, Reese, Fusco, and Shaw in interviews with therapists of one kind or another in the past.

      1. Another reason I like the Leverage flashbacks is that they come back to things referenced in the flashbacks in later episodes (you see that bunny at Parker’s place in “Inside”), or the flashbacks reference something brought up in the present in a previous episode. In “Wedding,” Eliot tells Nate knives are like people, everything is context, and then in (I think) “Reunion,” he flashes back to his high school home economics teacher telling him that. It reinforces the sense of relevance and connection to the story somehow.

        I want off that island already. The grief flashbacks in PoI were excellent. I didn’t mind Shaw’s flashbacks in the episode with the little girl. Also the Reese flashbacks of him dealing with the abuser that killed his ex while Carter is investigating that case; the story unfolding for us while Carter uncovered pieces for herself worked for me at the time. Not sure if that holds up on repeated viewing since I haven’t seen that one since it aired.

        1. I think Leverage uses them beautifully because they’re pretty much always very brief.

          I do the same thing with the PoI flashbacks that I do with the Arrow flashbacks: watch them the first time and then fast forward UNLESS the flashbacks are tied directly to the real time of the show, as in the flashbacks being the evidence uncovered, as you pointed out, or the short flashes of memory that are happening in real time. It’s entire scenes played in flashback that disrupt the story. Except for those four therapists.

          I think that episode, “The Devil’s Share” is brilliant because it’s not really about a number coming up, it’s about overwhelming grief, four people reeling from the death of somebody they (and the viewer) loved desperately, somebody whose death has damaged the community almost beyond repair. Those four therapy sessions in the past show how sociopathic all four members were in different ways and intensities, how cold and shut off and alone they all were by choice because of their antipathy for human contact. And then circumstances forced them to work together, and they attached to each other under pressure, fighting the attachments all the way, connecting through the one healthy, loving member of their community, Joss Carter. Carter was the one they all loved, the one who loved all of them, the warm heart at the center of a cold little group. And they couldn’t save her, she died in the street saying, “Don’t let this send you back into the cold.” That episode is a patterned structure, held together by the linear structure of the hunt for Simmons, and the key moment is Fusco’s speech to Simmons which is Carter’s real eulogy. And the last scene in that show is the last good-bye to her. “I liked her a lot. I don’t think she liked me.” That whole episode is Carter’s eulogy.
          Person of Interest is an outstanding show, but that episode . . . . I have to scrape myself off the floor every time I watch it. It’s just that brilliant, that honestly emotional.

          1. Oh, I cried when Fusco cuffed Simmons. Reese called her someone the world couldn’t afford to lose, and that episode really showed it, especially the scenes with Fusco. Elias was a welcome surprise. To have the sociopathic crime lord who once kidnapped her son kill to avenge her? She truly influenced everyone she met for the better. I have to stop thinking about this now or I’ll start crying.

  13. I love Leverage. It’s a feel good, fun, thinking sort of a show that you feel a part of or want to be a part of. And don’t we want our stories to be just like that?! I love your breakdown and am just trying to absorb and observe. Fortunately at this point, I’ve seen most of these episodes quite a few times – so now I can look for what you are saying and think about things more than just being sucked in (it’s still such a good show that it’s hard not to get sucked in still :D).

    One of things I liked over the course of the series is that even though the characters stayed distinct and true – they evolved. The more they worked with each other, the more they rubbed off on and shared with each other. It gave each more value, not less value and allowed the team, the capers, the stories and their worlds to expand (along with ours).

    In comparing it with my current WIP – my gut is good, but I can see from our talks already – I need to strengthen each character’s intro. I have separate personalities and specialties for them, but I may need to re-look at them to strengthen those differences and find ways that they can rub each other as much as the compliment each other. It would be so boring if we didn’t get our regular “Dammit Hardison!” as often as we get our “Hi, Elliot!” – “What’s an Elliot?” Bam!

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