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Salvation- The Manchurian Candidate and Prisoners - Reviews: Gamesmanship and Surprises

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***Warning- This review contains spoilers

Monday nights are becoming a must watch night of television thanks to the CBS sci-fi thriller, Salvation. It's a delight and challenge to tune in each week to see what new tricks and twists the writers, producers and actors on the show have for us. Watching their most recent episodes, The Manchurian Candidate, and Prisoners was like watching a finely tuned chess tournament. Adversaries made countless moves and countermoves as the battle for power continues. One group seeks a moment to breathe and get back to the business at hand – stopping that asteroid from crashing into earth. The new players we learn have their own agenda about who should control the power and what they should do with it.

The Manchurian Candidate begins domestically, with the President of the United States cooking breakfast for his lady love. At the moment all is right with the world for Darius (Santiago Cabrera) and Grace (Jennifer Finnigan). Resyst has been defeated, the threatening nukes have been destroyed and they have taken to time for a private celebration in the Oval Office. Time to get back to work on the business at hand, dealing with that asteroid. To do that, as we've seen he always does, Darius has a plan. First, he discusses a Presidential pardon for Grace's father with White House Counsel Roland Cavanaugh (Jonathan Silverman), then he begins the search for a Vice-President. Someone he feels he can turn the country over to so that he may get back to the business he knows best, stopping the asteroid. Meanwhile the FBI has uncovered evidence that the mysterious Q17, is actually a group of billionaires who seek to control the world. An old photo reveals that the head of the group is none other than Darius' nefarious uncle Nicholas Tanz (John Noble). Incensed at his uncle's duplicity in being a part of using dark money to manipulate assassinations and governments Darius employs an old adage of "keep your friends close and your enemies closer" and invites Uncle Nicholas to the White House. In the guise of asking his uncle for help with financing a campaign for re-election, he convinces to his uncle to invite some of his wealthier friends to a cocktail party at Tanz Industries to celebrate the victory over Resyst and to announce his candidacy. Uncle Nick agrees but not before pointedly suggesting Darius select a Vice-President. Cabrera and Noble are just such a joy to watch in their scenes together, sparring with one another. Cabrera has been incredible in these last few episodes showing how his character, while not losing that inventive, rebel spirit that made Darius Tanz successful, is growing into an astute leader, not afraid to take chances.

Darius narrows his choices for Vice President down to two choices with help from White House Counsel Roland Cavanaugh (Jonathan Silverman),
Congressman Trey Thomason (James Lesure), a former astronaut, who while not approving of the new President's methods does seem to exhibit an amount of respect for Darius. He is also a straight shooter and doesn't hesitate to tell the President exactly what he thinks regardless of whether or not Darius wants to hear it.The other candidate, on the surface seems ideal, Senator Mitch Gitlow played by familiar Battlestar: Galactica alum, Alessandro Juliani. He appears to impress Darius by espousing similar beliefs.

Harris (Ian Anthony Dale) and Grace are at the same time reaching out to Detective Carter (Ashley Thomas) for information on Q17 they believe may be on Claire's bitcoin wallet. Thomas does well with Carter's bitterness as Harris and Grace ask for his help. Then Harris pulls a masterful mood of goading Carter into hitting him, then essentially blackmails him into helping them instead of being arrested for assaulting the Secretary of Defense. At first Carter is angry but reluctantly agrees. Later, they learn that Claire's bitcoin wallet contained a goldmine of information, including a listing of 17 massive secret bank accounts which they're sure to belong to the members of Q17. The only problem is they cannot access the accounts without a retinal scan. Fortunately, they work for a tech genius President who has a masterful plan. Using contact lenses developed by Tanz industries, Harris, Grace, and Carter work the party in a slick operation that would make Mission: Impossible proud. Extra points to whoever gave Thomas the best-looking brown velvet evening wear, fitting for such a high-flying mission. They're successful in learning the identities of many of Q17. Your move, Uncle Nicholas!

But, it seems Uncle Nicholas does indeed have a few tricks up his sleeve. First, he's all charm and continental style (nice touch, kissing her hand) when Darius introduces him to Grace. But the moment he spirits her away the charm gives way to a slick and menacing evil. He doesn't waste time slyly threatening Grace's daughter by mentioning things he couldn't possibly know about. It's a wonderful scene with Noble doing sophisticated evil as only he can, and he's matched by Finnigan (in an exquisite gown) fighting to keep her cool. A word to the wise Uncle Nicholas, be careful when you threaten someone Grace cares about, the look on her face at the end of the scene was clear indication she'd moved into Mama Bear mode.

Then for his coup de grace of the night, Uncle Nicholas tells Darius that he's President because that's where Q17 wanted him, going so far as to eliminate the obstacle in the way, President Pauline McKenzie. He truly believes at heart, Darius is or will become of like mind of his fellow cabal members. It's then that Darius realizes he must remain President, especially after discovering he was about to name a Q17 planted man, Senator Gitlow, as his Vice-President and then resigning. Darius does manage one final end run to thwart Uncle Nicholas, and names a stunned Congressman Thomason as his new Vice-President. Uncle Nicholas is NOT happy.

And he's not the only one, still shaken after her encounter with Uncle Nicholas, Grace is rocked when Darius explains because he must remain President to keep Q17 from taking over and that they'll be watching his every move, he cannot pardon her father. Unfortunately, their discussion they're interrupted by a panicked Liam (Charlie Rowe) who after spending time with Jillian (Jaqueline Byers) and her new "family" at COPE (Children of Planet Earth), is afraid his former fiancé is in danger and that the group is nothing more than a suicide cult.

And he might be right as Jillian is seen at some sort of COPE ceremony, about to literally drink whatever Kool-Aid Bass Shepherd (Luke Arnold) and his followers are serving. Did Jillian really drink poison? We find out in the next episode, Prisoners, that in a way she has. Because whatever was in that cup and whatever Bass Shepherd has her believing is certainly creating surprising behavior from her in this episode. So much so that by the end of the episode she does something that forces Darius to revoke her White House security clearance and send the FBI and Secret Service looking for her.

This cult storyline is an interesting one for the writers to follow this season and they've picked the perfect character to illustrate it. While she has had strong female role models around her, Jillian is the character who was likely to be most susceptible to a group like COPE. She suffers from self-esteem issues and even during the attempted coup crisis, she really had no one to lean on. She'd gone from fledging reporter to assistant to the Vice-President almost overnight, she'd lost what she'd thought was a soulmate (and he still may be) in Liam so no wonder she was being overwhelmed by her emotions. Byers has done a great job at conveying Jillian's vulnerability and insecurities, at times flashing moments of strength, but ultimately being a scared young woman who needed someone to lean on. Which made her the perfect target for COPE.

Prisoners is full of surprises. First after capturing fugitive, Alycia Vertu (Melia Kreiling) who does some of her best work of the series in this episode, Darius makes a deal with the devil by convincing her to help him stop Q17 by hitting them where it hurts, in the wallet. He needs the world's best hacker to help him stop Q17 by not only stopping the group but rendering them powerless by stealing their money. Alycia reluctantly agrees to help and not only succeeds, but then also helps Liam stage a successful launch of the solar sail that's going to be used to try and stop the asteroid. (Yes, the asteroid is still on its way.)

Perhaps, the biggest surprises of the episode have been reserved for Grace. There has never been any doubt from the beginning of the series until now, that Grace's first priority is, and always has been family and those she cares about. Grace has been one of the strongest characters of Salvation and the writers have certainly put her through the wringer in two seasons. But even strong people have a breaking point, and, in this episode, Grace reaches hers.

Just think about all she's been through since the series began, killing Claire, her father, Darius becoming President, being targeted by a militia, need we say more? So it's no wonder these latest threats have pushed her over the edge.

First, her daughter, Zoe (Rachel Drance) returns from Africa to her delight. But that joy is short-lived in that dear Uncle Nicholas and his henchman call and threaten her daughter again. Knowing how dangerous Q17 is and the lengths they've gone to in order to get what they want, Grace is smart enough to know when it's time to go. She resigns and gets Darius to promise a private jet to take her and Zoe into hiding out of the country, but not before enlisting Detective Carter's help as a private bodyguard for the reluctant Zoe. She does agree to wait until after the solar sail launch but in the meantime learns her father has been attacked in prison. Darius disappoints her when he says he can't issue the pardon to get her father out of prison to join her and Zoe into hiding. Desperate, she turns to Harris for help in spiriting her father out of prison much to Darius' chagrin.

But Zoe has the biggest surprise for Grace, she's come home because she is 10 weeks pregnant with Harris' late son's child! Grace and Harris are going to be grandparents! Bravo to whoever's idea it was to make this happen! Now the image of Finnigan (whose first child is not even a year old) and Dale (also the father of an infant) as Grandparents is etched into my brain.

Before they can process this surprise, Jillian pulls another surprise. When she arrives at Grace's to pick up the rest of her things after moving in with Grace for a while, she uses her newfound "serenity" to comfort Zoe. She's so enamored of Shepherd and COPE she offers them as a solution to Zoe to keep from being spirited out of the country by her mother. The two young women disappear, and Alonzo Carter's raid on COPE headquarters finds everyone gone, prompting Darius to revoke Jillian's security clearance, and send the FBI and Secret Service looking for them. She's in worse trouble however, having stolen Darius' railgun plans and given them to COPE.

What is this compound where Jillian has taken Zoe? Now that the solar sail has been launched will it be successful in diverting the asteroid? So many stories building to thrilling climaxes in the three episodes remaining in Salvation's second season. These writers haven't disappointed us yet this season, so what's ahead is sure to be exciting.

What did you think of The Manchurian Candidate and Prisoners? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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