This article about is the Special Ops: Lioness Series Premiere Recap. The first episode of Taylor Sheridan’s newest Paramount+ series, Special Ops: Lioness, starts out with a job gone bad. In order to prevent the entire operation from going up in flames, Joe (Zoe Saldana), the head of a clandestine CIA operation tasked with exposing the mothers, spouses, girlfriends, and associates of male terrorist leaders, is attempting to get her undercover agent out of a terrorist complex in Syria. In a chopper, her team is locked and loaded as it circles the facility while waiting for orders.
The agent, however, has been compromised. The cross tattoo under her arm has exposed her. Joe is about to give the extraction order, but she changes her mind when she overhears her contact’s screams on the phone in her hand.
Joe will inform Donald Westfield (Michael Kelly), her superior, in a debriefing, “She was dead anyway.” “I made the decision to safeguard my team and the integrity of our operation.” every clandestine operation, every act of violence, every devilish decision that goes along with it, and every lasting aftertaste of agony that results.
Joe stands alone atop a lone CIA outpost in the immediate aftermath of the drone strike and tears off her tactical vest to breathe. Her eyes are steely and weary, and she has the look of someone who is all too familiar with the devastation of not only losing someone in your care but also knowing that you have what it takes to end their life in an instant when the going gets tough.
Hell is Special Ops.
There are many areas where a 150-year-old way of life is clashing with a modern one, but the problems there are very different, Sheridan told THR in a detailed profile of his quick ascent to the top of the TV industry. “You can tell this story in a lot of different places.” The remote, laser-focused badass with a chewy moral core, feeling profoundly and acting rapidly for family, friends, and duty, is at the center of the beauty and cruelty of the figurative frontier. In a society where the schemes of the mighty are in charge, insatiable drive is both the planet’s greatest strength and its greatest downfall.
Whatever your position on Taylor Sheridan’s body of work, there’s no disputing that he changed the direction of the streaming era and brought “the Western” back to life for a contemporary post-peak TV audience in both positive and negative ways. Sheridan avoids writers’ rooms in favor of writing all of his scripts by hand in a specially constructed writing space at his enormous Four Sixes Ranch in Texas. However, his attempts at cowboy poeticism don’t always result in genuine melancholy. This man takes many strong swings, hits, and misses while digging in his heels. But like his subjects, Sheridan’s commitment to the effort gives his work a sentimental musicality and a recognizable cowboy lyricism. His storytelling tastes are unmistakably American, and they have quickly spread across the prestige TV industry in
No matter how you feel about Taylor Sheridan’s body of work, there is no doubting that he changed the stream of history.
In this way, Lioness’ pilot episode is essentially Sheridan: a spy thriller with a Western flair for dads and (dad-show fans like yourselves) everywhere. At a turning point, we encounter Cruz (Laysla De Oliveira), our second lead. Her “origin story” reads like a drawn-out Marine recruitment jingle, complete with working-class struggle porn and strange, racially charged stereotyping disguised as female empowerment. The issue with Sheridan’s work, though, is that there is a lot of room for the performers who are presenting it to give it true emotional resonance. Something about the beats’ simplicity, how music permeates all art, and other things. Cruz returns home to a cartoonishly nasty lover after working yet another late shift at an Oklahoma City burger joint. De Oliveira plays the scene that occurs after he hits Cruz in the face during a fight with precision: her words tells her boyfriend, “I’m sorry,” but her eyes tell the camera, “I’m going to fuck this guy up and get out of here tomorrow.”
Cruz strikes her partner with a frying pan the following morning before running away. He pursues her around the neighborhood and, wouldn’t you know it, walks right into a Marine recruitment center or something. Cruz’s boyfriend replies, “It’s between me and her,” when a filthy yoked recruitment officer with a loud voice enters the room. “The American Marines are now on your side.”
The following interaction between Cruz and the hiring manager is so absurd it made me both wheeze with laughter and pump my fist in a rush of adrenaline:
“You touch his face like that?”
“I deceived. I used a skillet.
“If you’re not trying in war, you’re cheating,” the saying goes.
“I’ve lived in conflict my entire life, then.”
You’re at the correct place, then.
This entire endeavor has a ridiculous, John Milius-style pitch; it has a “rah America” vibe that is subverted by a clear awareness (how conscious or unconscious, is up to you) of the way the brutality of American life feeds capable, disadvantaged people into the imperial war machine. The majority of our post-Vietnam war stories are driven by this thematic contradiction, which Sheridan, episode director John Hillcoat, and the lead actors seem especially eager to navigate.
Next, we have one of these “why are you here” or “call to action” scenarios in which Cruz aced her written exam and crushed her Marine Core physical fitness test. She is given a clear avenue to channel all that incredible wrath and expertise after being selected from the crowd of prospective recruits by the officer in charge or something (sorry, I don’t know “Marines” and don’t care enough to try). We are the powerful. We defend the helpless. We pursue that objective with no mercy. Are you interested in continuing that project?
Cruz thinks it is. The call was answered by her. found a guiding principle to inspire her. a passion that was developed in the crucible of survival. The hunter turns becomes the prey.
The only problem is that nothing in what we saw at the beginning of the show suggests “protecting the weak,” in any way. Joe is having a difficult debrief with her employers, Westfield and Kaitlyn Meade (Nicole Kidman), at CIA Headquarters, the beating center of military industrial espionage. Another debrief is about to hand Westfield his ass; he obviously isn’t one to stop the excrement from pouring down once it hits the fan. Joe supports her choice to order the strike and lose her operative, but he is too furious to believe her. He also does not believe that the informant was carefully checked for tattoos. Joe accuses herself of being responsible for the accident, but she doesn’t admit it until Westlake storms out and she is alone with Kaitlyn, her direct supervisor and confidante from her “work mom.”
Joe, it’s not your fault, Kaitlyn says. She told you a falsehood. To train a new operative for the Lioness Program, Kaitlyn wants Joe to return to the field. Joe, though, is as alarmed by the possibility that she may have been deceived as she is by the tragedy of the circumstance.
Joe’s brief trip home demonstrates a mesmerizing blend of clichés and mythic truisms, much like Sheridan’s character development, and it allows Saldana plenty of chance to shine. Her husband Neil (Dave Annable) and teenage daughter have a hard time adjusting to her sudden arrival. Listless Joe interrupts the awkward, silent supper by getting up from the table and pouring herself a drink. The soldier who makes it through another mission only to return home as a ghost. With films like Guardians of the Galaxy, Avatar, etc., Saldana has a lot of experience with this intense broken-family stuff. Once more, the rhythms are brutal and well-known, yet she manages to make the character come to life with a single glance and an assassin’s command of the space.
I have seven that would be appropriate if your setting is the Middle East, but this one? Truly a pipe hitter. Joe is learning more about her potential replacement Lioness, but she isn’t convinced by Cruz’s accomplishments. She is an utter door kicker. What the hell am I supposed to do with a door kicker? After showcasing Cruz’s ass-kicking prowess in “the pit” (some sort of Marine kickboxing ring, again, dude, sue me), Joe assesses her by giving her an overview of the Lioness Program: We now find the girlfriends, wives, and daughters of these high-value targets and station an agent nearby. They become friends with the operative, who gains their trust before guiding us to the objective, where we then kill the target. Cruel? Beyond the purview of justice? What is Cruz’s opinion?
“Ma’am, if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.” It’s the dictum Cruz’s original Marine protector passed down: the ultimate power and the ultimate vulnerability in all physical and psychological fighting situations. To ensure that she has no tattoos, Joe has her strip, which reveals cigarette burns on her arms and lacerations from extension chords on her back. Cruz says defiantly, “Should answer your question regarding how much agony I can handle. “You’ll do,” Joe responds, her amused smile being concealed by her imposing brim cap. “Get settled.”
The second mission for the Lioness team begins in Kuwait, where Cruz’s mark—a leader of an Iranian-backed militia in Iraq—will be with his daughter. First, though, it’s time to get to know the crew. Who doesn’t enjoy the gang introduction moment in a “bunch of guys on a mission” story, I ask you? Some of them even have traditional nicknames for army men: James Jordan is known by the monikers Two Cups (because he, quote, “took two cups of something” while on vacation in Thailand “and he tried to fuck everything,” and Tex because, after shaving, he resembles Matt Dillon from the movie Tex. Seriously, what are we doing here, LMAO? Cruz, though, quickly fits in with these hard-drinking, hard-talking rabble-rousers, breaking even the straight-edge run she had been on since the show’s inception.
However, work begins early the following morning. Without giving Cruz a chance to recover from her hangover, Joe immediately drags her into this intense game of cat and mouse. With eyes on her moving target, it’s time to make contact. Cruz has been described as being quite intelligent, and we have certainly witnessed her drive and tenacity up to this point, but nothing that immediately springs to mind as a brilliant spy. In spite of the fact that it takes her a while to recall all the specifics of her cover, her first encounter with Aaliyah (Stephanie Nur) is as quick and methodical as it is quick. Joe notices Aaliyah leaving the jewelry shop while Cruz is in her arms. The choices that will bring everyone closer to danger have already been made, the trap is set, and the game has begun.