Review: Kiefer Sutherland emerges from the ‘Rabbit Hole’ to get back into the espionage business
Audiences get to see how deep the Rabbit Hole goes on Mar. 26, when Kiefer Sutherland returns to the espionage genre as John Weir, an off the radar undercover operative who runs an elite team of specialists dealing in counterintelligence. Not only dealing with government agencies and tech firm takeovers, but manipulating information in their role as covert guns for hire.
Created by showrunners Glenn Ficarra and John Requa of Crazy, Stupid, Love and Focus fame, Rabbit Hole hits hard in its opening episode, as Weir is caught in close up during confessional. His world-weary features are illuminated by sunlight streaking through the lattice work, as audiences invade his personal space. He carries a wealth of secrets accrued through years of operations performed off book, and the toil is starting to tell.
In a conventional yet effective use of flashback, audiences embark on a join the dots exercise which swiftly establishes key characters, and grounds all the events which follow. Not only maintaining momentum in this concisely executed pilot episode, but reminding anyone watching that Sutherland can still carry a series effortlessly.
With the eponymous 24, which ran for nine seasons, this Hollywood actor with serious skin in the game hits paydirt. Not only was Jack Bauer a culmination of so many different action star facets, but the show itself redefined small screen rules in terms of what could be done. That this role jumpstarted his career and made people sit up and take notice again, might sound like the stuff of cliché, but in this case it’s all true.
There were other subsequent outings in Designated Survivor, as well as reprising the role of Dr. Barry Wolfson in Flatliners circa 2017, but Rabbit Hole is definitely a return to 24 territory for the actor, trading as much on nostalgia as any amount of updated espionage shenanigans.
What becomes immediately apparent is that Weir is less about cracking heads, and more about making connections. There is a suave and understated efficiency to his decision making, which is offset by an unhealthy amount of paranoia. Combine that with some formative relationship issues, and there is no doubt this man comes with baggage.
How the showrunners translate this mess of a man into an engaging onscreen presence comes down to their ability to offer up redeeming features. John and his ex-wife Liv (Alexandra Castillo) might be divorced, but he is a doting father, while that paternal element extends to his small team, who each offer their own unique nods of respect in the pilot episode.
Elsewhere, supporting players who instantly give Rabbit Hole kudos include Jason Butler Harner (Ozark) as tech company owner Valence, while Meta Golding (Hailey Winton) gives John a safe haven after a late-night encounter. Other ensemble elements include government spook Jo Madi (Enid Graham), who may share a professional connection with John, but could never be considered a confidant.
For a majority of the pilot everything seems to be going according to plan. Meetings are held, missions taken, and operations go off without a hitch. That is until the safety net is taken away and Rabbit Hole sends Weir into freefall, forcing him to rely on instinct in an effort to evade his pursuers.
Suddenly, everything audiences thought they had a handle on is taken away, leaving viewers flying blind alongside Sutherland in his element. News reports are manipulated, footage is doctored, and each avenue of escape is systematically severed as this unwilling anti-hero seeks solace everywhere he can.
In terms of storytelling this is thriller central 101, as nothing seems to make sense, adversaries exist outside the laws of facial recognition, and explosions rather than explanations save the day. In truth, anyone who hitches their wagon to Rabbit Hole when it arrives on Paramount Plus knows the deal.
This is hardcore espionage with a mainstream sheen, headlined by a rock solid star of the genre. After 10 minutes, it will become the best thing on the streaming service alongside Jon Bernthal in American Gigolo, or anything at all with Patrick Stewart. Audiences will begin to mourn the passing of each episode, as it becomes apparent that their time with John Weir is dwindling.
With Rabbit Hole anyone worth their salt can already sense a second season setup. Not unlike 24 in its heyday, this feels like the ideal vehicle for a Sutherland resurgence; not only offering him the chance to forge another pop culture icon in John Weir – but remind audiences who the real mack daddy kick-ass operative really is.
'Rabbit Hole' not only promises greatness, but delivers in spades. Slipping back in this genre like a second skin, Kiefer Sutherland rocks up as John Weir and makes quite the impression.