Here are some lessons from the pilot episode of Chase, in which tracking fugitive criminals is discovered to be as simple as playing a game of Clue:
—There are two people fugitives always run back to: their mom, and their baby mama.
—If you like to hum a little tune while you’re violently forcing your way into a home to rob a safe, then you must have been in choir in high school.
—If a murderous sociopath declines to kill a young girl after shooting his parents, then he’s got to have a kid of his own.
—Everyone in Texas knows who Waylon Jennings is.
A host of grand suppositions, massive generalizations, and absurdist statements like these lead U.S. Marshal Annie Frost and her team to capture the series’ first Big Bad. When we’re introduced to Annie, she’s chasing a fugitive through the Fort Worth Stockyards. She gets her man, but not before he taunts her: “Didn’t your mother teach you girls shouldn’t play with boys?” After she throws him to the ground with an acrobatic move involving her belt, she responds “My mother died when I was 8, so no.”
Later we learn that she doesn’t know whether her own father is alive. (I predict we’ll meet him in season 2, probably in a sweeps month.) The show is setting up the lead character’s mysterious, troubled past. After all, she’s a woman obsessed with nailing bad guys — she’s got to have some dark secret to explain why she’d go into this field of work, right?
Her crew of U.S. marshals, based in Houston (though the show is shot in Dallas) appear to be a group of super-heroes who make their offices in a grand hall featuring huge murals and a giant gold star on the wall (the place should look familiar to Fair Park visitors). It’s understandable that a pilot has to expend a lot of energy on expository dialogue to introduce the characters and orient us to the work that they do. This squad of elite fugitive hunters has a new guy with them, and they take every chance they’ve got to share their hard-won wisdom. (“[Music] is the quickest way to see into a person’s soul.”) How these insights actually lead to bringing the fugitive into custody is left unexplained.
Annie tracks the killer – an escaped convict who, we’re reminded repeatedly, thinks of himself as an “outlaw cowboy” — across the state. She decides he must be looking to reconnect with his long-lost high school girlfriend. She flies to visit Odessa High School (Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas stands in) to investigate and flips open a yearbook to a picture of the school choir from the year the killer graduated. Right there, in that photo, a girl is looking at him admiringly. Yep, that’s got to be his high school girlfriend. No doubt about it.
Meanwhile he already faked out his pursuers in San Antonio. They thought they had him cornered, but he apparently convinced one of his victims to dress in his clothes and run deep into the woods, away from a police helicopter, for hours on end. That idea is actually less puzzling, however, then wondering why the killer called the police to tip them off that he was even in the vicinity in the first place. They only knew to chase the guy in the woods because the killer had forced another of his victims to call the cops.
Anyway, yes, he goes to visit the old girlfriend, and the daughter he’s never had a chance to know, in El Paso. The marshals follow him there, and there’s a big showdown on an international bridge leading to Mexico, to where he hopes to escape. Annie makes a huge jump from the bridge down into the river below in pursuit. This move is actually far less ridiculous than the wildly successful leaps of logic that had brought her to that place, where she finally gets the cuffs on him.
Allow me to conclude with my favorite exchange of dialogue of the night. It’s emblematic of the rather tone-deaf teleplay. Its intention is to communicate key information with as few lines as possible, but it comes off sounding …well, you decide:
Old Girlfriend: “What did he do?”
U.S. Marshal: “He killed a number of people.”
Old Girlfriend: <audible sigh> “That’s why he shaved his head, isn’t it?”
image: Publicity shot for Chase. Annie Frost (Kelli Giddish, left) leads her team of U.S. marshals.