Echo 3 Season 1 Review: Episodes 1-5
Echo 3 premieres on Apple TV+ on Nov. 23, 2022.
Two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter Mark Boal makes his TV debut with a tension-filled exploration of fraught international relations featuring military operatives who make tough split-second decisions. In Echo 3, the former journalist turns his gaze away from Iraq and Afghanistan to Latin America in his first directing venture with a black ops thriller on Apple TV+, in which the kidnapping of American scientist Amber Chesborough (Jessica Ann Collins) near the Colombia-Venezuela border leads to an international rescue attempt led by the two men who love her most. The first half of the series is a fast-paced roller coaster with flashes of greatness and intrigue that gets bogged down in repetitive and often overstuffed storylines.
This adaptation of award-winning 2018 Israeli drama When Heroes Fly (The Boys’ Tomer Capon is one of the leads) blends political and family conflicts with mixed results. Amber’s brother Bambi (Luke Evans) and her new husband Prince (Michiel Huisman) are active special forces operatives used to taking on dangerous missions. The first episode establishes how abruptly these covert operations crop up while underscoring the sacrifices the families of men like this endure — in the original series (and Amir Gutfreund's novel of the same name), the men are veterans. It also immediately calls into question how much ego informs their life-or-death choices.
From the jump, it is clear that Amber and Bambi had a tough childhood, and Prince is a man of extreme privilege. This juxtaposition causes discord, which gets picked up and put down only when it seems necessary to push the story forward. It adds to the already skyrocketing tension but might also leave you wondering exactly why Amber and Prince are together in the first place, as they don’t seem to like each other all that much.
An early incident reveals strain between the two men beyond Prince being from a wealthy family with political connections. Given this bubbling conflict, there is a wealth of friction to draw on when the duo heads to Colombia to find out who is behind Amber’s kidnapping. Both Evans and Huisman effectively convey some complexities of their relationship, but the script doesn’t give them a great deal to work with. Specific threads are forgotten, adding to the disjointed elements and undercutting some intriguing interpersonal dynamics.
A kidnapping plot in South America could easily tap into the cliches of nameless drug-dealer perpetrators that must be stopped at all costs by the heroes of the hour. While some moments lean into these storytelling tropes, Prince and Bambi’s attempts to free Amber are purposefully tainted by arrogance. There is a sense that the special forces operatives think they know better than the experienced military and CIA agents, and at times they are indeed a few steps ahead. However, balance during these sequences ensures the Americans don’t look like untouchable superheroes.
Moving between the wilderness and built-up cityscapes means the first half of the season doesn’t repeat itself visually, even when the plot does. No matter the location, Echo 3 consistently crafts impressive high-octane action sequences — including one particularly notable scene in snowy terrain before they get to Colombia. Boal’s collaborations with director Kathryn Bigelow on The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty, and Detroit put his name on the map. On Echo 3, he turns to Latin American filmmakers like Pablo Trapero and Claudia Llosa, who capture intimacy and scale in equal measure.
The Apple TV+ series is at its best during ambitious set pieces that incorporate awe-inspiring scenery.“
Llosa directs a daring rescue attempt in the third episode, showcasing the impressive range of this production, which is shot mainly in Colombia. Boal’s turn behind the camera in the fifth episode maintains this hold-your-breath atmosphere. The Apple TV+ series is at its best during ambitious set pieces that incorporate awe-inspiring scenery. These moments are occasionally undercut by obstacles and challenges resembling stalling tactics and a way to drag the series out to 10 episodes.
The opener is heavy on the backstory, revealing why Amber is traveling to Colombia in the first place. Her addiction research is motivated by her personal experience with her mother and brother. Bambi’s alcoholism is one of the character details that only resurfaces when a bump in the road is required. The science of addiction and the psychedelic plants that Amber hopes to source in the Colombian jungle is an intriguing thread that taps into a recent psilocybin trend explored on shows like The Good Fight and Nine Perfect Strangers (also starring Evans). But again, this element only comes into play to move other pieces of the plot along and isn’t given much room to grow (excuse the pun).
Thankfully, Amber is far from a damsel in distress who is nothing without the big brave men coming to find her – neither is she a Lara Croft-in-training who can get out of any scrape. Instead, she falls somewhere in the middle, and her tough childhood has put her in good stead for this terrifying experience. Collins is excellent at portraying these different facets of Amber, and this helps when her character makes some bad choices. Like her husband, she also exhibits arrogance that underscores how prejudice and misconceptions fuel an unstable situation.
Viewpoints beyond the Americans featured flesh out the story with journalist Violetta (Martina Gusmán) offering some exposition about the region's history of kidnapping, including her personal experience. More time with Violetta would benefit Echo 3. Hopefully, the second half of the series will explore her husband’s ties to Eric (Bradley Whitford), Amber’s incredibly wealthy father-in-law. Whitford is always a welcome presence, and here he plays a pragmatic asshole, always considering how this will impact or serve his interests. The Emmy Award-winner does his best with some clunky dialogue and a cringe-inducing Kenny Rogers song rendition.
In some ways, Echo 3 is striving to do too much, and the action-thriller is coming up short.“
As the series progresses, different agendas move into focus, as does the value of Amber as a hostage. The five episodes provided to critics (out of ten total in Season 1) cover the first two parts of the story, breaking Echo 3 into different chapters to suggest clear dividing lines. At the halfway mark, certain elements are stuck in repeat, although there is enough to ensure that I want to see how this story ends.
The rich-versus-poor divide between Amber and her husband doesn’t mean she is less of a snob with her captors. The cartel-connected revolutionaries are understandably frustrated with what they believe are a series of lies repeated by their hostage. As events spiral out of control for everyone involved, it points to how much worth has been placed on Amber’s head that goes beyond money. Corruption exists everywhere, and regional tensions are one piece of the jigsaw — in reality, the situation is fluid and complex. In some ways, Echo 3 is striving to do too much, and the action-thriller is coming up short.
This story originally appeared on: IGN - Author:Emma Fraser