Endgame

Endgame is a rather novel series from the Canadian Showcase network so, unless you happen to live in Canada, you are likely to have to use alternative methods in order to view it but it is likely to be worthy of your effort.

The premise of Endgame is that former (Russian born) World Chess Champion Arkady Balagan (Shawn Doyle; Big Love, Lost) is witness to a murder; as his fiancée (Rosemary) is about to leave the Canadian (Vancouver) hotel where they have been staying she alights into a taxi (on the way to have lunch with an old friend of hers while he plays a chess tournament) leaving him in the hotel foyer, the taxi is rained upon by a hail of bullets and she is killed instantly. The local police said it was a case of mistaken identity. Balagan became traumatised; convinced he was the real target. It was Vladimir Putin’s revenge for Balagan having given millions to the pro-democracy forces in Russia. He contracts severe agoraphobia as a result an is thus trapped in the hotel more or less permanently. he soon runs short of money and falls into crime solving simply as a way to pay his mounting bills.

Convinced of the KGB’s involvement (I’m sure they were, officially, disbanded (in 1991) or renamed or something of the sort but Balagran doesn’t appear to have noticed…if I’m right they’re now called the FSB or some other seemingly random group of three letters.) he slowly, as episodes go by, amasses circumstantial evidence to support this theory but none of it is compelling at least in the eyes of the police.

At first hotel employees whom he contacts to further his case help him on condition that he helps them with cases of their own and so he slowly becomes a kind of consulting detective, a modern day Sherlock Holmes, with a chess wannabe and various hotel staff as his surrogate investigators.

The twists that make the tale unusual are his agoraphobia which means that he has to rely on others to visit any crime scenes outside of the hotel and his chess addiction such that he often perceives cases as chess games with the characters in them being chess pieces. This metaphor is already getting tired and I hope that the writers don’t labour it too much.

Clearly this isn’t a big budget production…it is often a bottle drama with all the action being in Balagran’s hotel and all characters coming there to be seen by Balagran thus limiting the number of sets that are needed. What money there is has been spent on a decent cast (mainly Shawn Doyle) and good writers…a very reasonable trade off in my mind as I’d often rather have this than a big budget spent on special effects and elaborate sets bhut with poor acting and abysmal scripts.

Babagran is portrayed as being phenomenally intelligent (with a bias towards analytical skills), arrogant and beguiling mixing together to form an interesting character and a good showcase for Shawn Doyle to reveal his acting skills.

The rest of the cast are well enough played by an ensemble cast but are all minor characters compared to Balagran.

The plots tend to be innovative and well drawn with little copying of ideas from elsewhere…a considerable achievement by the writers given how formulaic most crime drama is these days. Chess is there as a backdrop but the focus of the series is not on it.

On the plus side the character of Balagran is a beauty but all the other characters are little more than cardboard cut-out figures by comparison. The way in which the writers allow us to follow Balagran’s thought processes which often have blind alleys serving to disprove hypotheses is unusual and interesting.

On the minus side all the above was apparent in the first episode and little has been added to it in subsequent ones. Shawn Doyle’s Russian accent needs more work but you won’t find it too jarring.

The series is a good one all the same and enjoyable viewing with more to tax the mind of an attentive viewer than most crime drama has to offer.

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