Boal’s latest attempt to recapture that initial incisiveness, Echo 3, sees him making the leap to television with hints of insight that still get lost when it repeatedly loses its focus. Over the first five episodes shared with critics, the series repeatedly writes itself into narrative corners that it struggles to dig itself out of as it tells the story of a kidnapping that consumes a family. A remake of another series, the Israeli drama When Heroes Fly, Echo 3 changes the characters from being IDF to being CIA though keeps much of the basics of the story the same. At the center of this is Amber Chesborough (Jessica Ann Collins) who we see in an introductory flashforward sequence has been taken hostage along the Colombia-Venezuela border and is in dire straits. It will fall to her husband Prince (Michiel Huisman) and brother Bambi (Luke Evans), who we get introduced to in a flashback, to find a way to rescue her. Though they each have considerable experience, they’ll have to contend both with the CIA, which has its own motivations, and the shared knowledge that their last mission before this went terribly wrong.
The most interesting aspects of Echo 3 are when Boal seems to hint at offering more of a look at the broader context of this story. The opening scene, where Prince marries Amber, feels initially pointed. It is a luxurious ceremony with a fleet of fancy cars parked out front that would each likely cost more than most people would make in a lifetime. That Prince and Bambi spend their days going into regions that have been destabilized by desperation and poverty while always getting to return home to such wealth provides a painful juxtaposition. The glimpses we get of similar reflections still become too scattered to feel robust.
Echo 3 speeds through what could be a more complicated portrait of power to get right to the action, as Prince and Bambi mow down any who get in their way. There are moments when the series seems to be grasping for something more, but it always feels like an afterthought to the action. One such scene sees a character stumble upon two of his friends who have been killed and pick up one of their weapons, only to get blown away almost immediately. It is tragic, but ultimately trite when we don’t actually come to know these characters in any comprehensive way. They are made slightly more than one-dimensional, though only before meeting their demise or getting pushed into the background.
Even for those just looking for action, which itself is often poorly constructed due to an overreliance on shaky cam, this leaves much of the show’s sequences and their aftermath without any greater weight lent to them. It reaches a breaking point when a rather significant character death is almost entirely forgotten before being only briefly addressed in the most lackluster manner. Not only does this waste what could often be a promising setup, but it leaves very little to remain invested in from there forward.
Making matters worse is how the series will shift focus rather suddenly, bouncing around to different characters, times, and locations in a haphazard manner. This leaves characters often giving exposition that attempts to fill in both the narrative and its themes in a painfully stilted fashion. In a misguided effort to insert dark humor, there are multiple bizarre lines about male genitalia that come out of nowhere and completely throw off the tone of what was playing out. It is not just about the use of crude language, which is to be expected in high-stress situations, but the unnatural way in which it is written that feels out of place. While Huisman is often meant to be smug and Evans more bitter about all of this, neither character feels like real people in the way the series needs them to be.
There are moments where Echo 3‘s story starts to get into something interesting about how exploitation drives yet more conflict. However, the show keeps pulling back from this to shift into being more of a conventional thriller that might make for an interesting 90-minute movie but has been stretched much too far here. This becomes especially frustrating when the story lacks structural integrity; key scenes often feel like they are either missing or were cut to keep things moving. Our minds are largely able to fill in the gaps, but there are still major moments where the plot writes itself into a dead end that strains credulity when it forces its way back out.
For all the ways that Boal’s writing on The Hurt Locker managed to be both engaging and more honest about the nature of war, this latest story just never has the sharpness to pull off either. There is a good narrative and thematic core hidden in the middle of Echo 3, but all of that promise gets drowned by too many detours that compromise its overall mission.
You can watch the first three episodes of Echo 3 on Apple TV+ on November 23, with the remaining seven episodes released weekly.