Paramount+’s Rabbit Hole Weaponizes Twists with a Vibrant Kiefer Sutherland at the WheelPhoto Courtesy of Paramount+ TV Reviews Rabbit Hole
In recent years, spy thrillers have been having a renaissance on television (think of the success of Slow Horses, The Old Man, or The Recruit), and it’s safe to say that audiences are eating up these stories like French fries. So it’s no surprise that Paramount+ wanted to join the conversation. And with their new 8-episode-part series Rabbit Hole (created by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra), they have a chance to take over the discussion entirely, since the show is a blast that fires on all cylinders.
To be fair, it’s hard to resist a clever and fast-paced espionage narrative led by Kiefer Sutherland, who ruled this genre for nearly a decade on 24. Here, Sutherland plays John Weir, a highly-skilled middle-aged man in corporate espionage, who runs his own firm with clients that hire him and his team to manipulate people and situations to influence markets for client advantage. He just calls it “consulting,” though. In the pilot, we see how a job like this works in action as we follow John executing a master plan by deceiving a businessman with a carefully calculated line of tricks to manipulate him into closing his firm’s position in the stock market. As he later recalls the details with his team, we get the sense this was a routine job for him.
However, the next assignment is given by his childhood friend, Valence (Jason Butler Harner), who he also used to work with but hasn’t seen in a long time. The new gig is to incriminate a luxury brand’s CEO and an investigator of the Treasury Department by creating a situation where the two are seen together—which normally would never happen. But though John thinks something stinks about the whole thing, he trusts Valence enough to do the operation for him. Naturally, once the job is done, shit hits the fan and John finds himself framed for murder, with police and FBI agents breathing down his neck. He goes into hiding and begins investigating why his friend would betray him, who’s behind all this, and who so desperately wants him arrested or dead.
Throughout all of this, John is also overly paranoid, and constantly thinks someone is tailing him. He even believes a woman he picked up in a restaurant for a one-night stand, Hailey (Meta Golding, who is fantastic), is in on the conspiracy and was sent to spy on him. Unsure of her intentions, he kidnaps Hailey to gain information, with no result. But as the two hide together in John’s childhood home and other secret places, things begin to quickly unravel in the most insane and confusing ways.
It might seem that I have revealed too much of the plot, but trust me when I say that all this is but a fraction of what Rabbit Hole holds in store for its viewers. There are nonstop twists hiding around every corner, and the writers adeptly use them to deepen the story and meticulously build John’s character up, including going back to his childhood. Confusion is an essential part of the concept here, and the show revels in playing mind games with us by exposing new information frequently. Characters (dead or alive) shift in and out of the narrative, making us question who’s real and who’s not, who works for whom, or who’s just an illusion of John’s imagination. In the world of Rabbit Hole, there’s always more than what meets the eye.
To keep the information reveals constant and efficient, the plot jumps between timelines repeatedly. As we follow John fiercely looking for answers in the present, we also see him in flashbacks as a little boy hungry for his father’s attention; he’s a man alarmingly obsessed with his secretive work, seeing conspiracies and shadows (that he thinks are out to get him) everywhere. As we learn more about John’s relationship with his parents as a kid, we gradually get a clearer picture of his traumas and how it might have broken him. The patterns are there, and the writing keeps handing us clues to entertain the idea of insanity while also contradicting it with plausible explanations rooted in reality. It’s both a delicate and bold approach, one that keeps things interesting in exciting and intriguing ways. And importantly, creator John Requa specifically reassured viewers that all questions will be answered by the end of the season. However, if there’s one flaw in this narrative structure, it’s the recurring shifts between timelines that can be disorienting if we don’t pay close attention.
To give us breathing space from these grim and intense sequences at times, Rabbit Hole smartly draws some much-needed dark humor from its obscurity. This mainly comes from Sutherland and Golding’s vibrant chemistry (they’re both charmingly compelling) as their characters playfully banter to ease the overwhelming pressure and anxiety. This can be as simple as a snarky comment aimed at John’s messed-up worldview, or an oddity like keeping a hammer on hand at all times to break down walls for secret stashes of phones, laptops, and cash that John has hidden all over his hideouts.
In the end, Rabbit Hole’s efficacy comes down to a mastery of essential components: A sharp script, focused execution, and a well-picked cast led by Sutherland’s commanding and charismatic protagonist. As long as these are kept in perfect symbiosis feeding off of each other throughout the story (and based on the first four episodes that were sent out to critics for review, they are), Paramount+ might have a winner on its hands.
The first two episodes of Rabbit Hole premiere Sunday, January 26th, on Paramount+.
Akos Peterbencze is an entertainment writer based in London. He covers film and TV regularly on Looper, and his work has also been published in Humungus, Slant Magazine, and Certified Forgotten. Akos is a Rustin Cohle aficionado and believes that the first season of True Detective is a masterpiece. You can find him talk about all-things pop culture on Twitter (@akospeterbencze) and Substack (@akospeterbencze).
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