The Equalizer





Paul Asay

TV Series Review

Robyn McCall has done a little bit of everything. She’s been a wife, a mother, head of a charity organization. Before that, she was in the CIA. Before that, the Army.

She’s through with most of that now—everything but the mother part. Her daughter, Delilah, would tell her she could use the practice anyway. And when Robyn quits her charity work to be a stay-at-home mom, joking that she’ll make lunches and join the PTA, it seems as though Robyn’s committed to practicing as much as she’s able.

But when she’s not dealing with teenage drama and juggling custody with her estranged ex, Robyn wears a different hat: that of a protector. A judge. If need be, an executioner. Some people have called her a guardian angel. But if so, she’s a remarkably bloody one.

Hey, everyone needs a hobby, right?

Got a Problem?

Robyn has no issue, in principle, with the law or its myriad enforcers. But she knows well that the law has gaps and the enforcers have flaws. When she was with the CIA, she saw fist-hand how the decision makers played chess but forgot about the “living, breathing pieces that we sacrifice along the way.” She feels the burdens of those past pieces keenly, and it seems that her new hobby isn’t just freelance work: It’s part atonement and, perhaps, part vendetta.

In any case, it’s those “pieces”—those who are liable to be ignored or forgotten or falsely accused or unjustly killed—that she wants to help. And Robyn knows that with these sorts of cases, she’ll inherently need to bend, break or occasionally blow up the law to do it.

Robyn can’t do it all by herself, of course. She has some outside help from other CIA retirees: Harry’s the requisite genius-hacker that all do-gooding outside-the-law outfits need these days. Melody, Harry’s wife, serves as the group’s sniper extraordinaire. William Bishop—less a business partner and more a loose confederate—heads his own private security company but can come through in a pinch.

Clients are in no short supply: CBS plans on a new one pretty much every week. Robyn finds them with a deceptively simple online ad: “Got a problem? Odds against you?” And then she gives out a number.

Hopefully, she doesn’t get a lot of callers just furious that their fast-food chicken fingers were a little cold.

Odds Against Us

CBS’s The Equalizer first made its appearance on NBC about 35 years ago, with Edward Woodward starring as Robert McCall. Most of us are probably more familiar with Denzel Washington’s take on the character (in The Equalizer and, of course, The Equalizer 2, only loosely based on the original series.

Now, Queen Latifah gets her crack at the franchise. And it comes with all the network television action—and problems—you’d likely expect.

From the get-go, we’re dealing with a kind of squishy sense of morality in this franchise. Yes, Robyn wants justice for her clients, but she utterly disregards the law in its pursuit. Her goals may be laudable, but her methods are questionable (at the very, very least). 

But what you see and hear on screen, being on CBS, isn’t nearly as extreme as what you saw in the movies. People fight and shoot and stab and die, but viewers aren’t subjected to that much blood or gore. You’ll hear profanity, but they tend to be of the milder variety. F- and s-words are nowhere to be heard, or even bleeped.

Sensuality may be a part of any given episode, but The Equalizer does not carry what you’d call a romantic or titilating vibe (at least in the early going). Compared to the complex and salacious short-season shows populating premium cable and the streaming networks, The Equalizer feels kind of old fashioned.

But note: old-fashioned and all-family viewing are not synonymous. Just as you would be with The Equalizer herself, this is a show to approach with caution.

Episode Reviews

Feb. 7, 2021: “The Equalizer”

A young woman watches as someone is shot and killed: The killers come after her, but they abandon their pursuit after the police arrive. But as the woman (Jewel) tells her story to the police, footage from a security cam comes in—showing that she’s the shooter. Jewel sees just enough to cut and run. So she tries to buy a fake ID and passport to make her escape. But when the ID dealers turn on her, another strange woman strides into the room. “Let that girl go, and I’ll let you walk out of here,” she says. They don’t, and she doesn’t.The fight that follows seems to be largely in the shadows, but we do see and hear guns go off, people get punched, kicked and thrown and eventually either knocked unconscious or killed.

Robyn gasses and beats up a couple of police officers, too, in her pursuit of justice, and she appears to shoot and kill several private security guards. (We only hear some gunfire over a phone and see bodies lie in various corridors.) Someone knocks another person else out with a gun butt. A character gets punched in the stomach and waterboarded. The original victim is shot through the back, and we see a circle of blood bloom on the front of his white dress shirt. We hear that faulty software killed 87 people and might put many more at risk. A building blows up. No one dies, but we do see someone getting a slightly bloody wound stitched up in the aftermath. Car tires and windows are shot out. We see a flashback to what looks like military combat. We hear that a police officer punched a lawyer in the face (and received a suspension for it).

Robyn’s 15-year-old daughter, Delilah, wants to buy a slinky, revealing dress. “Can’t we find something with a little more fabric?” Robyn asks. That’s apparently not satisfactory for Delilah, who is later hauled home from a party (she wasn’t supposed to go to) wearing the dress (that she stole) after drinking and smoking marijuana. (Robyn later makes her daughter volunteer for community service in recompense.)

The men whom Jewel contracts with to make her fake passport and ID hold her captive for a moment or two before Robyn comes in. While the show doesn’t explicitly make their wishes known, it insinuates that they want to rape her. We hear that, as a favor, Robyn put someone’s ex-wife on a no-fly list (so she couldn’t go to Cancun with her lover).

Robyn and others lie and hack and use all manner of subterfuge to further their more idealisticg goals. We hear that the man killed at the beginning of the episode had fresh track marks on his arm and had a history of heroin use. People hang out in a bar and drink beer. Jewel tells her mother that she’d appreciate her prayers, and Robyn says that a particular duty is “my cross to bear.” Characters say “a–,” “d–n,” “h—” and “p-ssed” a few times each.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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