Seeking to fill an unexplored mashup niche of counter-terrorist drama meets alien invasion tale, Hunters has plenty of unique territory to explore that could be accessible even to non-sci-fi fans. The problem is that its first episode explores such familiar territory that it’s difficult for it to stand out from the crowd, which is an essential ingredient for a audience-grabbing pilot. However, those who stick it out through the second offering will be given tantalizing hints of some deeper mysteries. Whether it will be enough to bring in and keep new viewers will be the true test.
The story of Hunters follows FBI agent Flynn Carroll, played by Nathan Phillips of The Bridge, whose wife is kidnapped by what he later finds out are alien terrorists, dubbed “Hunters.” His personal investigation into her disappearance causes him to cross paths with a secret agency known as the ETU, or Exo Terrorism Unit, the leader of which recruits Carroll into his field team. He discovers that the aliens are everywhere, appearing as humans but with different internal physiology.
All of the hallmarks of a conspiracy drama are present here: the secret agency’s recruitment of the outsider, the hero who barely has his PTSD under control, the personal family connection motivating the protagonist to drop everything for the cause. The aliens seem derivative, too, with clicking sounds reminiscent of Predator or vampires in The Strain, and the complete lack of context for their presence on Earth, although surely central to the mystery of the show, makes it hard to gain immediate buy-in. They kill as insurgents, not as conquerors – why?
One standout of the show is the lone female agent in the ETU, Allison Regan, played with subtle intensity by Britne Oldford of American Horror Story. Although it’s initially unclear why she is mistrusted by some on the team, her secret, when it is revealed, becomes one of the most satisfying moments of the pilot. Although her special skill set can be discovered even in promotional material, the unknown factor brings the most spice to the opening story and thus will not be revealed here.
The other notable performance comes from the main antagonist and kidnapper of Agent Carroll’s wife: the Hunter known as Lionel McCarthy, played by the very versatile Julian McMahon of Nip/Tuck. Although the true complexity of his character doesn’t come out until the second episode, his ability to achieve several different looks and act alternately animalistic and debonaire during his time on screen makes him one of the more interesting characters, even though viewers can glean very little about what he’s really up to – frustratingly rather than enticingly.
Hunters makes interesting use of soundtrack music, and the repetition of a famous OMD song from the 80’s is both creepy and mind-numbing. Sound is a core element of the different way the alien terrorists sense the world around them, and their bombs and other munitions, as well as the weaponry of the ETU, use sonic blasts. Syfy has even gone so far as to partner with Spotify to present playlists and second screen content of a sort. The partnership could either become an innovative tie-in or be seen as a contrived product placement, depending on how it plays out through the season.
There is the potential for other sideline elements to pull in viewers such as the addition of Carroll’s autistic foster daughter Emme Dawson, played by newcomer Shannon Berry. Emme’s father was Carroll’s partner, who was killed during their time together in the FBI, and Carroll and his wife adopted his orphaned daughter. Emme’s relationship with Carroll is strained, especially after his wife disappears, but Emme’s autism gives her a unique perspective as her audio memory aids Carroll in his investigation. On the flip side, her self-destructive behavior could cause trouble for herself and for Carroll, who has his own mental problems. This relationship could make for an interesting side plot.
The somewhat humdrum pilot fortunately gets a boost from the second episode as Agent Regan’s secret clashes with Agent Carroll’s expectations, but a mysterious scar on Carroll’s arm takes on a new significance as the story between the two partners unfolds. Likewise, the layers start to peel back on the alien conspiracy midway through the second week as Lionel McCarthy’s interactions with his fellow Hunters stimulates audience speculation. The basic but important discoveries made by the ETU as the story progresses make the viewer wonder what success they possibly could have had before Carroll showed up.
As a result, Hunters comes across as a slightly clichéd character and team setup balanced by a somewhat intriguing approach to a counter-terrorism story. A few characters stand out while others blend into the cookie-cutter background. With the pedigree that producers Gale Anne Hurd and Natalie Chaidez bring to the table from their work on Aliens, Terminator, The Walking Dead, and 12 Monkeys, they might be able to pull off a surprise hit, but unfortunately, their opening sortie could have used a little more of their considerable signature style.