The Three Strike Rule: “The Beast”

Written by The Three Strike Rule

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past month, you are well aware of Patrick Swayze’s battle with pancreatic cancer. Last week he sat down with Barbara Walters, who seemed to expect an optimistic, smiley interview, but instead received a brutally honest man telling the world that hell yes, he’s scared for his life and that he’s pissed he’s been stricken with a potentially fatal disease. After it was revealed almost a year ago that Swayze was ill, A&E announced that the actor would be starring in a new crime drama, The Beast, which has its premiere this Thursday night, 1/15/09. Going into watching the first two episodes of The Beast, although I was championing Swayze and hoping he would go into remission, there was still the fact that Swayze’s track record as an actor is “iffy” at best. People are going to tune in to watch the show out of morbid fascination, true, but will they return a week later? A month later? I hope so, because The Beast delivers the goods. It’s a tight, tense drama about loyalty and duty that allows Swayze the opportunity to really shine as an actor.

Swayze stars as Charles Barker, an effective FBI veteran whose hard-edged and questionable tactics have won him a reputation as a man who gets the job done at any cost. Barker has a rookie partner, Ellis Dove (Travis Fimmel), who is unsure how to react to Barker most of the time. Despite his apprehension to the way Barker gets things done, Dove realizes that his mentor is, at his core, a good man, and this creates a loyalty to Barker. Barker sees something of himself in the swaggering, cocksure attitude of Dove and has taken a liking to him.

Barker and Dove have a handler named Conrad (Kevin J. O’Connor). As a seasoned professional, he knows Barker well enough to speak to him in terse personal code — but for newbie Ellis, he needs to spell things out, including his deep respect for Barker’s work. For a love interest, Dove attempts to strike up a relationship with his neighbor, a law student named Rose (Lindsay Pulsipher), but he soon learns that the line of work he’s involved in (drug dealers, arms dealers, terrorists) creates a risk for an agent’s private life. Dove likes Rose, but he’s hesitant to get to know her because he would hate to see her get hurt.

The writers and producers of The Beast have a slew of film and television credits behind them, and they bring their experience to the slick, dark world of The Beast. The pilot episode is paced more like an action film than what you’d typically expect on television, especially A & E. The scripts allow for Swayze to be a real badass throughout, yet he manages to let compassion and fear come through in his performance, primarily in his eyes. Swayze brings a ferocity to the part of Barker unlike anything we’ve seen from him before. The actor has made it known that he refused medication while shooting episodes because he didn’t want to dull his senses. Using the pain from his illness, there is an urgency and intensity to Barker that immediately reminded me of Michael Chiklis on The Shield. Indeed, I don’t think it’s crazy to predict that Swayze will earn a Best Actor nomination for the Emmy Awards later this year. He could win.

But the show is not just Barker’s story, and it would be a failure if Travis Fimmel didn’t pull his own weight. Fimmel is engaging and carries himself in a way that reminds me of Brad Pitt in Se7en. Dove has the unenviable task of working with a man of questionable character. As we find out at the end of the pilot, an internal FBI task force is investigating Barker, fearing he may have gone rogue. Dove learns that he was handpicked to be Barker’s assignment, though he had no clue he would be spying on the man who has taken him under his wing. Dove is constantly bouncing back and forth between believing that Barker is innocent but misunderstood and then contemplating that the internal task force may be right. Fimmel does an excellent job of channeling his character’s guilt and anguish onscreen, and he and Swayze make a strong team and are interesting to watch. I look forward to seeing where future stories carry them and what Fimmel will bring to his role.

With last year’s The Cleaner, A&E proved that they have the resources to compete with the other basic cable networks by producing compelling dramas and promoting them. The Beast should prove to be another hit for them. Here’s hoping that audiences watch it — and that Swayze fully recovers, so that he can enjoy the show’s success.