Season finale: The Unit (season four)

Treading a thin line

The Unit‘s a strangely schizophrenic show. On the one hand, it tries its level best to be realistic about the US special forces, its procedures, what it must be like to be married to a special forces soldier and so on. It’s quite conservative – about the only conservative show on mainstream TV other than 24 and maybe 30 Rock (debate anyone?)  – yet will quite happily have a Latino president. It’s also quite ruthless, with our heroes frequently making quite nasty decisions (yes, we will sell you, helpful lady, into prostitution) to get the job done.

But it’s also depressingly escapist and silly at times, with this season’s David Mamet cluster-f*ck of the Unit being forced to retrieve the spear that was used to stab Jesus, and being visited by the spirit of departed Unit member Hector.

I kid you not.

So was the finale of season four one of those times when silliness outweighed true grit?

To be fair, it was a cut above the preceding episode. The Unit is very good at coming up with promising story arcs then dropping them or messing them up. So we had Bob’s forced addiction to heroin earlier in the season, yet through sheer force of will, he manages to cure himself in between episodes with negligible effects.

Towards the end of the season, we had new Unit member ‘Whiplash’ turn stalker, try to rape other new Unit member Bridget, try to escape custody and then get recruited by terrorists. Okay, so all a bit escapist, but the sudden revelation he was undercover the whole time – even when trying to rape Bridget – was just ridiculous, particularly since he could have been killed dozens of times by other Unit members while establishing his cover. But with that a given, his integration into the finale worked reasonably well, although only if you turned your brain off a little.

The season’s story arc – a plot to assassinate the president – which started off as a gutsy move (Venezuela and Russia, rather than some fake Arab countries, are fingered as the sources) just seemed to peter out, with a plot to set off nuclear bombs in four cities around the US foiled in about 20 minutes with minimal action or effort required on the Unit’s part. It was tense, but with no surprises in store, ultimately predictable.

While there are some interesting threads left in play, this was something of a miss as finales go, unfortunately. The Unit, if it does come back, really needs to work out what it wants from life. Does it want to be a thrilling look at the army, a not quite so thrilling look at spies or a slightly duff look at army life? Does it want to go with the full force of its conservative convinctions or does it want to have the safety catch permanently on?

For this fourth season at least, while it’s had some good moments as well as some fun and escapist moments, it’s been stuck uncomfortably between various stools. Time to pick a side, guys.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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