Martin Odum has some issues. He hasn’t seen his son in months; he’s divorced; his one-time hook-up looks like she’s going to remain a one-time hook-up. And he might not even be Martin Odum.
A “legend,” as a title credit in TNT’s Legends so helpfully informs us, is a fabricated identity within U.S. undercover government work. Martin Odum, played by Game of Thrones’ Sean Bean, has a few of these legends, but he is struggling to separate himself from these false identities and starting to question who he really is. That’s an intriguing premise, but it gets lost in the series’ pilot in favor of wannabe witty banter between Odum and his coworker-slash-crush and boring, undeveloped characters.
The pilot begins with Odum undercover as Lincoln Dittman, a stuttering middle-aged man who gets threatened with a gun to his neck within two minutes. Judging by Odum’s performance as Dittman, the undercover agent watches a ton of Breaking Bad in his free time: His Dittman has the same “oh, golly, me?” joviality of pre-Heisenberg Walter White, which could either be an homage or a rip-off depending on how passionate you feel about the character of Walter White.
Though it’s slightly comforting to see a character resembling one we know so well, it’s also a bit of a cheat. None of the characters in Legends are anything remotely original and can all be stored into tiny, neat description boxes: There’s the computer whiz, the hard-ass (Ali Larter), the stony ex-wife (Amber Valletta). This is the pilot, so there’s plenty of time for these characters to grow, but it’s not reassuring to walk away from an episode of TV only (kind of) understanding one character.
I say “kind of” because Martin Odum is a complete mystery, even to himself. He notices an unknown man following him in this episode and later pulls him aside, only for the man to say, “You don’t know where your life begins and your legend ends,” revealing that Martin Odum is just another legend. This is one of the few climatic parts of the episode, although it’s still nothing insanely exciting—we haven’t known Odum long enough to care about who he is because we don’t even know who we think he is, aside from an undercover agent with an ex-wife and a kid.
We also know that he once slept with Larter’s Crystal McGuire, his co-operative. We know this because, as McGuire’s scolding Odum, he cocks his eyebrow and smirks. “Is that the only reason you’re mad at me?” The angry expression disappears off McGuire’s face as she offers him a real zinger: “Don’t flatter yourself, Martin. We were consenting adults who made a mistake.” The scene reads like it was supposed to seem like it was plucked straight out of a sexy drama, but instead it comes off as painfully stilted. (However, Sean Bean attempting to flirt is something worth watching over and over again.)
Fortunately, Legends gets that cringe-worthy exchange out of the way relatively early in the episode, and later on, McGuire and Odum prove to be a good team when it comes time to stage a bust. Their main target hovers his finger over a button to set off a bomb, and it’s up to Odum to dissuade him from pressing that button in a tense moment—which could have been tenser had we not known Odum is the main character of this show and therefore not going to die anytime soon. The other characters, on the other hand, aren’t so safe: Both Odum’s C.I. and the computer whiz die in this episode.
Legends might not be a life-changing drama now—it might not (probably won’t) ever be—but, even despite its pilot’s flaws, the show has potential: Supporting cast members Larter, Morris Chestnut, Tina Majorino, and Steve Harris are promising actors who have the talent to do more with their characters if the writers give them more, and watching Bean transform from legend to legend, week to week sounds entertaining in itself. Keep the awkward flirtations to a minimum, make the action sequences more high-stakes, and Legends could be worth taking a break from your own identity crisis to watch.