Enjoying the Endgame

There’s a new TV series running here on the channel Showcase called Endgame (Monday nights at 10) that I started to watch a while ago with my wife, who is a big mystery fan. The premise of the show itself is original yet simple- one of the world Russian chess masters Arkady Balagan loses his wife to a car-bomb outside of the Huxley Hotel in Vancouver. Unable to cope, he at first doesn’t leave the hotel because of grief, but then later discovers he can’t leave the hotel without undergoing massive panic attacks so he’s effectively trapped in the hotel.

Arkady (played wonderfully by actor Shawn Doyle) is brilliant in the extreme, and is also extremely bored, so once, in order to relieve his boredom, he solves a murder in the hotel. Suddenly people from everywhere are coming to see him like he’s Sherlock Holmes, convinced he can solve their unsolvable cases. He can’t leave the hotel, so he uses his young student Sam Becht as his agent, and turns the whole hotel staff (a wonderfully eccentric bunch of characters) into his pawns. Suddenly he’s playing games of life and death with the hotel and whole city of Vancouver as his chessboard.

So far I have watched seven of the first thirteen episodes, and while the first episode tended to be just a quirky murder mystery, each successive episode has gotten more and more complex. By episode seven the series has reached genius levels, with Arcady manipulating people on the level of Light from Death Note or Holmes himself. All of this doused with large amounts of acerbic humour and occasionally touching moments that set it apart from the standard mystery show.  My wife (who is Taiwanese) commented tonight as we watched the seventh episode that the humour is extremely Canadian in style- funny, I thought it was Russian.  ^_-

Of course, nothing is perfect, and this show does have one glaring flaw- there is a running plotline about the mysterious death of his wife, which is being investigated by her crusading sister, Pippa. The actress who plays Pippa is fine, but the death of the wife is so damn uninteresting compared with what’s going on in each individual episode (each episode is a self contained story) that the moment Pippa comes on the screen it’s pretty much time to take a bathroom break. The episode’s story literally grinds to a halt for a couple minutes while they review a) Arkady is haunted by his wife’s death, b) how his wife died, and c) the new piece of the mystery of who bombed their car and why. This isn’t unimportant, but the way it’s forced into each episode is really ham-handed and kinda annoying. Your millage may vary.

Overall, however, this is a great series, and I highly recommend anyone who can give it a chance and check it out. I’m starting to worry now if it will get picked up in other countries, and get a second season, because if it doesn’t it will be a real shame. It’s on my must-watch TV list for each week, and considering I only watch about 4 hours of TV a week, that’s saying something!