'Hostages' series premiere: Kill the president or your family dies

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"Hostages" did precisely what it should in Monday's (Sept. 23) pilot: hook the audience and make us wonder how this thriller can possibly sustain itself.

The tense drama stars Toni  Collette  as Dr. Ellen Sanders, a thoracic surgeon about to operate on the president of the United States ( James Naughton). Work would be stressful enough, but that's nothing compared to what she has going on at home: A well-armed band of four breaks in and hold her family hostage.

Led by Dylan McDermott as rogue FBI Special Agent Duncan Carlisle, they have one demand: Dr. Sanders must kill the president during the operation. If she does not, they will kill her family.

That's the premise, and it's a great one, making the audience consider which matters more: Your family or your country.

The show opens with the family -- Ellen, her husband, Brian ( Tate Donovan), and children Morgan and Jake ( Quinn Shephard, Mateus Ward) crowded onto the couch, held at gunpoint. It then flashes to 12 hours earlier, explaining what the family was like before they became hostages.

The Sanders' marriage is in trouble. Ellen correctly suspects Brian is having an affair. Jake is dealing drugs and Morgan is pregnant.  

We don't know yet if the good doctor is the only one in the house who isn't harboring secrets. In the pilot, she seems confident and competent -- and clearly doesn't say a fraction of what she thinks.

We also see Carlisle before the hostage situation, in his day job as an FBI agent. He's called to a bank robbery where hostages have been taken. His idea of hostage negotiations is to shoot first and ask questions later. 

Still, Carlisle's instincts are right; he shoots the bad guy. His ability to do this alerts the audience that this character has no problem pulling the trigger when necessary. He's all business.

The doctor also appears detached, regardless of how rattled she feels, and gives off this stunning resoluteness.

The night before the president's scheduled operation, as the family is being held hostage, someone in the Sanders house trips the security alarm. Ellen recognizes the guard as the same man who was at her office in the hospital earlier. She starts to get an inkling of how deep this plot goes. 

The security guard hands Ellen an envelope. Carlisle insists she open it -- and any man who's holding your family at gunpoint has a way of getting his demands met. In the envelope is the family snapshot used for their holiday card two years ago.

Carlisle is making a point. He knows what there is to know about the Ellen's family: Brian hates chocolate. Morgan's favorite color is red. Ellen calls her mom every Thursday while Jake takes tae kwon do.

He seems to know everything, so she agrees to follow the scheme. 

The plan for Ellen to kill the president is ingenious. The kidnappers have prepared a serum, to be administered to the president, and it fits into a lipstick case, so the doctor could easily carry it in her lab coat and no one would be suspicious.

Just why Carlisle wants the president dead is not clear. Nor should it be in the pilot. We do know that someone very close to the president, an aide close enough that he rides in the car with the leader of the free world, is in on the assassination attempt.

Incidentally this aide, Quentin Creasy ( Jeremy Bobb), has the most sexist line of the pilot when he refers to Sanders as "a lady doctor." Really, in 2013 is a female with a medical degree that unusual?

Carlisle is shown as more than just a rogue agent. His wife is comatose in the hospital, and we don't know why. He has a little girl he adores, who stays with her grandpa while dad is working. Grandpa, Burton Delaney ( Larry Pine), is in on the assassination attempt as well. But how he's connected is, for now, a mystery. 

For all of their plotting, the would-be assassins could not have planned for the doctor's steely strength. She foils their plans by exchanging the vial of poison for a blood thinner. That buys two weeks until the president will be healthy enough for surgery.

A lot can happen in two weeks, which is precisely the amount of time this series is scheduled to cover over its 15 episodes.

What did you think of the "Hostages" premiere? Will you be returning for episode 2?
Photo/Video credit: CBS
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