New Apple TV+ military thriller Echo 3 finds its heroes in desperate times this week, anxious and ready to take desperate measures. The kidnapped Amber has been put in a hellish South American prison camp, her brother Bambi is abandoned by his cohorts, her husband Prince is back in America recovering from multiple gunshot wounds — and nobody has a clue how to make this situation any better. But the writers sure know how to make it weirder.
The show, about what happens when an American with clandestine government ties stumbles into a private war, gets good mileage out of mechanics over message in this week’s episode, entitled “Upriver.” The bizarro sexual subtext of intervention gets quite the workout in this show.
Echo 3 recap: ‘Upriver’
Season 2, episode 4: After last week’s disastrous rescue raid, most of the revolutionaries are dead, among them Fami (played by Sofia Buenaventura), the girlfriend of the very violent Graciella (María del Rosario). Graciella thus has even more reason to despise her captive, American botanical researcher (and CIA plant) Amber (Jessica Ann Collins).
Amber’s kidnapping was supposed to be run of the mill, except of course that her husband Prince (Michiel Huisman) and brother Bambi (Luke Evans) are both well-connected military operatives with years of experience running field-rescue missions. In retaliation for Prince and Bambi’s failed raid, the kidnappers put Amber in the worst prison camp they know of on the Venezuelan border.
Bambi’s pride is smarting, now that he’s been thrice thwarted by the Colombian kidnappers. Amber’s brother is deep in country with a crew of local special forces guys trying to rescue her. There’s just one problem: Bambi’s escorts are Colombians. When the kidnappers enter Venezuela, the Colombian military can’t legally go in and get her. Bambi’s on his own.
Meanwhile, Prince is back in Atlanta licking his wounds after their botched rescue mission. He got shot full of holes and can’t very well still be on-mission.
Prince’s father Eric (Bradley Whitford) comes to visit him in the hospital. They have a heart-to-heart about the whole situation. Lying about working for the CIA is a pretty big lie, all things being equal. He then sings Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” to his boy. When I tell you this is one of the weirdest goddamned shows on television …
Weird events south of the border
Bambi leaves his gear in the jungle and wanders into the nearest town to eat, clean up, and call his and Amber’s contact at the CIA, Mitch (James Udom). Bambi threatens to kill him unless he helps get Amber out, but he makes sure to make it weirdly sexual when he does so. (“Notice I said Glock, not cock!” Bambi says.)
Mitch then goes home and yells at his husband David (Patch Darragh) about how he took an oath to protect the country and how that’s more important than his friends. It’s extremely bizarre.
Next, Bambi gets drunk and reminisces about the time he killed his dad for abusing Amber. Then he picks a fight with two locals (good drunk acting from Luke Evans) and loses handily. He wakes up at the bartender’s place, and starts helping her around the house to earn back her goodwill.
Bambi notices a local fisherman coming in with a big catch and decides to make friends with him. He gets the man, Javi (Nelson Camayo), drunk, and they enjoy a nice day of fishing together. Soon Bambi’s an important part of the local economy, helping Javi catch, clean and sell their fish.
Back in the states, Prince has moved on, taking a job at his dad’s tech firm and noodling a run for Congress. His dad tells him that he has to think of Amber as dead already. And indeed, people open conversations with him with the words, “Sorry for your loss” (instead of “Sorry for what’s happening.”). Soon, he begins a reluctant affair with another woman (Katherine Hughes).
What’s with Echo 3′s bizarre sexual undertones?
I’m still 100% flummoxed by Echo 3. The insistence on the sexual thread here is so purposeful, so all-encompassing, that it’s tempting to say that series creator Mark Boal (known for The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty) and his writers are trying to craft some Sadean treatise on the way guns and sex thoroughly corrupt the spirit.
Prince’s dad compares Amber lying about the CIA with lying about an ex-boyfriend’s big dick. And Prince’s sexual regression is linked directly to his faith in the belief that his wife is still alive, which does sort of track. However, the final image of this episode is of Prince receiving oral sex from a woman who seems pretty jovial about the idea of being used by a grieving husband.
Also, Bambi’s story about killing his dad to protect his sister once more brings up the uncomfortable closeness of their relationship, while the woman he’s rooming with continues to, after what appears to be weeks, pose no sexual threat to him whatsoever. I’m not saying there has to be, but this woman has a Navy SEAL in her guest room, and there isn’t even a furtive glance or anything between them. Seems rather purposeful.
Let her rot in there
Amber, meanwhile, vanishes from the episode after the opening scene of her going to the Venezuelan prison. That means that unless she’s between Prince and Bambi, she doesn’t offer up her own dramatic purpose enough to stay on screen.
When this week’s episode is just about recon in a little fishing village, or tracing Bambi’s deep cover, it’s fairly compelling on its own grammatical terms. But I still haven’t a clue what Echo 3 thinks it’s saying — and only a slightly firmer grip on what it actually is saying — week after week. I won’t say I’m not curious, but I am deeply confused.
Watch Echo 3 on Apple TV+
New episodes of Echo 3 arrive on Apple TV+ every Friday.
Watch on: Apple TV+
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.