If you're going to put something up against Justified, a kick-ass drama fronted by Tricia Helfer and Michael Trucco is as good as you could ask for. And it's hard to argue with a title like Killer Women, too. But how does Molly Parker stack up against her tough competition? Well, that's what we're going to tell you.
Molly Parker (the ever-awesome Helfer) would rather be on a horse than picking out a cocktail dress. Thankfully, she can soon put her fashion issues aside after a bride is gunned down at the altar by a mysterious woman. Molly is promptly part of a high-speed pursuit, making fine use of the Precision Immobilization Technique to stop what she believes is the getaway car. Except the killer isn't behind the wheel.
Our frustrated heroine heads to the scene of the crime, where she irritates the local police (because that's what happens in any show where local and federal authorities have to work together) before going to speak to the still blood-covered groom. He claims not to recognize the killer - Martina Alvarez (Nadine Velasquez) - although Molly tells him that she works at one of the gyms that he owns. Plus, he apparently had gotten several phone calls from her. And after Martina is spotted at a motel and hauled in by SWAT, she insists that she was his woman on the side. The cops think it's an open-and-shut case, but since we have 51 more minutes, we know Molly's skepticism is more than healthy.
Back at the Parker ranch, Molly's adjusting to living with her brother Billy (the always-welcome-on-our-small-screens Trucco), sister-in-law Becca and their kids, all of whom are too interested in her impending divorce. Her jerk of an ex-husband, Jake, is played by Jeffrey Nordling, because aside from his role as the underappreciated Larry Moss in Season 7 of 24, he plays everyone's jerk of an ex-husband (see: Body of Proof, Once & Again). After an awkward run-in with Jake, Molly tries to make nice with Martina in order to find out what really led to her pulling the trigger, but Martina stands by her story.
Molly's boss, Luis Zea (Alex Fernandez), accompanies her to a gala where she reconnects with her new flame, DEA agent Dan Winston (Marc Blucas, returning to TV after his abrupt departure from Necessary Roughness). It doesn't take them long to end up in bed together, and it's hard to believe her when she says they can't keep doing so, because Blucas is part of the main cast. Molly's idea of afterglow is to ask Dan about her case, which he does not appreciate. Since he doesn't want to chat, Molly expresses to Luis her theory about Martina being employed by the Nuevo Laredo drug cartel, which is seemingly proven right when Martina is attacked in the prison shower.
She survives the attack but is met in her hospital room by Molly, who insists that Martina is in fear of the cartel and just trying to save her kidnapped family. To prove her point, Molly relates the story of her failed marriage, saying that she married Jake ten years ago, and then left him when he became physically abusive. "I've never told anyone the truth," she says, "and maybe I never will, because I'm ashamed. I'm ashamed that I didn't have the strength to leave sooner." It's hard to picture a woman of Helfer's toughness as ending up in that situation, but that's also what makes it interesting to watch. Martina is coerced by the story and tells Molly the truth about what really happened.
Molly takes that information to Dan, who feels more like sharing now, but he refuses to risk the assets in his case to help her get Martina's family out of Mexico. After she pleads, he agrees to go to Mexico with her instead, and is able to quickly locate where the victims are being held. This leads us to the last-act action setpiece, where Molly and Dan free the family, only to wind up in a shootout. Bullets fly and things explode, but the day is saved and a tearful reunion occurs. Molly strong-arms Jake into signing their divorce papers, and then gets a warning from her boss about coloring outside the lines, before all is once again well, at least until next week.
On the surface, Killer Women shares some similarities with NBC's short-lived 2010 series Chase, which featured a strong-willed heroine working for the U.S. Marshals in Texas. But Chase, despite best efforts from Kelli Giddish and Cole Hauser, was an average cop show on its best days. What sets Killer Women apart from that show, and apart from others of its ilk, is that the series already has a personality. We get a sense of a culture that isn't Los Angeles or New York (it's actually Albuquerque, which was also home to Breaking Bad), and all of the main characters are at least somewhat defined before the halfway point. There's the feeling here that no matter what the case of the week is, we're at least going to be interested in watching these people.
If you're a fervent fan of crime dramas like we are, you likely spotted a few things that you've seen before (which at this point is a given considering how many cop, lawyer, etc. shows are on TV). There are the scenes of animosity between local LEOs and the federal agents, because nobody ever works well together. There's the main character who isn't afraid to skirt the rules. There's the main character's ex-husband who must be a jerk, therefore justifying why he's an ex; having said that, if the existence of such a character means we get to watch Jeffrey Nordling, then we'll concede the point. And given the strength, both physical and personality-wise, that Tricia Helfer exudes, it's hard to perceive Molly as being the type of woman who'd stay in an abusive marriage - yet because it's so different from what we expect, it's really interesting to see that moment of vulnerability, which is well-played.
But having recognized those familiar notes, we're still arrested by Killer Women for a number of reasons. First and foremost, this is a hell of a cast. If you're looking for a strong leading lady, you can't do much better than Tricia Helfer, who is an enormously competent actress in addition to being stunningly beautiful and having name recognition thanks to Battlestar Galactica. Marc Blucas showed he had potential as a romantic lead when cast opposite Callie Thorne in Necessary Roughness; we'll have to see how his character develops individually, but he certainly has chemistry with Helfer. We could've done with more of Michael Trucco and Marta Milans in this episode, but even though they were only in a handful of scenes, they already feel like a married couple to us. We're as curious about Billy and Becca as we are about Molly, and that's saying something in this genre, where the family members of cops are usually just there for moral support or as future victims of crime.
And if you're not going to reinvent the wheel - which most shows don't - you at least have to make it worth the ride, and Killer Women does that. Aside from creating a sense of culture and place that separates it from other procedurals, it does all the fundamental things right. The case of the week moves at a steady clip, is easy to follow but not so easy that we feel cheated, and wraps up promptly at the end of the hour. The professional and personal aspects of the show are balanced. And when it comes time to kick behind and take names, that part's deliciously entertaining. Killer Women may not be Justified, but nobody said that it was. No, this is a midseason pleasure, fun and full of personality, putting the entertainment back in television.
For more Killer Women, check out our interview with executive producer Hannah Shakespeare. The series continues next Tuesday at 10 PM ET/PT on ABC.