Sitting at a bar in the desolate North African desert, an undercover agent suddenly hears a truck engine rumbling outside. Seconds later, three men burst into the bar. They’re all furious, and they’re all wielding weapons.
Adrenaline and instinct kick in as the spy takes them down one by one, dispatching the first by dousing him with a kerosene-like substance and setting him on fire and then shooting the second man. The third attacker puts up more of a fight, until his neck is snapped by the agent’s bare hands.
This violent, heart-pounding scene is our intro to the latest take-no-prisoners female operative on prime-time TV: Sam Hunter (Melissa George), the protagonist in the new Cinemax series, Hunted, which premieres Oct. 19 (see the trailer below). Sam works for Byzantium, a morally ambiguous private firm specializing in global intelligence and espionage. The show follows Sam as she performs her missions while struggling to flush out the mole on her team who tried to get her killed.
As a woman spy on TV, Sam has some stellar company: Carrie Mathison, the CIA officer portrayed by Claire Danes on Showtime hit Homeland, now in its second season. Not since the glory days of ABC’s Alias with Jennifer Garner as tough, wig-wearing CIA agent Sydney Bristow have women had such license to kick butt. Like Sydney, Carrie and Sam are complex, engaging characters: savvy, independent and physically strong yet emotionally vulnerable and even a bit damaged.
“Growing up, I watched loads of TV, and my favorite shows were Mission Impossible and I Spy,” says Frank Spotnitz, Hunted’s creator and an executive producer. Spotnitz is best known for his role as a writer and an executive producer on The X Files. A few years ago, he wanted to write an espionage drama. “But it was daunting to think about because there’s been so much good work. How do you do something different?”
His solution: Make the lead a woman. He says, “It subverts expectations. X Files, for example, worked because we flipped the genders. People assumed the coldhearted scientific mind would be the man, so it was much more interesting for him to be the believer and the woman to be the scientist.” Spotnitz also liked that throwing a female into the male-dominated spy world would instantly render her an underdog.
He actually had a chance to work with Howard Gordon, Homeland’s writer and codeveloper, back when Gordon authored a few episodes of The X Files. Spotnitz is frank in his admiration of Homeland. “I think it’s terrific. It’s great and smart and compelling.”
With Hunted, Spotnitz aims to deliver a program that combines suspense and action with a “psychological complexity” in the vein of Homeland. And just as Claire Danes’ Carrie struggles with mental illness, Sam has her own trauma to overcome: her mother’s murder. He says, “At the heart of every episode is the theme: Can any of us overcome our past?”