Even though Nate and Sophie have their roles to play in the con, the story really belongs to Eliot, Hardison and Parker. Subverting the idea that hackers are ill-equipped to function in normal society, Hardison not only makes it into the fraternity as a pledge, he is quickly welcomed and respected by his fellow students for the very skills that he’d always assumed would keep him an outcast. As the episode unfolds, he begins to realize that his life with the Leverage team might be a matter of choice, not necessity.
Parker’s reactions to Hardison’s chance at the normal life he never had are by turns funny and heartbreaking. Just as the two of them are figuring out how to put a name to their feelings, and whether or not what they feel can be translated into a real relationship, Parker is forced to confront her fears that without their shared status as outcasts Hardison might choose to be with a “normal” girl. Even before Hardison’s cover is blown, however, she comes back to his dorm room looking to apologize after their very normal fight, and when she realizes that he’s in very real danger nothing will stop her from making sure he’s safe.
Eliot’s “road not travelled” is far more sobering than the hacker’s. He takes his place among the homeless veterans – becoming a test subject and ultimately being the means by which the team figures out Zilgrim’s experiment is not to try and find a cure for PTSD – it’s to discover new methods of causing it. Watching one of our own endure standard techniques for “enhanced interrogation” is particularly chilling, especially as Eliot endures it all with an inhumanly zen-like calm. He only snaps once, reminding Hardison that the stresses of his part of the con are “first world problems”.
His speech to the interrogator about how he remembers every detail about every kill he’s ever made is the most insight we’ve been given into Eliot’s past since the end of Season 3, and Christian Kane delivers the reveal flawlessly. It is particularly sobering to realize that all the good he does with his life now isn’t some attempt to achieve redemption for his past. He’s doing good for good’s sake (or for Nate’s sake?), having already accepted that he’s damned for his past and nothing will change that.
Justice is served in the end; the experiments are shut down, and the people most directly involved are jailed. One final note is left hanging by the time the credits roll…Zilgrim’s contact in the CIA is impressed with the way Nate and his team unravelled the operation.
And he’s the first to acknowledge that Nate impressing him might have less than pleasant future consequences.
Eliot: "What do you want to know? Names? Dates? Locations? (softly) You want to know what food was on their breath? Their eyes – what color their eyes were? You want to know the last words they spoke? You want to know which ones deserved it. Or, better yet, the ones that didn't? Do you want to know which ones begged? Do you know why I remember these things?"
Interrogator: "I don't know."
Eliot: "You don't know? 'Cause I can't forget. So there's nothing you can do, no punishment you can hand out that's worse than what I live with every day. So, to answer your question, no. No, I haven't counted. I don't need to."
Pics from the episode: