After the cancellation of my beloved Counterpart, one of TV’s smartest and most emotionally potent series, Starz provided its viewers with another spy show with a supernatural twist: The Rook. Its swift eight-episode first season was an intriguing mashup of genres, a sleek take on contemporary spy stories augmented by a hint of superpowers. But the history and development of these EVAs, as the show called them, was never really explored, nor did we get a full sense of what the secretive Checquy was ever really doing with them. And while that heightened the overall mystery that followed our lead, Myfanwy, and her recent amnesia, it also contributed to a rushed and somewhat hollow finish.
The world of The Rook was an enticing one. But as we closed in on the finale, the show started putting its story into a repetitive holding pattern, reintroducing scenes and people and stakes we’d already encountered. Players who had schemed throughout the first episode were left with nothing to do in the final hours (most especially Conrad and Jennifer Birch), or given entirely too much (like Linda Farrier, whose convoluted story in the back half of the season hinged on telling rather than showing her feelings and motivations). Gestalt felt relegated to sex or punching, and little else. Monica also never grew past her pain over Marcus and his betrayal, and if the show ends here then the last we’ll see of her is collapsing and bleeding after having Nazim pull an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on her. (That scene is particularly egregious because it seems to suggest, for now, that Monica only lived for Marcus and cannot exist without him—although given her character’s arc, maybe that’s sadly not far from the truth).
There was so much potential here, and I genuinely enjoyed watching The Rook week to week and following its mystery, thanks in great part to its cool-palette London exteriors and the emotional heft that Emma Greenwell threw into her role as Myfanwy. But it didn’t stick the landing. With so much to explore with this world, too much maybe for these eight episodes, perhaps no one ultimately got a shorter shrift than Myf herself. Though we only discovered snatches of her memory and her old self as she did, the penultimate episode was a missed opportunity to fill in more of those blanks. It made her supposedly triumphant moment in the finale when she brutally used her powers against Lorik feel unearned, as we spent most of the season with her (pre and post-amnesia) not knowing what to do with them at all. Or, more to the point, even what those powers really were. The Checquy seemed to be similarly confused as to whether Myf was all-powerful or a dud. And so how, in the end, did she wield her power so darkly and effectively? And how would that affect her moving forward? (We know it’s given here severe anxiety in the past, but that—like her cutting herself—was introduced briefly and then dropped). The Rook set up a host of tantalizing ideas and mysteries in a highly stylish production with a great cast, and yet, it whiffed the ending.
Even with these lingering questions, it’s not necessarily enough to justify a second season for the show. Besides capping the season with a sudden team-up between Farrier and Bronwyn, the story felt finalized. We didn’t get to know Gestalt well enough to wonder what might happen to them if the Checquy were to fall, nor what any of that meant for the public’s awareness of EVAs and how they develop (or are found) in general. The Rook’s subtlety when it came to its character’s enhanced abilities was a way to not make the show about the abilities, which was a neat twist: it’s a spy show with powers, not a super-powered show that involves spies. But it also rather obviously cut down on the budget, as well, to not showcase those powers very often (Monica stopped using hers almost immediately).
Despite a compelling start, The Rook never became an essential series because it never grew past its initial premise of “what’s this shadow agency up to and what role does Myf play in it?” The reveal that the person who wiped Myf’s mind was, truly, Myf herself making a choice to leave fell totally flat. It should have been an Earth-shattering moment, but instead it was puzzling. Like the others, we didn’t know Myf well enough to understand the depth of this decision made so quickly, and what it meant for her or her powers. And in the end, it didn’t really seem to matter. (Including her accidentally murdering some of the good guys).
And yet, having said all of that there is certainly more to explore in this world, perhaps expanding to include other EVAs and showing them doing some actual work (for the most part Myf had a desk job and occasionally brought in potential EVAs? And yet after meeting with the highest people in the heart of this secret organization they were just dismissed back out onto the streets if Farrier and Conrad didn’t think they had enough potential?) A new season focusing on Farrier and Bronwyn (and Gestalt?) rescuing EVAs and working against the Lugat or organizations like that would be a lot of fun, but it would need to go deeper than this first season did in every way. Because of Myf’s initial confusion, we never got a sense really of what the rules of the Checquy were, what it achieved, or its value (or even what its chess piece organization really meant). That only compounded a lack of character depth. The Rook’s first season began as a fog but it never cleared; Myfanwy’s initial confusion seemed shared, in many ways, by the story itself. If it does move forward, it will need to embrace a more precise path—like its Counterpart.