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Series / The Player

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Never bet against him.

The Player is an action-thriller starring Philip Winchester and Wesley Snipes that began airing on NBC in 2015. It was created by John Rogers (Jackie Chan Adventures, Leverage). Originally scheduled to air 13 episodes, the order was reduced and production shut down after 9 with the show cancelled after the episodes were aired.

There is currently a Twitter campaign to try and find a way for the show to continue along with an online petition.

Alex Kane is Las Vegas's premier security consultant, but when his wife is killed he finds himself caught up in The Game, a high-stakes gambling ring that bets on the outcome of violent crimes - crimes that its mysterious, powerful, amoral backers can predict hours or even days in advance. Enticed by Mr. Johnson (The Pit Boss) and Cassandra King (The Dealer)'s offer of getting revenge on his wife's killer, Alex agrees to become "The Player" and "fight crime" for the amusement of the world's rich and powerful.

Soon, though, Alex finds himself suspecting that there's an even broader conspiracy at play and that there's a possibility that his wife is still alive.

The show's character page can be found here.

Not to be confused with the Korean drama series of (almost) the same name, or even the name of a film that satirizes Hollywood.

The series provides examples of:

  • All There in the Manual: There is a fairly extensive backstory for The Game.
  • Amicable Exes: Alex and Ginny, who according to each other were terrible at the married part of it, but still love each other.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: According to Cassandra, the mega-rich Gamblers have controlled every aspect of human communications since the invention of the telegraph. As the decades passed, this resulted in an equal amount of control over law enforcement and intelligence agencies - particularly their information archives. If it was ever sent through electronic communications, they've seen it. If it ever existed in any electronic database, they know it. As a result, they've ruled the world for over a hundred years. And the Game was what they came up with as a means to relieve their boredom and blow off steam, otherwise they would indulge in (more) diversions such as assassinating world leaders or starting wars.
    Cassandra: We've been inside the world's information infrastructure since the days of telegraph wire. When phones arrived, we tapped them. When security cameras were born, we installed facial-recognition software. Backdoors into law-enforcement mainframes, spyware in financial and e-mail servers.
    Mr. Johnson: The world is already watching itself, Mr. Kane. We just happen to be paying attention.
    • Aside from the House and the Gamblers, there is also a Council that has oversight over the Game. Even among the wealthy and influential people involved at all levels, the Council is supposed to be so powerful that Mr. Johnson and Cassandra can't fathom who would be so bold enough to try and go up against it.
  • Appeal to Obscurity: Mr Johnson responds to a threat by saying that Lucky Luciano made the exact same threat to one of his predecessors, when the bad guy asks who that is, he responds "Exactly". One of the rare cases where the obscure person is actually relatively well known in real life
  • Batman Gambit:
    • Johnson manipulates Alex into volunteering to stop the gang war in "Downtown Rules" by initially indicating the bet was merely a choice between which gang would win, knowing Alex would want to try and save lives.
    • Cassandra and Alex create a bet to see how Johnson reacts in order to determine once and for all if he was involved in Ginny's disappearance.
  • Beware the Silly Ones: Invoked and enforced in "House Rules" by Mr. Johnson, who pretends to be a drunken loudmouth in a casino in order to be grabbed by security and taken to the owner's office. He quickly knocks out/kills the two guards once inside.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: Cassandra is able to utilize Las Vegas's extensive CCTV coverage to keep watch over Alex whenever he plays the Game. Her resources are more limited whenever the Game is played outside of Vegas, but she can tap into spy satellites, maps, and GPS to keep fairly accurate tabs on Alex.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The Lees, Ginny's family. Ginny's sister is apparently a strict and prudish woman according to her daughter (Alex's niece) Danny, who herself is a rebellious, clever teen who seems prone to Didn't Think This Through. Ginny's mom is a bitter Lady Drunk, and Ginny herself has numerous secrets and a Mysterious Past. The family is even bigger and more screwed up if you count Alex and his Dark and Troubled Past.
  • Carnival of Killers: A group of bounty hunter assassins are the bad guys in "The Big Blind."
  • City of Adventure: Las Vegas. Justified in part by the House being based there, although Games can involve the entire Southwest region, and are implied to span countries.
    • Confirmed to span outside of the Southwest in "House Rules," which is set mostly in Seattle.
  • Complaining About Rescues They Don't Like: After Alex stops an attempt on his life, Mr. Raqiv is more concerned with the fact that Alex used a very expensive bottle of wine as a melee weapon and spilled its contents in the process.note 
  • The Conspiracy: Beyond The Game, there's whatever happened to Ginny.
    • "The Norseman" reveals that there's someone out there with enough clout to start poking around about The Game and Johnson can't get stop the investigation by simply asking for it, as he usually can.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Deconstructed. Mr. Johnson agrees with Alex's assertion that the House's resources would be better off serving legitimate law enforcement but the Gamblers, people wealthy and powerful enough to bring about good change if they wanted to, are simply not interested in helping the world as a whole.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Alex and Mr. Johnson get into it often. In "The Big Blind," Johnson snarks twice about the odds against Alex not being high enough.
  • Deconstructor Fleet: Every element of Action/Adventure Series is put through the grinder.
    • The Central Theme is a downright deconstruction of Vigilante Man series like The Executioner or The Destroyer; the The Player's backers actually have authority over the system any other vigilante would see himself as superior to, and Alex would much rather work within the system as he has personal experience of what working outside the law will do to his psyche. However, his resources are under the control of an Ancient Conspiracy of absurdly rich sociopaths who can't be considered civic-minded by any definition of the term - they're only supporting him to watch him kill people/blow stuff up and roughly half the funding comes from fat cats who hope he'll either fail or die. Mr. Johnson agrees that it would be much better if the technology the Player uses to "fight crime" was part of legitimate law enforcement, but the Gamblers wouldn't find that to be as much fun, and they're the Powers That Be and things would be a lot worse if the Game didn't exist for the Gamblers' amusement. He's able to do so many things because Police Are Useless, but only because they're forcibly Locked Out of the Loop by the House.
    • The gambling themes; the odds that Alex will successfully prevent a given crime are judged as absurdly low, but just about every form of institutionalized gambling ultimately has similar odds of failure.
    • The whole idea of a Oddly Small Organization that pulls a We Help the Helpless routine gets broken down. It's small but effective because it doesn't focus on helping those in need, but only on the crimes that the Pit Boss thinks will amuse the Gamblers. It manages to avoid detection from the authorities not by guile or plot holes, but through blackmail and intimidation. It's well-funded, but also seems to run through personnel rapidly. Alex is only the latest of a long line of quickly dead Players.
    • The idea of Stuffed in the Fridge as a motivation for action heroes. Ginny dies early in the pilot, sending Alex into becoming The Unfettered again. Even when he joins the House, he's still running on anger and a self-destructive pattern. When it's revealed that Ginny's not dead, he gets way more motivated and starts putting his Guile Hero nature to work. Much of the drama and story spins out of the fact that Ginny didn't die like Alex thought.
    • The Ancient Conspiracy. The Game isn't some goal-oriented scheme by visionaries or Knight Templar, but just something a bunch of bored rich sociopaths do because Evil Is Petty. Rather than being all powerful and foreseeing things, the Gamblers are powerful, but can't control every action. Case in point: Their early Bets spiraled out of control into World War One and necessitating the creation of the House. And since the Gamblers are in multiple generations, different views on the Game exist, even in families (as Zeing and his uncle demonstrate). The Council has control, but still doesn't have unlimited power. Why? Even the Gamblers still have lives outside of the Game; Zeing has his Triad shipping business, Lettis his judicial job. And they can't just go ordering people around outside of their jurisdiction. The entire reason the Ancient Conspiracy seems to even still exist at this point is because of money, and because the Game is so narrowly focused that it doesn't consume the Gamblers' lives or have a larger goal.
  • Double Entendre: Mr. Johnson and Agent Nolan's entire interactions in "Downtown Odds" basically consist of these. What is a date by any other name is called an "interrogation."
  • Downer Ending: Although Alex stops the gang war in "Downtown Odds", the girl from one gang he was trying to protect and help get out of the life is killed and her boyfriend from the other gang who also wanted a better life for himself returns to the fold as a result.
  • Elites Are More Glamorous: The House thinks so, that's why it's recruiting special forces operators as Players.
  • Enemy Mine: Invoked by Mr. Johnson to Cassandra in "A House Is Not A Home." He tells her that even if they don't trust each other, it's time to work together because someone's trying to take down the House.
  • Exact Words: The bets have very specific conditions and a deadline, and once that deadline is passed, the Player and the House are freed from some of their rules. In "The Norseman", because Alex prevented the second sacrifice before midnight, the bet was over and Johnson was free to intervene to save Alex and his niece, while Cassandra was free to tip off the police where they could find the serial killer's body.
    • In "Downtown Odds", Alex thinks he's lost the bet because two gangs have gone to war, but Johnson reminds him the bet was that Alex would stop the war, not prevent it.
  • Expy: "The House" can be considered as one to "The Cabal" from The Blacklist and to "The Patriots" from the Metal Gear series. Both organizations have members who come from influential and powerful circles worldwide.
  • Fair Cop: Nolan. She's an FBI agent, but still.
  • Florence Nightingale Effect: Alex met and fell for Ginny when she patched up a bullet wound he took in Sudan.
  • For the Lulz: Mr. Johnson explains that once people hit a certain level of wealth, most games seem meaningless because the stakes aren't high enough to affect their fortunes so they turn to playing with people's lives for amusement. The Game exists because without an organized system, these wealthy people would start wars for fun.
    Mr. Johnson: People need an outlet for their base desires or else they will act out. The Gamblers are no different, except that when they act out, they destroy nations. Rewrite maps.
    Cassandra: Kill presidents.
  • Guile Hero: Alex is a badass, but his victory in each and every Game comes mainly from his ability to adapt, improvise, and manipulate others.
  • The Group: Known as "The House" in this show. Comprised of "The Pit Boss", "The Dealer", and "The Player", they fight crime for the amusement of "The Gamblers"; a worldwide cabal of rich and powerful people who place multi-million dollar bets on the Player's odds of success, failure or death.
  • Historical In-Joke: Beyond the casual line about the Gamblers killing presidents, the show has a few. The House and the Gamblers have had many deals with many major players in the last century and a half. Mr. Johnson mentions that one of his predecessors did business with Lucky Luciano.
    • In "A House Is Not A Home," Mr. Johnson visits the mausoleum of Theodore Roe, a Chicago mob boss from the early 20th century.
  • Hollywood Healing: Averted for the most part. If Alex gets hurt he's suffering for at least the duration of an episode if not more. For instance, the gunshot Alex gets in episode 4 carries over to episode 5 and the wound reopens from exertion. In the same episode, a jump out a two-story window leaves Alex limping for the rest of the Game.
    • The gunshot wound aversion is lampshaded by Mr. Johnson. "A bandage and Aspirin didn't do the trick?"
  • I Call It "Vera": The House's crime-prediction algorithm/operating system is called "Ada", after Ada Lovelace - an English mathematician whose work with Charles Babbage was the basis of the earliest computing machines, and whose lost work was used by Thomas Edison to create the first iteration of the system.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Alex slams a mook onto a roulette wheel with lethal results.
  • Inspector Javert: Agent Nolan.
  • Ironic Echo: At the beginning of the pilot episode, a rival security consultant asserts that his principal has better protection than the President of the United States. Alex quips that he shouldn't find that completely assuring, as six presidents have been shot. At the episode's end, the Dealer says that the Gamblers tend to kill presidents when they're bored.
  • Lampshade Hanging: In keeping with its Deconstruction focus, Cassandra and Alex often point out how it looks like Alex is talking to himself or hearing voices when using an unseen earpiece (like the kind many TV shows use, sans lampshade).
  • Large and in Charge: Mr. Johnson is the Pit Boss. He's played by the hulking Wesley Snipes, and is a Lightning Bruiser.
  • Large Ham: Invoked by Mr. Johnson when posing as FBI agent Forrester. Southern accent and all.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Mr. Johnson.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Because The House deals with so many rich and powerful people, Mr. Johnson has the cachet to get high-level government officials and feared underworld figures to do his bidding simply by asking nicely.
    • And then discovers to his surprise that he can't get Agent Nolan reassigned to stop her investigation because she's protected by high level officials.
  • Man of Wealth and Taste: Mr. Johnson.
  • Morality Pet: This is what Kane's wife was in the backstory.
  • Mundane Utility: The House has an immensely complex algorithm that can apparently predict crime before it happens. Rather than helping law enforcement, it's used to keep the ultra-wealthy amused.
  • Mysterious Past: Everyone has one. Everyone. Alex's is the most revealed, and even then, there are still details missing.
  • No Kill like Overkill: According to Kane's old task force colleague in episode 2, Alex once killed a guy by beheading him. Beheading him by unloading two clips worth of bullets into the guy's neck.
  • Non-Idle Rich: Agent Nolan comes from a wealthy family in Philadelphia, but went into the FBI.
  • Nothing Personal: Said word for word by Suarez, the hitman and The Heavy in "LA Takedown", to Alex. He even suggests, if Alex steps aside, they'd get beers later.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: A bit different in that it is the hero who insists that he is the same as the villain of the week, the only difference being he got lucky and met his wife whereas this guy didn't.
  • Out of Character Is Serious Business: When Mr. Johnson finds his mentor Samuel Lettis dead in a mausoleum, the in-control Pit Boss becomes a scared, jumpy man, afraid he'll be killed next.
    • In "Tell," Alex interrogates Fuller (a man who specializes in helping people disappear, and worked with Ginny to do that) and goes full The Unfettered. He's firing guns in the man's face, punching him, and snarling. Even Mr. Johnson, who had just seen Alex in a state of Tranquil Fury not long ago, is taken aback.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: After Alex stops a wife-beating mobster from having his wife killed, Mr Johnson arranges for the mobster to be transferred to a prison where the wife's extremely pissed off mob boss father is serving time.
    • After stopping a vigilante bomber from killing a bank executive for ruining his (and others) life, Alex and Mr. Johnson use the already-there explosives to blow up the executive's house, without casualties.
  • Police Are Useless: Played With. The House has enough clout to make them back off so that "The Player" act in their stead - and Alex would much rather let them do it, save that the Gamblers think it's more fun if he does it himself.
    • One of the reveals in third episode is that an FBI agent is investigating on her own why so many ex special operations veterans are moving to Vegas and then disappearing. She's Properly Paranoid to make sure her investigation isn't discovered.
  • Precrime Arrest: Sort-of. Through a combination of surveillance and statistics, the House can predict any resource-intensive crime hours if not days in advance. However, the people who commissioned the system are more interested in amusement than law enforcement, and use the system to place bets on the likelihood that criminals will get away. They also discovered that most of them do, and started funding a single vigilante to interfere with particularly interesting crimes; the titular Player.
    Mr. Johnson: ...there is one constant; Human nature. Our willingness to commit sin to get what we desire. You understand human nature, and then the rest is just data analysis.
    • In the first three episodes, the Player is looking to stop criminals from continuing to prevent more crime (such as a Syndicate assassin who's already killed three).
  • Rags to Riches: Mr. Johnson and Samuel Lettis both came from a poor neighborhood in Chicago to seats of power (and money).
  • Reed Richards Is Useless: Alex berates Johnson and Cassandra for not using their algorithm to end crime altogether. Johnson retorts that the algorithm and their game is the only thing stopping the rich and powerful from causing worldwide destruction For the Lulz.
  • Resignations Not Accepted: The Player is appointed for life but, because of just how dangerous the position is, most Players only last a few months.
    • "A House is Not a Home" reveals that all Pit Bosses are former Players. Resignation's not accepted, but promotion is possible.
  • Rule of Drama; Johnson selects crimes for bets based solely on their entertainment value; a kidnapping by an extremely competent terrorist group, an armed robbery by an old friend of Alex's who has gone insane, one of the ten best snipers in the world. A lot of the stupidly low odds aren't based on if Alex will merely fail in preventing the crime, but the likelihood that the target will kill him. The Gamblers are some very bored sociopaths with way too much money who want to scratch the same itch as middle-class people who blow the month's rent on horses or scratch tickets, and the odds on those are every bit as stupid.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Alex's assault on the abandoned mall is half motivated by the desire to rescue a kidnapped girl and half motivated by the desire to get revenge on his wife's killer (the same man committed both crimes).
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: The members have enough power to get the police to break from a high-speed chase over their radios.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Mr. Johnson is always in impeccable suits.
  • Shown Their Work: Philip Winchester's extensive training with military units and veterans for Strike Back carries over here; Alex Kane holds and fires guns, and moves in a very accurate-to-special forces operators way.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: When confronted with the fact that her husband's head of security helped kidnap her daughter, Mrs. Raqiv unhesitatingly slams a knife into the man's hand and threatens to start cutting him into pieces if he doesn't start cooperating.
  • Small Girl, Big Gun: Cassandra assembles a large sniper rifle in "LA Takedown." It's taller than her.
  • Spotting the Thread: Cassandra is scarily good at this as shown in "A House is Not a Home" when she examines the security footage of Ginny supposedly taken at Miami International Airport and notes that the reflection on the car Ginny exited is showing an urban street, not an airport terminal, indicating the background in the image was photoshopped in to disguise the true location.
  • Technician Versus Performer: Part of the conflict between Mr. Johnson and Alex. The former is prone to suggesting a well-thought out strategy, but Alex (who is a Guile Hero and Badass Bookworm) is forced to live in the moment during the games and often has to rely on pulling an Indy Ploy. On the flip side, Alex's fighting style comes from law enforcement and military methods, which rely on practicality and simplicity. Johnson meanwhile uses much more showy martial arts (although he's no less deadly).
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: The House is not the most trustworthy office space. Alex started his employment promising to throw Mr. Johnson out a window. They work together to win the Games, but Alex, Johnson, and Cassandra are all keeping many secrets from each other, and investigating each others secrets.
  • True Neutral: In-Universe. The House exists to choose which crimes the Gamblers will bet on and ensures that the rules are strictly adhered to with no outside interference. If anyone, including the Gamblers (the world's wealthiest and most powerful people), breaks the rules, the Pit Boss is expected to quickly and strictly (read: lethally) make sure everyone knows why that isn't a good idea.
  • Wham Episode: The fifth episode, "House Rules." It reveals a bit more of Mr. Johnson's backstory, one of the Gamblers is shown, a conspiracy against Mr. Johnson/the House is mentioned, and more of the House's rules are explained. Most importantly, Ginny is confirmed to be alive, being held captive by unknown parties. But she manages to make contact with Alex. Cassandra also discovers Ginny's survival, to her own shock.
    • In "Tell" Johnson, Alex, and Cassandra all are finally on the same page, at least insofar as Ginny's disappearance is concerned, and all realize that someone is playing them against each other, someone more powerful than the Gamblers. And it's revealed that Ginny tried to disappear on her own. And her storage space had a hidden room full of military grade weapons.
  • Wham Line: At the end of the second episode:
    Mr. Johnson (to Alex): I don't think your wife is dead either.
    • From the sixth episode:
    Judge Samuel Lettis (to Mr. Johnson): They enjoy watching [Alex] Play almost as much as they enjoyed watching you.
  • Wham Shot: "Pilot" reveals that Cassandra knows Ginny from around the time Ginny first met Alex.
    • More importantly, when Alex goes to the morgue at the end of the pilot episode to symbolically "re-marry" Ginny by putting her wedding ring back on her hand, he finds that a tell-tale tattoo the ring covered up is missing; it's not her.
    • In "House Rules," Cassandra scanning security footage to find Ginny's body bag swapped with another on the way to the morgue.
  • Working the Same Case: A variant. Due to Alex being a security consultant for wealthy or powerful people, his clients often end up involved in the Games. This happens in the pilot and the fourth episode.
    • Alex and Cassandra are both working to find out the truth about what happened to Ginny, but neither trusts the other enough to tell them. This changes in "Downtown Odds".