It’s funny, I wasn’t planning on doing a complete rewatch of Leverage any time soon, and yet here we are. I actually have a kind of schedule (because I am a majorly too organized dork) of what I’m watching, catching up on, or starting over and Leverage was not on that list for a while. But I guess a couple of weeks ago I needed something to put on while I folded laundry or something like that and one thing led to another. It screwed up my whole schedule, but it’s such a good show that I guess I can forgive it. Not to mention it gave me an opportunity to reorganize my viewing calendar and I like planning things.
Like I said, I’m a giant dork.
The thing about rewatching great shows is it’s always such a treat to discover something new about a thing you already love. Maybe there’s a character that never really stood out to you before or a piece of the puzzle that just all of a sudden clicks with you. There’s always something you missed.
This is only the second time I’ve seen Leverage all the way through (having sadly, only started watching right before the fifth and final season), and it’s not that I missed Eliot the first time around, it’s more that I was focused on Parker and Hardison and their mutual love of pretzels. Not to mention, it’s part of Eliot’s person to just kind of…fade into the background.
But this time, this time when I already knew when Parker was going to be able to declare her true feelings for the pretzels, my focus shifted a little bit. And landed on Eliot.
Eliot Spencer is a bit of an odd duck when it comes to the crew of Leverage, Inc. Firstly, he came into his life of crime completely different than everyone else. Sophie, Parker, Hardison – they’re all criminals for gain. They’re criminals for the sake of being criminals. Whether they were conning people out of artistic masterpieces, stealing their diamonds, or siphoning funds, it was all just because someone else had something shiny they wanted for themselves. Nate, obviously, started out as an honest man. He had criminal roots, what with his father’s dealings with the Irish mob in Boston, but he managed to go legit as an insurance man. His turn to a life of crime (Robin Hood-esque crime, but crime all the same) wasn’t from greed, but it was still for personal reasons: revenge on the insurance company that ensured his son’s death.
But Eliot was different. Eliot, we know, was actually a little more like Nate. He was a good ol’ boy from down South, a bright eyed kid who pledged his life to the United States of America. He had ideals and he had values and he was going to do some good in the world. But somewhere along the way things got twisted and he left the military without much to start a clean life with. The military gave him skills and drive that weren’t in line with who he started out as, and he couldn’t fight against that forever. There were people out there who would pay very highly for his abilities.
It struck me that Eliot’s line of work at the beginning of the show is a Retrieval Specialist. He doesn’t steal for himself. He’s not going for the Davids or the diamonds for himself, but for others. He gets paid well for it, sure, but he’s not doing it because he wants what other people have, the way it is for Sophie, Parker, and Hardison. He does it because it’s one of the only things he’s qualified to do. He’s also carrying a lot of guilt – guilt for what he did during his time in the military, guilt for losing the bright-eyed idealism of his youth, guilt for the person he’s become. He doesn’t deserve legitimacy. The things that he’s done and the things that he can do leave him with working with people like Damian Moreau as his only option.
Which in turn gives his relationship with Nate such poignancy. Nate is someone who took those skills and abilities, all those things that Eliot had acquired and developed and used to hurt other people, and showed him how to do something good with them. He showed him how to give back and help people. And you can see just how grateful Eliot is for that chance to turn his life around. Eliot isn’t one to suffer fools or to stay loyal where it isn’t deserved, and Nate gives him several reasons throughout the series’ run to turn on him. But Eliot never will. Not on the man who brought him into the light.
As rich and deep as Eliot’s relationship to Nate is, for me the real joy of the series comes from the three “kids” of the family: Eliot, Parker, and Hardison.
Eliot and Parker are a lot alike in certain ways. There’s a…distance to both of them, I guess. It’s not coldness, it’s not lack of empathy, it’s just…distance. An ability to disengage, to compartmentalize. There can be guilt that comes with that, that comes with being the practical one instead of the emotional one, the one who knows how to cut losses. And Eliot tries to be a good big brother to Parker and guide her through the guilt of being that person, like in their (incredibly heartbreaking) discussion during “The Long Way Down Job.”
This is what we’re supposed to do! We’re supposed to get him back to his wife! Nate would do it. Sophie would do it. Hardison would do it. They would do the right thing. I want to do the right thing!
Hey! It was a good thing it was us.
Because we’d leave him?
Because they would have kept trying. And they would have froze to death right next to him, especially Hardison. So it was a good thing it was us. The two of us, we do things they can’t. Won’t.
That makes us bad?
It makes us…us.
Eliot’s relationship with Hardison is much more antagonistic, and there are a lot of things that cause that. First and foremost, they just have a serious personality clash. Eliot is quiet and contemplative, whereas Hardison is flash and swagger. He’s a braniac and a braggart and he grates on every last one of Eliot’s nerves. Not to mention, throughout the series they show some serious “sporty big brother of a genius little brat” vibes.
Hardison is a genius. His hacking skills are basically unparalleled and their entire operation would basically fall apart without his knowledge of basically all forms of technology, not to mention his ability to create aliases for all of them, increasingly better grift characters, and even the ability to forge priceless antiquities. And his smarts are praised constantly – often because he demands it. Even Eliot tells him that he’s the smartest man he’s ever met. Eliot, on the other hand, is the muscle.
This isn’t to say that Eliot isn’t smart. He absolutely is. His smarts just manifest themselves differently. It takes incredibly intelligence and skill to master the martial arts that Eliot has. Not to mention his often used catch-phrase, “It’s a very distinctive [whatever],” shows him to be almost obsessively observant. Eliot is no dummy. He’s just much quieter about it and his intelligence is often brushed aside as random violence (don’t let him and Sophie talk about sports) or not realized as intelligence because it’s so weird, like all his distinctive haircuts and stances and static and footprints.
I’m not saying that Eliot is jealous of Hardison exactly, it’s more that it can be annoying to be so aware that you’re being underestimated. Nate took Hardison under his wing for a time in order to help him garner the skills to lead his own crew. And when Nate and Sophie eventually decided to retire Leverage, Inc into the hands of their kids, it was Parker who was left as the Mastermind after similar mentoring from Nate. And Eliot was told to protect them.
Of course, no matter how antagonistic Eliot and Hardison seem on the surface, you only have to watch “The Grave Danger Job” to see just how deeply Eliot and Hardison actually feel for each other. All of them care for each other, but as Hardison’s rescued from a coffin after being buried alive, it’s Eliot who drops all pretenses of indifference. I don’t think we’ve ever seen Eliot move that fast as he straight up leaps over a headstone, drags Hardison out of the coffin, and pulls him into a tight embrace as Hardison cries into his shoulder.
Never do that again, man. Don’t do that again.
In the end, I think Eliot embraces his role as the protector. Parker and Hardison are his family now. They’re the people he’s responsible for and responsible to. They’re the people who care what happens to him. They’re the people who keep him in the light. And while they may get on his nerves and bring out some of his more crotchety and prickly sides, he loves them. He will kill for them. He will die for them. He’s there.