Special Ops: Lioness review: Taylor Sheridan sends stock female characters to war

Special Ops: Lioness, the latest Paramount+ spy thriller from Taylor Sheridan, promises a gripping narrative centered around Nicole Kidman’s character, a senior CIA advisor named Kaitlyn Meade. However, in the brief glimpse we get of her in the pilot episode, she’s on screen for less than two minutes, leaving her character’s depth and impact a mystery. Instead, the focus shifts to Zoe Saldaña’s Joe, a CIA operative leading a mission to capture a Middle Eastern terrorist.

Joe heads the CIA’s Lioness program, which recruits female soldiers to infiltrate and befriend women around high-value terrorism targets. When her latest operation goes awry, resulting in the death of her operative Ariella Ezekiel, Joe becomes determined to maintain emotional distance from her next agent, Cruz Manuelos (Laysla De Oliveira), a Marine tasked with befriending Aaliyah (Stephanie Nur), the daughter of an Iranian militia leader.

The series seems to lean heavily on familiar tropes of Strong Female Characters, where traditional masculinity traits are equated with strength and success. Characters like Joe and Cruz are portrayed as tough survivors, overcoming personal tragedies and societal expectations. While the characters may lack originality, Saldaña and De Oliveira bring depth and skill to their performances, adding layers to their roles beyond what’s on the page.

Special Ops: Lioness also features Morgan Freeman and Michael Kelly in supporting roles, but their characters serve mainly as foils to the strong women of the series. While the show struggles with originality and relies on clichés, Saldaña and De Oliveira’s performances elevate the material, making it a serviceable intelligence drama. Grade: C+

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