SERIES REVIEW – Echo 3, an action-adventure thriller with elements of war, wanders into familiar territory when its protagonists plan a rescue mission in Colombia, during which the husband and brother of an American researcher (both US Special Forces commandos) travel to the country to rescue the woman. We’ve watched the first three episodes of Echo 3, which has been available to stream on Apple TV+ since 23 November 2022.
Journalist, screenwriter, and producer Mark Boal has created a series of popular and successful films over the past decades. After leaving a freelance journalist and screenwriter career, he rose to fame with his 2009 film The Land of Bombs. It was a war thriller that won Oscars for Best Picture, Director and Original Screenplay. It was eventually selected for special archiving by the Library of Congress because of its significance. Boal went on to write Zero Dark Thirty, a film about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, and Along the Border, a war film. Zero Dark Thirty was also a big hit. Boal, who already has his own “big screen” profession and career, has now moved to the small screen with the release of Echo 3 on Apple TV+, so this is his television debut.
Rescue operation after wife and brother
Echo 3, set in Colombia and the United States, continues the themes and story threads that appear in Boal’s other films and works. In the film, two soldiers launch their own rescue mission after the disappearance of one of their beloved brothers and the wife of the other, a researcher, on the border between Venezuela and Colombia. The series has been officially ordered by Apple for its streaming service, which launches in summer 2020, and is an adaptation of an original Israeli drama. Boal has been attached to the series from the very beginning of the concept. A year later, he landed the two male leads and filming began. When the trailer was released in October 2022, the series was officially broadcast a month later, in November 2022.
Echo 3 stars Dutch actor Michiel Huisman (Game of Thrones, The Flight Attendant) and Luke Evans (Beauty and the Beast, Pinnochio). They are joined in the cast by actress Jessica Collins, who plays their missing sister and wife Amber. Bradley Whitford appears briefly in the first episode of the series as Amber’s father. The series delves deep into the complex relationship between developing countries and the United States, particularly in relation to the drug wars. With dialogue in the original Spanish and English, the engaging elements of Echo 3 make it feel as if you’ve stepped into both worlds.
A complex rescue operation
Echo 3 begins in media res, with the series’ opening scenes showing civilians being brought to their knees with guns to their heads. This stark, harrowing moment of life and death shocks the viewer, establishing the context for Echo 3. Six months earlier, a woman (Jessica Ann Collins), about to be executed, is preparing for a wedding. Her name is Amber, and she’s quite nervous ahead of the donation event. She has good reason to be: she’s worried because her brother (Evans) and her husband-to-be (Huisman) are two special commando soldiers who are on the most harrowing missions. They are two professionally trained soldiers, but the danger of their lives in the mission immediately after the wedding is not lost on them.
Amber, a renowned female scientist and the public equivalent of the series’ Ted performances, goes missing in Colombia, along the Venezuelan border. Her husband is worried that something might happen to her if she goes to such a dangerous country, but she at first dismisses his concerns, believing that the addiction research she is doing is harmless and would not warrant putting herself in danger. Her instinct is proven wrong when armed men appear who are members of a local guerrilla group and end up taking the group hostage. In the opening moments of the first episode, Amber and her team are rounded up by the men and prepared for possible execution, while a gunshot rings out before cutting to the next scene.
Our heroes take matters into their own hands
When her husband and brother find out what has happened and that her companions may have been executed, they decide to take matters into their own hands and head to Colombia to rescue Amber. The government and the CIA can’t do it fast enough or efficiently enough, and with their combined experience they are the right guys for the job. Flashbacks throughout show the missions and traumas this pair have been through, and while such a job is risky, especially considering how high the stakes are now, they don’t think it’s impossible to do it alone. But as their rescue attempt evolves and at times fails, the two are tested as the stress and stakes increase.
The relationship between her brother Bambi and her husband Prince (Prince) often turns into a fight. Despite their common background and shared experiences, there are tense scenes when emotional heavyweights erupt during arguments at dinner in Amber’s presence. A recent mission gone wrong has an unexpected outcome, leading to even more tension between the two friends. Amber and Bambi apparently didn’t have the happiest childhoods either, as their conversations with their parents and each other reveal, and Prince, the family outsider, had a much better fate than they did. He grew up rich, and despite the somewhat ridiculous names for their characters, their names make sense. Prince calls Bambi a peasant for a reason, to make fun of him, emphasising the privilege he has enjoyed all his life.
A cinema-like experience
What works really well in Echo 3 is the cinema-like experience. Whether it’s a character-following tracking shot, or a subtle force dynamic created by the angle of the camera placement, the scenes flow and move beautifully. Sounds and sound effects that exploit 3D on the right device also show real professionalism, whether it’s the gunfire of a violent confrontation, jazz, or even the silence juxtaposed with a loud, explosive argument. These add to the tension of the plot, as we feel that every minute wasted could result in Amber being killed or seriously injured. At the same time, the character of Amber is not merely the typical woman in need of rescue (‘damsel in distress’) and is capable of acting completely independently. She handles the gravity of her situation with self-awareness and poise, prepared by her childhood difficulties. She remains composed even when her captors suspect her of lying about her work.
The first episode feels disjointed at times, switching abruptly between different periods and conflicts before finding its place and pace in the subsequent episodes. Echo 3 jumps back and forth between past and present at will, which is sometimes really confusing because you don’t know at which moment the current scene is taking place. Perhaps this problem will be solved in later episodes, but for now it is to the detriment of the series. Although the acting is good and consistent throughout, the relationships of some of the characters are also strongly questioned based on the jumbled scenes. Bambi and Prince are supposed to be friends, not just comrades, but the series doesn’t really convince me of that.
Here too, the conventions of the genre put their stamp on the story
At the same time, Echo 3 falls into the conventions of the genre and the subject matter it wants to take on. The bad guys are given little context as to why they do what they do, and so the series falls prey in part to feeding clichéd narratives about the region.
Also, part of the story is challenged by how Bambi and Prince go about things. They are not the perfect heroes to fly to Colombia, swoop in and save the day. However, they are convinced that they are better for the job than anyone else in the United States, which takes a lot of arrogance. As we delve deeper into the nature of Amber’s research in later episodes, their flaws become even more apparent, ultimately making them even more human. While this makes the two characters likeable, it also makes the series itself lose a little of its authenticity.
Magnificent scenery, exciting action, but questionable historical choices
But there is much to admire about it beyond the more negative aspects of the series. Thanks to great cinematography, we can enjoy beautiful landscapes surrounding the characters. At times the camera gets up close and intimate with the actors, at other times we are dazzled by the big shots or the camera work that matches the dynamic action.
Beyond the simple story of a hostage rescue, Echo 3 makes you think about the nature of class relations within the military and the complexity of such situations. There are a lot of grey areas to consider, especially when it comes to an international operation like this – there really is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ side, just predators and victims everywhere. The action sequences are tense and exciting, but at the same time the time line shifts are often confusing and the decisions made by certain characters are at times completely illogical. That said, fans of political dramas, war and hostage rescue thrillers will strongly recommend this excellent series.