Tony Scott’s Numb3rs: “Trust Metric” Episode (2007)

In 2007, Tony Scott returned to the medium of television to direct the season 4 opener of Scott Free’s series NUMB3RS.  The episode, “TRUST METRIC” finds the main characters trying to track down a former colleague, who’s escaped imprisonment after being branded as a spy for the Chinese.  The overall bend of the show is that complex math is used to solve big crimes, and generally how math can be applicable to seemingly-unrelated fields.

I had never seen an episode of this show prior to watching TRUST METRIC, and honestly, I don’t plan on watching any more.  That’s not to say it’s a well-crafted show– it’s just that police procedural television isn’t exactly my cup of tea, regardless of whether math is involved or not.  However, I’m not here to talk about the show itself; my focus is on Scott’s performance as a director.  So, without further adieu…

Television is a tricky medium for directors, because they have to conform to a pre-established look decided upon by the show’s producer or creator (unless they are directing the pilot episode).  Hiring a director like Scott with a highly-developed personal style is an even tricker proposition.  However, Scott manages to re-tool his unique aesthetic in a way that conforms to the existing tone.  Utilizing Director Of Photography Bing Sokolsky, Scott imbues the image with high contrast, as well as colors that skew towards a steel blue/green bias.  As is typical with framing for television, Scott covers the action fairly close-up, punching in for tight shots of hands, feets, lips, etc.  Camerawork is mostly handheld, and Scott employs rack zooms and 360 degree tracking shots to add punch to his more-traditional compositions.

The actors are competent, as is to be expected from a middle-of-the-road TV show.  The series stars Dave Krumholtz, a hard-working character actor who has worked for everyone from Judd Apatow to Aaron Sorkin.  NUMB3RS provides a welcome starring role for Krumholtz, and it’s satisfying to see him excel in the role of a mathematical genius who uses complex equations and algorithms to solve crimes.  Val Kilmer, puzzingly, also shows up as the episode’s antagonist– a bespectacled evil doctor proficient in interrogation and torture tactics.  Why a high-profile film actor like Kilmer is in a series like NUMB3RS is most likely attributable to the assumption that he and Scott forged a friendly working relationship on the set of DEJA VU (2006).

As for the episode itself, there’s some interesting moments.  While the story falls into the familiar television trope of overly expositional dialogue, its action is well-executed (a harrowing subway escape sequence comes to mind), and Scott juggles the fractured narrative with a steady, competent hand.  Besides my general impression that the show is to be commended for making math compelling enough for primetime TV, my other impressions were a little more scattered:  “Hey!  There’s the bad guy from GHOSTBUSTERS 2!“  “Oh look, they’re scrawling complicated math equations on a glass wall!”

A spooky observation:  the episode’s climactic battle takes place on a yacht in San Pedro Harbor, which is where Scott would leap to his death five years later from the Vincent Thomas Bridge.  The bridge itself is visible in the background of some shots.

Overall, Scott’s particular aesthetic transfers over into the realm of television without any significant compromise.  The pace is lightning quick, which suits Scott’s sensibilities quite nicely.  It’s still a step back from the chaotic heights of his style’s development, but it’s consistent with the general paring-down of sensibilities he was undergoing at that stage in his career.

NUMB3RS: “TRUST METRIC” is currently available via Netflix streaming.