You've got to appreciate this current phase of Queen Latifah's career where she is quite literally coasting on a procedural crime drama and quietly defying gender, body, and age standards that have historically been applied to action heroes. Initially, the idea that there would be a gender-bent version of a character that had already been race-bent in a tired 2014 film with Denzel Washington was exasperating. But by the end of the first season of The Equalizer, it was clear that there is something entirely fresh and reinvigorating with Latifah's vehicle.
The second season continues with that same vibe. After managing to save innocent victims of covert government and otherwise criminal operations from certain death and/or persecution last season, we find former CIA operative-turned-justice vigilante Robyn McCall (Queen Latifah) in a different headspace at the start of Season 2. Those who watched the Season 1 finale already know that while her work remains classified among certain people, including ex-CIA director William Bishop (Chris Noth) and her aunt Viola (Lorraine Toussaint), her cover was totally blown with daughter, Delilah (Laya DeLeon Hayes).
Their relationship is now so strained that Delilah's trust in her mother has all but gone out the window. So, things aren't great at home, and McCall even considers giving up her duties, which means that a lot of marginalized people who are often unable to defend themselves, the ones she prioritizes in her work, will be vulnerable.
It's a familiar way to reenter this Equalizer narrative because anyone who's watched a Bruce Willis, Clint Eastwood, or Liam Neeson movie knows that flirting with retirement is how many well-known action hero characters begin a sequel. And like them, McCall is quickly lured back when an ally, Detective Marcus Dante (Tory Kittles), makes a desperate call to her for help finding the people who gunned down his colleague.
The Equalizer, from showrunners Andrew Marlowe and Terri Miller, has always been very conscious about humanizing McCall as a protagonist who is both superhuman in some regards -- solving every case and sometimes beating up the bad guys -- and a single mother who leans on Viola for support. While it remains a mystery who Delilah's father is (McCall's love life, fortunately, has yet to be brought up as an issue to be fixed), her personal life lies squarely in her role as a mother who isn't always home to say goodnight to her child but is always there when she needs her, including for a pep talk.
Of course, McCall wrestles with those times when she isn't there, but the fact that she does shows she has a conscience about that. As for what her personality is beyond her maternal role, it's hard to tell. But any fan of procedurals can tell you that work and whether the character is single or a parent are the only defining traits they usually possess.
That's the same for McCall, who often invests in the unique talents of friends Melody "Mel" Bayani (Liza Lapira) and her husband Harry Keshegian (Adam Goldberg), a former sniper with the Air Force who moonlights as a bar owner and a master hacker, respectively, on all her cases. The couple's mild flirtations, sarcasm, and general liveliness certainly stand out against McCall's hyper serious tone, even when Harry has an uncharacteristically dramatic moment when, in Episode 2 of the new season, he considers reentering the world after faking his own death to avoid government eyes.
Even though each character is compelling to watch, at its core, The Equalizer steadies its narrative on restoring justice for people who we don't often see blockbuster action films portray in the same light. Like, in Season 2, when the gay son of a Saudi diplomat is at risk of being killed when his sexuality becomes known. Or in Season 1, when a Latina volunteer for a mayoral candidate attempts suicide after being raped by a campaign official. Amid its cool action sequences with Latifah strongarming everyone from extremists to gang members, The Equalizer's mission to expand beyond the homogenous landscape of victims and villains is apparent and necessary.
The series covers a lot of ground even with a tight one-hour network format, which includes commercials. No character is shortchanged, and every case is as interesting as the next. It's easy to stay invested in a series that is constantly willing to try new things, reconsider tropes in the genre, and humanize a hero.
TV Guide rating: 4/5
The Equalizer returns for Season 2 on Sunday, Oct. 10 at 8/7c on CBS.