Colin Salmon is one of Limitless’ biggest assets. Bradley Cooper is busy making David O. Russell movies and voicing a trigger-happy raccoon in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, so Salmon serves as the series’ big bad, issuing cryptic orders from Morra and bumping off anyone who can tie the senator to NZT. Sands is your standard-issue British henchman, the kind of suave bad guy who has a penchant for dark liquor and clandestine meetings in the dark, but Salmon elevates a fairly basic role. When the story gets a little ridiculous — remember, this is a show about a crime-solving stoner guy who takes a magic pill that gives him brain superpowers — Salmon is the kind of actor who can really sell it, and you believe every word that comes out of his mouth.
But although he’s pretty good at being a bad guy, Salmon is also really funny. Aziz Ansari’s Netflix series Master of None had plenty of great cameos and guest stars, but Salmon stole the show as a deadpan version of himself who adores Cinnabon, dominoes, and his late cat, Shakespeare. Sands has spent a lot of his time on Limitless making threats, but Tuesday’s episode let Salmon get a little more emotional — and goofy! — as we take a deep dive into Sands’ backstory.
The episode kicks off with the return of Brian’s sister, Rachel, who once again comes over for Thai food and a fantasy show that may or may not be Game of Thrones. (Limitless name-dropped GoT a few episodes ago, but this time around, they’re taking great care not to actually say the title of the show. I wonder if HBO’s lawyers swooped in on dragons and threatened to behead chastised them.) Brian and Rachel’s super chill night, however, is interrupted by the arrival of a bleeding and very grumpy Sands, who has an enormous shard of glass lodged in his thigh and needs Brian to take an NZT pill and remove it — without calling 911 or Sen. Morra.
Brian has to rely on his extensive medical knowledge — a.k.a. reading his brother’s med school textbooks once — to complete this impromptu game of Operation and remove the glass, but as soon as he does, Sands immediately collapses with a blocked lung, and Brian has to stab him in the chest with a knitting needle. And they say Game of Thrones is gory.
For a guy who’s just been STABBED IN THE CHEST, Sands recovers remarkably quickly, and after crossing a name off a mysterious piece of paper, he informs Brian that he still needs his help — and a change of clothes. (I’m not sure how Brian will ever take Sands’ threats seriously again after seeing him in a Female Body Inspector T-shirt). After Brian begrudgingly agrees to help, Sands tasks him with finding a man named Frederick Tanner and gradually begins to fill in his own backstory.
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The show illustrates Sands’ story in the way Brian envisions it: as a comic book. It’s a nifty storytelling choice — too many voice-overs or flashbacks would bog down the narrative — and it helps unspool Sands’ tale. Sands grew up in Kent as wild child member of a punk band, joining in with mining protests. When a protester threw a brick and killed a cop, Sands was arrested, and a man named Tanner approached him and asked him to inform on the protesters. If he said no, they were going to pin the cop’s murder on his father (who was also a miner). So began Sands’ espionage career, which led him to MI-6. There, he joined a five-man team reporting to Tanner, with all five members named after Hollywood golden age directors: Wilder, DeMille, Lean, Huston, and Peckinpah. Part of the group’s assignment involved guarding an airstrip in India for several years, and the lack of supervision allowed them to set up a nice little smuggling ring. When they got caught, they blamed it on Tanner, who’s spent the last seven years in jail. Now that he’s out, he’s blackmailing Sands into killing off his former team members — ending with Sands himself.
Sands has already taken out Wilder (that’s the guy who left him with half a mirror wedged in his leg), and while Brian was searching for Tanner, he paid DeMille a visit, too. But Brian still isn’t sure why Sands is going along with all of this — until Sands finally reveals the last piece of the puzzle.
NEXT: About a girl
When Sands was in India, he violated the five-man team’s one and only rule: no attachments. He fell in love with an aid worker named Anastasia, and when Tanner found out, he had her killed in a hit and run. That’s why Sands teamed up with the others to turn on Tanner and send him to prison. But Sands has one last secret: He and Anastasia had a secret son, who was since adopted by an American diplomat. Tanner is holding his son, Henry Watkins, hostage — the exact same kidnapping case that Rebecca and the rest of the CJC have spent all night investigating. (More on that later.)
While Brian is processing this, Sands sneaks away to poison DeMille, and after Brian leaves a note for the paramedics with the antidote, he makes Sands swear not to kill anyone else. That won’t be hard: The last name on the list is Huston, Sands’ closest friend from his former team, who’s currently lying unconscious in a hospital bed. After the team broke up, Sands picked up some mercenary work and landed himself in jail, and it was Huston who bailed him out and introduced him to Morra. Sands is understandably reluctant to kill his close friend, especially when he’s lying there, helpless, so Brian racks his brain for a way out of this. It turns out that Huston, fortunately, kept a secret safe deposit box, and after a little blackmail of a local bank manager, Sands and Brian gain access to Huston’s secret weapon: a burn book on everyone he’s worked with. That includes Tanner, which leads them to a warehouse in Queens. There, Sands presumably breaks his no-killing promise and dispatches Tanner, rescuing Henry.
Sands and Brian’s plot wraps up neatly and only a few steps ahead of this episode’s B-plot, which has Rebecca and the CJC investigating the same kidnapping case. (There’s also a great C-plot with Ike and Rachel hooking up in Brian’s apartment. They’re great together, and I hope this relationship continues — and continues to freak out Brian.)
Even with Brian MIA, Rebecca once again proves her skills as a top-notch investigator, tracking down the missing Henry and reminding us all that while she’s happy to have Brian’s NZT-enhanced help, she doesn’t always need it, and she’s more than capable of solving cases on her own. She even manages to crack this case with her birthday hanging over her. As she explains to Boyle, she’s hated celebrating ever since her absentee father promised her he would finally attend one of her birthday parties. When he didn’t show, she blew out her candles and wished he was dead — only to find out that the reason he missed the party was because he actually was dead.
And finally, we know how and why. Brian “borrows” Huston’s burn book, which conveniently has plenty of dirt on Sen. Morra and his involvement with NZT. When Sen. Morra first began his rise to the top, NZT was widely available in New York, and people like Rebecca’s father had free access to it. In order to maintain his grip on power, Morra ordered Sands to take out the NZT dealers and regular users around the city — including Rebecca’s dad, Conrad.
So this episode leaves us in a tricky place with Sands. Much of his menace came from his mysteriousness, and this episode served to humanize him by giving him a son, a tragic backstory, and some comedic moments. And then it drops the bombshell that he’s responsible for the cold-blooded murder of Rebecca’s father. It’s a stark reminder that as charming as Sands may be at times, he’s still extremely deadly, and it suggests that Rebecca’s in even more danger than we had thought.