Apple TV Plus' Echo 3 delivers on action—but falls short on characterization

Luke Evans in Echo 3
Luke Evans in Echo 3

Echo 3, the upcoming Apple TV+ series from two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter Mark Boal, has been billed as a black ops thriller and tale of international intrigue.” And it is certainly that: an ambitious, multilingual show that attempts to combine elements of action thrillers with military, political, and survival dramas. But ultimately—and frustratingly—the series’ whole is less than the sum of its parts.

Created by Boal, Echo 3 follows Amber Chesborough (Jessica Ann Collins), a research scientist in pharmacology who decides to travel to South America to study plants and rituals that she believes could be used to treat addiction. But when Amber goes missing along the Colombia-Venezuela border, her brother, Alex, a.k.a. Bambi (Luke Evans), and her affluent husband, Prince (Michiel Huisman)—two men with a shared military history and their own share of personal trauma—struggle to cut through the bureaucratic red tape to find her against the backdrop of a secret guerrilla war in the region. The series, which was shot primarily on location in Colombia, paints a nuanced and maybe slightly heightened portrait of the current sociopolitical climate in South America (one of the American characters even takes a swipe at the current president of Venezuela) while also celebrating the close-knit nature of Latin American culture.

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After beginning with a stirring shot of Amber being held at gunpoint in South America, the pilot plays out across multiple timelines. Six months earlier, and the day after Amber and Prince’s dream wedding, Prince, Bambi, and the rest of their military unit were sent on a hostage rescue mission, where they suffered a devastating loss. (The show’s greatest strength lies in its ability to craft action sequences that make you feel like you’re right in the elements of an active war zone or dangerous neighborhood—but the level of intrigue from episode to episode surprisingly runs hot and cold.)

Three months later, Prince and Bambi remain at odds about who should be held responsible for their loss, leaving Amber, who is preparing for her trip abroad, caught in the middle. The pilot effectively sets up the dynamics between Amber and the two men in her life, with Collins and Huisman portraying a young couple adjusting to the ups and downs of married life, and Collins and Evans playing close siblings raised by a drug-addicted single mother who have seen (and inflicted) their fair share of bloodshed.

Jessica Ann Collins in Echo 3
Jessica Ann Collins in Echo 3

Bambi and Prince’s personal relationship, however, is sorely lacking in the first five episodes screened for review, despite their existing military history and shared sense of loss. Bambi and Prince are so hellbent on finding Amber that, apart from a few high-stakes rescue attempts that highlight how well the brothers-in-law work together in combat, there is hardly any time for exposition about their own lives. And even when Bambi and Prince’s plans are foiled and they’re forced to reckon with their own lives without Amber, there doesn’t seem to be a particularly profound exploration of grief or PTSD, which were prominent themes in When Heroes Fly, the Israeli drama that supposedly inspired Echo 3.

Evans, to his credit, plays the dark and brooding older brother with moments of levity and humanity that make it easy to root for his character, even when the writing doesn’t offer much insight into his own personal life. For instance, Bambi claims he was once a soldier and now works in tourism, but since we haven’t seen him at work in the same way that we’ve seen Amber and Prince, how could we know that to be true?

Echo 3 — Official Trailer | Apple TV+

As various circumstances pull the small American family apart, the show begins to feel increasingly disjointed. Side characters are introduced—to the point that viewers literally go home with them and learn more about their personal lives than the main trio—and then they’re not seen again for multiple episodes, or they re-emerge as minor blips in the desperate fight to rescue Amber. And when the story brings the main characters back into focus, their respective backstories are revealed piecemeal. It isn’t until the fifth episode, when Amber forms an unexpected alliance in captivity, that viewers are rewarded with a slightly better understanding of her relationships with Bambi and Prince.

Collins, for her part, shines in the quiet moments and pulls off some death-defying stunts in the fifth episode in particular that will finally keep viewers, who might begin to care more about Amber’s quest for freedom, on the edge of their seats. But given that there simply isn’t enough characterization in the preceding episodes to justify a particularly deep investment in these people, one might feel largely ambivalent about Amber’s fate until halfway through the season—at which point the show, much like Amber, might be beyond saving.

Echo 3 premieres November 23 on Apple TV+.

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