'Special Ops: Lioness' Episode 4 Recap

UniqueThis 65 August 6, 2023

When we last left team Lioness, Joe (Zoe Saldaña) and Cruz (Laysla De Oliveira) escaped one dangerous situation just to find themselves in an even scarier one. Joe's little torture lesson left Cruz beaten and bruised at a pool party, forcing audiences to question just how prepared this undercover CIA unit was for the task at hand. Special Ops: Lioness began with an undercover mission gone wrong—and the new Taylor Sheridan Paramount+ series may be gearing up to show us another one.

In its fourth episode, Lioness is at a crossroads. The CIA drama could either bury itself deeper into another dark and violent portrayal of undercover work, or give us a story about a team of brave women that pulled off an information heist. In the story so far, Cruz has been thrown around and misused by economic circumstance, beaten down by her own government, and thrown to the wolves. If she survives any of this, it'll be a miracle.

ray corasani as ehsan in special ops lioness, episode 4, season 1, streaming on paramount, 2023 photo credit william grayparamount

It’s a Lioness beach day!

William Gray/Paramount+//Paramount

Episode Four begins at the beach, where Cruz and her mark, Aaliyah, headed after leaving their mansion pool party. Following a nice swim, Aaliyah reveals to Cruz that she doesn't want to get married. Joe and the CIA watch from a nearby yacht, where they find men posted up with their own cameras in a beach house. To hold their cover, Joe hires two drunk girls to lay on the yacht deck and pretend to take selfies. Safe from harm, Joe's team takes photos and investigates Aaliyah's fiancé. "A Saudi royal marrying a Kuwaiti national... what do you think?" Joe asks her team. "Beats the fuck out of me," one of her guys responds. Yeah, me too.

Meanwhile, Kaitlyn Meade (Nicole Kidman) and Byron Westfield (Michael Kelly) ream out CIA case officer Kyle (Thad Luckinbill) for his little U.S./Mexico border B-plot mission. "I didn't have a choice," Kyle tells them. "My contact is bringing us five known al-Qaeda operatives in the next week." Kaitlyn and Byron decide to deal with the fallout themselves.

michael kelly as byron westfield in special ops lioness, episode 4, season 1, streaming on paramount, 2023 photo credit greg lewisparamount

Byron (Michael Kelly) is NOT happy with the CIA’s latest missions. I wouldn’t be either.

Greg Lewis/Paramount+//Paramount

Back at home, Joe's daughter Kate (Hannah Love Lanier) gets into a car accident with her friends. They arrive at the hospital where her father, Neil (Dave Annable), works as a pediatric oncology surgeon. Running from another surgery, he finds her in really bad shape. She's screaming about her leg. One of her friends dies, but Kate makes it out with a fractured vertebrae and a broken femur. Neil calls Joe to tell her the news and ask if she's going to be reachable. Taking a page from the book of Drake, she responds, "Not really, I'm on one."

Well, get ready for an even greater shock: after some bloodwork, Neil finds out that his 14-year-old daughter is pregnant. 14?! But I thought we—as the great Sheridan penned last episode—"sacrificed the top to protect the bottom" in this house?! Neil is stunned. Wow. Everything bad that could possibly happen is happening to this teenager at the same time. (At least until she finds out that her mom tortures people for the CIA.)

nicole kidman as kaitlyn meade and zoe saldana as joe in special ops lioness, episode 4, season 1, streaming on paramount, 2023 photo credit greg lewisparamount

Get it together, CIA!

Greg Lewis/Paramount+//Paramount

Speaking of, it's nighttime and Cruz is out with her mark at the club. Joe wants eyes on her inside, so she goes herself. At the bar, Cruz talks to her husband through an earpiece and learns about her daughter's pregnancy. Not very inconspicuous to visibly have a conversation through an earpiece, but OK! Cruz picks up a random guy to make it look like she's just having a good time—but the guy puts something in her drink without her noticing. Feeling dizzy, she's led out of the club. Joe is too distracted by a fight on the dance floor to notice. The shady guy carries Cruz into the woods and attempts to assault her—then her team arrives and beats him up. When Cruz wakes up, Joe immediately goes in on her. "You don't have the skills for clandestine work," she says. Still, they have too much of a good thing to let the mission go to waste.

In the car ride home, Kaitlyn finally talks to Joe about the border incident. The CIA team she lent Kyle was caught on border control surveillance footage with multiple casualties. It seems like something the CIA could totally sweep under the rug, but it's a big deal to Kaitlyn. The U.S. government has allegedly been hiding aliens from us for over 70 years! I think they can erase some border patrol tapes.

Either way, neither mission makes the CIA look like they're on top of their shit. If Special Ops: Lioness is anything so far, it may be the first CIA drama that shows U.S. intelligence operations absolutely blowing every one of their missions. In doing so, it's probably the most revolutionary way to humanize these characters. Instead of giving them all rich backstories, relatable problems at home, or inspiring reasons behind their CIA involvement—Lioness shows that even the "best of our best" intelligence officers may occasionally have no idea what they're doing out there. It's equal parts hilarious and terrifying. That alone will easily bring me back for next week's episode.

Headshot of Josh Rosenberg

Josh Rosenberg

Assistant Editor