Two big things put the Peacock TV original limited series The Continental: From the World of John Wick at an advantage over other streaming shows right off the bat. First, it has an excellent world mythos going for it since it’s already taken from the established John Wick universe.
Second, a huge amount of good faith and expectation worked well for it, evidenced by a pretty sizeable divide between its critics score (63%) and audience score (80%). Both things could have been excellent twin fuels for co-showrunners Greg Coolidge, Kirk Ward, and Shawn Simmons.
But sadly, and most baffling, the trio squander what could have been a very interesting return to the mythos that expanded the Wick world in all its richness and fertile storytelling landscape. Though its third and final episode was an excellent piece of wrap-up to the confusing and frankly unnecessary story threads, The Continental simply squanders its advantages, being too clunky, overwritten, and over processed to even compare to half the action narrative of the bloody epics that starred Keanu Reeves.
In the world of John Wick, The Continental isn’t just a fancy hotel. It’s a safe haven for the assassins and killer mercenaries that serve under the brutal scepter of The High Table, an elite order dating back to the time of the Hassan-i Sabbah’s Levantine Hashashin.
There are many Contintentals, the chain of hotels around the world, all serving as neutral ground and chillax place for these underworld blue collars. This series takes place in the branch at New York’s Financial District, the local Soho House for off-duty bounty hunters.
There are only three episodes, each one running at the length of a feature film, around an hour and 30 minutes. In the Wick movies, the New York Continental is run by Winston Scott (played ably by Ian McShane).
This three-parter is the origin story that tackles exactly how he got to the top of the heap as the hotel’s head honcho.
The Continental episode 1—Night 1: Brothers in Arms
Scott here is played by Colin Woodell. In the 1970s he is a young con man who is whisked back to New York because his older brother Frankie is in deep trouble.
The siblings Frankie and Winston have long been estranged. The drama of brothers with a criminal childhood being reunited should have been a cool emotional anchor and place setting, were it not for the ruinous inclusion of many other inconsequential characters.
Way too extra, as the kids these days might say. There’s the rest of the misfit and underdog gang that just had to be written in for, what we can see from a mile away, as some future Avengers Assemble or A-Team moment.
There’s soul karate siblings Lou and Miles, black gunrunners and owners of a karate dojo, plus several others I can’t name except for their choice of weapons and demeanor; hence, porn stache demolitions guy, and dignified sniper dude. Turns out Frankie stole something from the current manager of the NYC Continental.
Our caricature villain Cormac O’Connor, played here via telephone and some mawkish iteration of a brutal Southern gent by Mel Gibson. What did Frankie steal?
One of those gold coin presses that gives the one who possesses it the ability to create more minted currency. It’s the only money so valuable to the assassins of the Wick world.
Uh oh, poor Frankie. By the end of the first episode, Frankie is dead from an excellent ace shot from Cormac’s hired thugs, the stoic twins Hansel and Gretel.
At this point I was interested more in the history of unspeaking, leather trench coat-clad hunters twins, rather than the fate of the surviving members of Winston’s posse. Or even Winston himself.
Sure, there were plenty of action pieces that aspired to but never really got to the level of balletic John Woo gun-fu of the Wick movies. But with no actual bones to hold together the meat, this was quickly becoming tiresome.
Oh, I did appreciate the “Guns, lots of guns” line from Winston, referencing Keanu’s Neo in The Matrix.
The Continental episode 2—Night 2: Loyalty to the Master
This is the part where Winston assembles those aforementioned allies to face down the maniacal evil of Cormac and take over The Continental. A man so bereft of humanity that he brutally slaughters one of his child protégés, a teen cellist who only wanted to play him the best tunes.
Ayomide Adegun as the old school gentleman hotel de aide Charon O’Connor, ably played by Lance Reddick in the movies, had an excellent chance to examine this great character further. But his story wasn’t even given enough space, casually lost in the mess of narrative chaff.
There’s an intersecting story of a woman detective that’s been tracking down Winston for some unknown reason. There’s also Yen, wife of Frankie (Winston’s now deceased bro, in case you can’t keep track), who has her own drama with Winston—likely because he cremated her hubby sans her permission.
I almost lost it when the karate dojo of the soul twins also got its own side story, where the local Chinatown mafia boss figures in. But that’s not the worst of it.
The High Table has also gotten involved, thanks to Cormac’s blunders, to secure the valuable coin press. An Adjudicator, comparable to this world’s Judge Dredd, from the High Table has been sent to get news from Cormac, but also to step in if he screws up the already well FUBAR’d situation.
I did like the fleeting interaction with Maize, the current queen of the Bowery and the panhandlers of New York. It’s a beggar lord role that Laurence Fishburne played with almost Shakespearian excellence in the movies.
The action here had more emotional heft but was still short of the level of gorgeous brutality pioneered by Derek Kolstad’s movies. Lots of guns sure, but only some joy.
The Continental episode 3—Night 3: Theater of Pain
Finally, some semblance of harried pacing and all the set pieces coming together to reveal a conspiracy that goes beyond the petty duel between Cormac and Winston. The action and fights here feel not only emotive but also approaches the kinetic dynamism in the movies.
A requisite rooftop fight between the brawly Vovinam style kung fu girl Yen and the refined multi-dimensional and very athletic fighting of the professional Gretel. I mean, seeing her making a scorpion kick work is true art.
That it took three previous hours to establish this high point of a final episode isn’t something to crow about though. We can certainly blame the writing in almost all instances.
A script editor should have come in and mercilessly cut down half of the protagonist ensemble, leaving more space for the final and glorious battle between the killers released from within The Continental’s rooms and Winston’s ragtag army. Still, I loved those moments when the secrets of the hotel were revealed; those hidden floors, secret armories, and structural abilities to shutter down and turn into a fortress.
Even the dialogue, yearning for the epic brag of the movies, simply comes across as formulaic brag. Like folks who tried for the rarefied air of early Clint Eastwood, but only got to about the heights of Eric Roberts.
Similarly, I never bought into Winston’s own quest for revenge, rooting more for the plethora of myriad killers as the invaders to the hotel are declared non-grata; open season for sport hunters. I think this theme has been watered down here and rather than the visceral need for Wick to avenge his puppy, we also got the bargain bin equivalent.
In the end, Winston Scott’s revenge must be by proxy. I won’t spoil how it turns out, but it was an honestly pretty good payoff, even if the plant was initially a stretch.
Yet his successful takeover of The Continental came at high cost—some of it being the combined three hours of the first two episodes I’ll never get back. I don’t know how creatives are able to misuse such huge advantages but unless you’re a huge John Wick fan, miss the world of The High Table so much, or simply an avid completionist that’ll devour any spinoff from this franchise, then there’s not much of interest here for the casual viewer.
Though there’s certainly lots of guns in this alternate New York City.
You can watch The Continental: From the World of John Wick on Peacock TV.