‘Special Ops: Lioness’ Episode 8 Review: Taylor Sheridan’s New Series Suffered An Underwhelming Finale

The final episode of Special Ops: Lioness felt a bit anticlimactic for a number of reasons. Here is our review.
Lioness Laysla De Oliveira Stephanie Nur Paramount Plus

What started as a very solid narrative and intriguing spy thriller has been diluted into a bit of a mess over the past few episodes. Special Ops: Lioness ended its first season with an uneven episode that was better than what came before but still a little underwhelming considering the big picture. The latest episode is now available to stream on Paramount Plus.

“Gone is the Illusion of Order” finally brings to life the premise of the show, after seven episodes of moving the chess pieces around the table. Everything is happening in Mallorca: Cruz (Laysla De Oliveira) is back with Aaliyah (Stephanie Nur) as the preparations for the wedding are underway, while Joe (Zoe Saldaña) and Kaitlyn (Nicole Kidman), along with their team, are on a boat following the situation closely. Back in the US, Michael Kelly and Morgan Freeman are having an argument for God knows what reason because it’s ultimately fruitless and a waste of screen time that added no value to the plot or additional tension.

Zoey Saldana in Special Ops: Lioness
Zoe Saldana as Joe In Special Ops: Lioness, episode 4, season 1, streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Greg Lewis/Paramount+

Despite that, Taylor Sheridan’s writing hints at some ideas that could have been executed better, which at times makes the episode a bit more frustrating, but it also elevates it above your generic spy thriller. It’s a bit frustrating, because Special Ops: Lioness ultimately suffered from being too ambitious — introducing a love story between Cruz and Aaliyah in the final two episodes was too much.

In a way, this episode makes the case for that decision, helping differentiate Cruz from most characters like her in the classic spy-thriller story, yet also emphasizes that it should have either had more time to develop or cut it out completely because it was more distracting that it was beneficial for the show. The bottom line is clear enough, though — in war, everyone always loses something.

To discuss in more detail some of the developments of the season (series?) finale of Special Ops: Lioness we should raise a spoiler warning for those who haven’t yet checked out the episode. Make sure to come back to read the rest of the discussion once you have!

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Lioness Laysla De Oliveira Stephanie Nur Paramount Plus
Laysla De Oliveira as Cruz Manuelos and Stephanie Nur as Aaliyah In Special Ops: Lioness, episode 8, season 1, streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Luke Varley/Paramount+

Spoilers Ahead for the Special Ops: Lioness Finale

There are too many things happening at once in the Lioness finale, and that helps make the episode feel convoluted at times, messy. Back in Washington, Michael Kelly is defending the value of the already-underway operation in the Situation Room, something that feels like it should have happened much earlier in the show. It’s supposed to add even more tension, but it’s too late. If the show decided to pull such a turn in the last episode where they decided that it ultimately wasn’t worth it killing Aaliyah’s father, it would have felt completely flat. And because we know they are not going to do that, why are we even wasting time with it?

Over in Mallorca, Ehsan has a bit of a tête-à-tête moment with Cruz that went off the rails, as satisfying as it felt. But this would have been even more effective if we had had one or two more encounters between them earlier in the season.

Special Ops: Lioness Paramount Plus Nicole Kidman
Nicole Kidman as Kaitlyn Meade In Special Ops: Lioness, episode 6, season 1, streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Greg Lewis/Paramount+

It’s like Cruz wasn’t even a priority until the final episodes, and Sheridan started to rewrite some of the show. She then goes to the women’s side of the compound to meet with Aaliyah, who introduces Cruz to her mother, a moment used to set up a line that would come later — said the bride about her father, the mission’s target: “You met my mother, right? She’s the loud one,” hinting that her father would be the knit-brows type of person that would barely acknowledge anyone’s presence but his own.

But that is very much not the case. After eight episodes, we finally meet the oil mogul… In his underwear. And what’s more, he’s actually nice. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that portrayal, but it immediately nullifies Aaliyah’s line earlier in the episode. What didn’t work for me from that moment, though, is that I didn’t realize who this person was until Cruz revealed it to Kaitlyn later. Maybe I missed something in previous episodes, but how could it be that such a pivotal moment in the narrative went completely over my head?

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Lioness Laysla De Oliveira Bassem Youssef Paramount Plus
Bassem Youssef as Amrohi and Laysla De Oliveira as Cruz Manuelos In Special Ops: Lioness, episode 8, season 1, streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Luke Varley/Paramount+

Perhaps one of the most disappointing aspects of the final episode of Lioness is how the climax of the plot was resolved due to pure screenwriting artifice. The US Marines, with all of their intelligence and power, did not realize that maybe having pictures of their own undercover op up on the Internet wearing an official uniform wasn’t the best idea. Seriously? How did it all come down to a Google search? And who in their right state of mind finds out there’s a US Marine undercover in your wedding, threatening to take down the entire operation, and goes hunt her down by himself? So dumb.

One of the only moments that felt truly earned in this episode was, once again, Joe’s personal journey. And that’s because Sheridan has done a very nice job setting that up all season long. Her phone conversation with her daughter felt completely devastating, and so did her talking to her husband right after. I would have liked a more extended moment with the entire family by the end of the episode. I understand that maybe Joe isn’t ready to leave her job just yet like Cruz is, but I would have liked to see some completion to her character arc as well. Where does she stand in all of this now? I don’t think that was fully answered.

Key art for Special Ops: Lioness, featuring Zoe Saldana, Nicole Kidman, Laysla De Oliveira, Michael Kelly and Morgan Freeman, streaming on Paramount+ 2023. Photo Credit: Paramount+. © 2023 Viacom International Inc. All Rights Reserved. Lioness and all related titles, logos and characters are trademarks of Viacom International Inc.

What did you think of the final episode of Special Ops: Lioness? Did you enjoy it more than I did, or were you also slightly disappointed? Do you think we’ll get a second season? What would you like to see in it? Let us know your thoughts on our social media, and make sure to return for more reviews and the latest in entertainment news!

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