BBC’s Hustle (2004-2012) centres around the actions of a rotating gang of con artists comprised of leader and meticulous planner Mickey ‘Bricks’ Stone (Adrian Lester, Series 1-4,5-8), roper and Mickey’s father figure Albert Stroller (Robert Vaughn, Series 1-8), fixer and tech man Ash ‘three socks’ Morgan (Robert Glenister, Series 1-8 ), Stacie Monroe (Jaime Murray, Series 1-4) the one who looks after the money, cocky and ambitious Danny Blue (Marc Warren, Series 1-4), former gang member Billy Bond (Ashley Waters, Series 4), intelligent and protective Emma Kennedy (Kelly Adams, Series 5-8) and her younger and significantly less intelligent brother, Sean (Matt Di Angelo, Series 5-8), as well as barman Eddie (Rob Jarvis), who acts largely as comic relief. Hustle is one of my favourite tv shows of all time; I think it’s smart, I like the main characters, I think the premise is fun, and I like the victims of the gang’s cons; rich, greedy, and ruthless people who are wonderfully despicable characters in their own right. Today, I want to count down my top ten favourite personal Hustle episodes. It was a difficult task, when I was compiling this list I realised that pretty much every episode of the show is flawed, even my number one choice, but without further ado, let’s begin!
10) A Touch of Class (Series 1, Episode 5)
The team decide to con the vengeful and recently divorced Katherine Winterborn (Tamzin Outhwaite) who, after a series of escalating rows with her husband Stephen (Ben Miles), pushed him over the limit in the dying days of their marriage by having his favourite dog put down while he was on holiday in retaliation for him having locked her in an elevator to trigger her claustrophobia. However, when Mickey gets to know her better, he discovers that she may have been the real victim, and seduced by her charms, he changes the mark to her husband. Meanwhile, Mickey discovers that Ash’s ex-wife June (Elizabeth Rider) is seriously deteriorating after staging too many cons consisting of jumping in front of moving cars.
In my view, a fair few Hustle episodes have a great premise but execute them horribly, A Touch of Class is one of them. I like so much about this episode, I love Mickey’s relationship with Katherine, that each of them feels the same way about the breakdown of their own marriage is wonderful because until this point Mickey hasn’t talked to anyone about his recent divorce. That relationship really is the best bit about this episode; seeing the great, almost legendary Mickey Stone begin to develop weird feelings for this woman, to the point of even being outwitted by her is really interesting and Tamzin Outhwaite gives a great performance. That’s not to say it’s the only good thing about this episode, learning more about Ash’s own life with June (who sadly only appears in this one episode) is great and really helps to highlight the theme of grifters forming a sort of family outside the law, something which recurs throughout the show and really helps to add a much needed likability and depth to characters who might otherwise be nothing more than a group of selfish thieves.
However, I do have a big issue with this episode. The climax sort of implies, rather heavily it must be said, that Katherine was the instigator in a lot of her marital problems, and that she’s not a victim at all but a genuinely terrible person and its actually her ex-husband Steven that’s the, relatively speaking, good guy. I don’t mind it that much because the twists and turns are fun on paper and it does emphasise just how much Mickey misjudges Katherine, but I think the episode would’ve worked a lot better if Katherine and Steven were both equally culpable, that they are two terrible people who still live to piss each other off, in my mind that would’ve been a lot more interesting, just watching as the gang get caught up in this very personal and very brutal war of the roses.
I do have some nitpicks with this episode, like how Katherine is led to believe that Stephen has gotten his significantly younger girlfriend pregnant, something which riles her even more after its revealed he pushed her into having an abortion, but then Stephen tells Stacie he’s sterile and its taken as gospel truth. Ok, but why did Katherine believe the lie? Did she make up the abortion thing too? A Touch of Class is a very confused episode in places and does like to focus on Katherine as the archetypal bitter woman, but it’s worth it just for the relationship between her and Mickey.
9) A Bollywood Dream (Series 3, Episode 4)
Albert identifies the team’s next mark, Kulvinder Samar (Silas Carson), a sweatshop owner with a love of Bollywood movies. Their play is quite simple; convince him to invest in their fake Bollywood movie and sweeten the deal by offering him a small part. The con is just a little too perfect however, and Samar soon catches onto them, luckily, fate intervenes in the form of a car accident resulting in their mark temporarily losing his short-term memory. The group decide to run the con all over again – a little less perfect this time – but Samar has undergone a serious personality change and the gang have to ask themselves whether they can justify conning a man who seems truly repentant.
A Bollywood Dream has an amazing premise which is sadly spoiled in a bizarre way I will delve deeper into later. I love the idea behind this. Mickey and co have a strong belief in the idea that you can’t and shouldn’t con an honest man, so when Samar, who is utterly reprehensible and played to perfection by Silas Carson, begins to see himself for what he truly is and vows to be a better person in future, it poses a serious moral question for these characters; is it ok to con a man that has done horrible things even if he’s now just as disgusted by it as we are? It’s a wonderful idea, one of the reasons I like Hustle so much is that it has no problem doing something different, very few episodes don’t have an aspect to it like this, its very refreshing. I also really admire the way this episode handle Bollywood, it would be so easy to include a scene where Stacie gets a spray tan or something in order to masquerade as an Indian actress instead of doing what they actually do and telling the mark that this is Bollywood for an English audience. It’s a small thing but a lesser show might well have resorted to less acceptable measures.
I also really like the way in which A Bollywood Dream explains how Samar realises he’s being conned, as Mickey later says that as a perfectionist, Samar is the one may who knows perfection never exists and Mickey’s cons are structured in a way that they appeal directly and personally to each of his marks and therefore by there very nature are too good to be true. Mickey’s answer to this? Simple, make the con a little less perfect. The location the gang are ostensibly using in the film, now lacks the elephant Samar argued was a key aspect of Bollywood films, Stacie’s character is no longer a graduate of the most austere acting school in India, she went somewhere Samar has never even heard of. It’s an interesting response to the problem and it think it’s pretty unique.
However, as I said earlier, a recurring problem with Hustle is that excellent ideas are often handled poorly. Towards the end of A Bollywood Dream there is a fourth wall breaking, Bollywood inspired, musical sequence (this sort of thing is relatively common in Hustle) and Samar takes a moment, mid-song, to lean in to the audience and whispers sinisterly that he has regained his memory and that he knows they tried to con him. This confession goes absolutely nowhere, it has no impact on the episode whatsoever, there is zero point for it being there. I’ve heard speculation online that Samar was saying that had the gang try to con him then he would go to the police, that he was giving them a chance to back off. That takes so much away from the moral choice, it’s such a shame. It’s one line but it alters Samar’s character to the point of complete destruction. Instead of being genuinely horrified by the man he was, it’s almost like he’s reverted back to that person, because of this, there’s no reason for the gang not to con him. The best part of this episode is the moral choice, you could really argue that both arguments are valid but when the audience finds out Samar’s transformation as a character may not be genuine at all, it makes that decision so much easier. It’s a shame, I think this episode is really smart, but that line forces me to knock it back to 9th place.
8) Price For Fame (Series 3, Episode 1)
After their original target has a heart attack, Albert finds a replacement at the hospital: people-trafficker and violent pub owner, Benny Frazier (Mel Smith), who is keen to do anything to aid his unpleasant and untalented son Joey’s (Ben Smith) rap career. The team decide to convince the mark that they represent a record company which promises to make Joey a star, getting him into an award show and even recording a demo that’s played on the radio. Everything seems to go smoothly, but an oversight by the team could soon prove costly…
We’ve had two episodes so far which do something interesting with the typical Hustle formula, Price For Fame is not one of those, it is a solid, generic Hustle episode; the gang find a mark, begin working on them, a twist comes up which threatens everything, Mickey must come up with a way to work through the problem. That’s the Hustle formula and it is very evident here. Honestly though, I think that’s fine, not every episode needs to do something different, sometimes it’s nice just to watch something and be entertained for 45 minutes. I really like pretty much everything about this episode, watching the gang try and find a suitable place to live after Danny gets them banned from every high class hotel in London for using fake credit cards is funny and the solution they come up with is fairly enjoyable. Mel Smith is wonderful as Benny Frasier, for a guy who made his name in comedy he’s surprisingly very intimidating when he wants to be, and the character of Joey Frazier is one of those characters you just love to hate; he’s so stupid, so untalented, so hungry for fame in a world he doesn’t even understand, it’s a really fun character.
I suppose if I had one complaint it would be that the twist is a little convenient. It turns out that the man Albert was conning at the start of the episode is Benny Frazier’s father in law, and while it is foreshadowed and subtlety alluded to throughout the episode, it does feel like a remarkable stroke of bad luck, plus it is pretty out of character for Mickey not to have planned this out and thought about it to the point where he’d know there’s a troublesome connection there and maybe Albert should sit this one out. I won’t lie, I also feel a little uncomfortable watching Stacie and Mickey act like stereotypical rappers, with the dreadlocks and the references to copious amounts of ‘Bitches’-
-But thinking about it, it actually makes perfect sense, after all, this is absolutely what an idiot like Joey Frazier thinks rap is about, and seeing as they’re trying to con him it makes sense that they’d appeal to his preconceived notions about what the business is like. Overall, I really like Price For Fame, I think it’s fun, smart in places, and only marred by small faults, its definitely one to look out for.
7) New Recruits (Series 5, Episode 2)
With siblings Emma and Sean Kennedy becoming the new team members, Mickey seeks to teach them exactly what a proper long con involves. New marks, Carlton Wood (Adam James) and Harry Fielding (John Macmillan), have stolen a security system through their patent company, and driven its inventor to suicide. The group soon learn that the pair need a PR gimmick to sell their stolen system, so Mickey devises a unique scheme. After trying to sell an idea to them (which the pair immediately steal), they have to overcome the new system after its attached to a valuable painting, but when Ash reveals the system, called “Spider’s Web”, was cleverly designed and cannot be beaten, Mickey must come up with a way to do the impossible.
Ok, confession time. I don’t like Matt Di Angelo as an actor and I don’t care much for Sean Kennedy, it feels as if the only reason he’s on the team is because he comes with his sister and she’s the real talent. I think Sean is immature, arrogant, and prone to outbursts, all things you don’t want in a profession where you have to be cool, calm and calculating. With that said, the first proper episode with the Kennedy’s on the team, New Recruits, is another classic episode. Not only is it a great, proper introduction for the new team members but the plan and marks are excellent. I love the scene where Sean gets his drink spiked by the marks and his sister steps in to defend him, I really like the burgeoning relationships between these characters, the way Mickey looks down at Sean but immediately has a level of respect for Emma. By far though, the best things about this episode are the plan Mickey comes up with, which is genius in its simplicity, and the marks. Carlton Wood and Harry Fielding are wonderfully despicable people, totally representative of the breed of Etonian Hooray Henrys/Yuppies who emulate everything wrong with the rampant capitalism of the 80’s and 2010’s. Special mention goes to Adam James, who plays Carlton Wood, whose talent for playing unlikable, wealthy young businessmen is unparalleled. If I did have one complaint about them it would be that Fielding does sort of get overshadowed by the bigger character of Wood, maybe I would’ve liked to see a more balanced relationship but I think what we got is pretty great in itself.
I don’t really have any complaints with the episode itself, but I want to take a slight detour to talk about another episode, the series 5 finale, The Road Less Travelled. In it, Wood and Fielding return to get revenge, hoping to con Mickey and his gang out of twice the amount of money they themselves lost. To do this, they recruit other people who’ve been conned by the team. When I read the synopsis for this upcoming episode as a kid, I just about died. What amazing possibilities! You could have so many different marks from past episodes return, think of the interactions between these characters, what an amazing series finale, pitting Mickey Bricks against multiple people who already know who he is and how he operates, what a great test of his skills! Unfortunately, we got nothing of the sort. I hate to spoil it for you but it turns out the ‘marks’ Wood and Fielding track down are actually fellow grifters, you see, Fielding’s method of finding former marks was to put an ad in the Sunday Telegraph, an ad Albert saw, and while that is amusing, it spoils everything. Instead of having a satisfying return and battle of wits, Mickey had already won before the episode even started, not through skill, not through his understanding of how Wood and Fielding’s minds worked, but through sheer dumb luck. It’s a terrible episode and I only mention it because it pisses me off that such an amazing opportunity to bring back some fun and unique characters was utterly wasted in favour of literally nothing. Thankfully, we still have a pretty solid ‘prequel’ to this episode in New Recruits, a much better episode.
6) The Con is Off (Series 8, Episode 6)
After a long time pulling one long con after another, Mickey has finally gotten tired of grifting. He informs the others that he has devised a con so large that the crew can finally retire. All of them agree to help Mickey out, but they soon discover this con will be their most dangerous. It involves cheating vicious multi-millionaire businessman Madani Wasem (Abhin Galeva) out of £10 million in a stock market scam. However, Wasem is the kind of mark they usually avoid; he is more than prepared to use violence and employs an enforcer to maim, torture, and kill and opponent to his business plans. Mickey will need a truly brilliant idea, and some old friends, to escape.
As Hustle’s last ever episode, The Con is Off had a lot of pressure behind it, after all, it is the last ever episode of a beloved series, how on earth do you deliver a satisfying conclusion to that. Well, as if you couldn’t tell by its inclusion on this list, I think The Con is Off succeeds totally. Not only is it a great episode in terms of character, not only is the tone pitch perfect, not only is the mark excellent, but we get to say the perfect goodbye to characters we’ve loved for eight years. Mickey deciding to retire is a bit iffy, after all, his subtle thirst for glory and ambition to be the best of his profession is a key aspect of his character, but it makes total sense. Mickey is a living legend in his profession, there simply is no higher he can go, best to go out with a bang and secure his legacy. I love that we see Danny and Stacie again, I can’t express how great it is to see them make one last appearance, it would’ve been such a shame if we didn’t get to say goodbye to them properly. I know that might be a spoiler but both characters are integrated well into the episode’s plot and aren’t simply putting in cameo appearances; although I must admit, the fact that Stacie doesn’t take the time to visit Mickey and co before they unexpectedly meet is a little odd. I mean, what was she doing that was more important?
The mark is great, it would’ve been tempting to make Wasem some sort of untouchable evil, with seemingly omnipotent power, reach and wealth, but he’s none of those things. Mickey determines that Wasem’s weak point is his need to be accepted by the other members of the board of his recently deceased father’s company. They, rightfully, deem him to be childish, spoilt and demanding and so resist giving him more money, power and influence. Wasem isn’t all powerful at all, he’s actually pretty frustrated about his lack of power. Plus, Wasem isn’t insanely rich by fictions standards, he isn’t even a billionaire, he hovers around the £800 million mark which, strangely enough, I think adds a level of realism to his character.
Plus, his men don’t carry the weapons they did in the UAE because of the UK’s strict gun laws, meaning he can’t simply kill everyone who pisses him off. Nevertheless, Wasem is a truly terrifying character, demonstrating very early on why he’s exactly the sort of mark Mickey usually avoids like the plague. Not only does he have people killed on a whim, but one of his first meetings with Mickey involves Wasem viciously beating him with a stapler; this is a scary man. The whole tone of the episode has this deep undercurrent of danger to it, other marks might chalk being conned up to experience or move on but Wasem will brutally murder anyone who wrongs him and this is played with dramatically in one of the final scenes where the gang are faced with Wasem and his machine gun carrying enforcers. It really brings home the danger of what these characters do when Mickey looks to the audience and says “Be honest, some of you must’ve thought it would always end this way”.
There are flaws, though they are minor. It would’ve been nice to see Billy Bond return, even though I don’t care that much for him as a character. I also don’t think the con is that clever, its pretty basic, but again, the other aspects of the episode are so strong that it doesn’t even matter, and it even makes sense in the episode that Mickey wouldn’t want to do anything too big for fear that it might go disastrously wrong. On the whole though, The Con is Off is just a solid episode, it’s tone is perfect, I love the call-backs, and it’s a wonderful way to say goodbye to the show.
5) Getting Even (Series 4, Episode 3)
The grifter’s favourite barman, Eddie, is in serious trouble, and the team offer to help him (in exchange for their bar tab being ripped up of course). His Father’s nursing home has just been taken over by Veronica Powell (Patricia Hodge), a ruthless businesswoman with interests in property, who is conning the residents out of their homes after putting up living costs, and then selling them for a handsome profit. The team, now led by Danny, plan to exploit her one obvious weakness, her wine collection. However, she’s wilier than most marks, as the team soon finds out, and with time running out for Eddie’s father, Danny must think of a decent con, one that will outwit their mark and prove his capabilities as leader.
Much like Price For Fame, this is another episode that is pretty generic in style yet has a lot to offer. With Mickey having left 2 episodes earlier, Danny is now firmly in position as leader and Getting Even is Danny at his most magnificent, the con is sheer brilliance, easily one of the best in the series. The mark, Veronica Powell is memorable and suitably detestable; a horrible gerontophobe despite being no spring chicken herself, and Patricia Hodge plays her wonderfully. It’s also really nice to see the gang do something for Eddie, even if they insist he tear their bar tab up. Eddie is a likable character and the show makes something of a running joke of the way in which he’s treated by the other main characters so it is nice to have confirmation that they do really like him deep down. Albert has a nice little sub-plot where he begins to reminisce about a girl he fell in love with while he was briefly in the UK during the war and it’s a nice comment on age and how two people who were once so close could drift apart and live different lives, and the ending, though bitter-sweet, is perfect, it’s another reminder of just how lonely the life of a con man is. There is another episode that has a similar Albert Sub-plot called The Delivery (Series, 7, Episode 6) where his ex-wife seeks him out to introduce him to his daughter. It’s a better sub-plot with a tragic ending but the episode itself is pretty meh, hence why I’ve not included it on this list.
Even Billy, a character I don’t particularly care for, is used well in this episode, as a potential buyer at an auction whose job is to push up the price of the house they want Powell to buy. In my opinion this is the perfect amount of responsibility to give him, after all he’s a new member of the team and needs time to hone his skills. The ending of the episode and the resolution to Eddie’s problem with the nursing home, is perfect. Something that Hustle does really well is foreshadowing, sometimes it’s obvious, if the characters are in a restaurant and someone in the background smashes a plate, you can bet it’ll come into play later, but most of the time it’s incredibly subtle, a line in a conversation, a minor character someone talks to as part of a different con. Stuff like that is worthy of respect and it comes into play here. Getting Even is a really strong episode, easily one of the best. The mark is memorable, the con is genius and Albert’s sub-plot is touching and meaningful
4) Confessions (Series 2, Episode 2)
The gang are working on conning several marks by selling them fake religious books, when Albert goes AWOL and with good reason; a close friend of his suddenly dies in hospital, leaving him with immense grief and uncertainty about his own future, resulting in him going to church to seek contemplation. When Albert returns, he offers a new mark in way of an apology; former gangster turned celebrity chef, Johnny Keyes (Johnny Keyes). With a bad heart and fears about his health, Keyes is eager to find his long-lost son, kidnapped when he was a baby. While Danny plays the part of the mark’s prodigal son, Mickey and Ash begin to worry about Albert’s state of mind, especially when he starts losing a little too much money at cards.
Confessions is an episode with a lot going for it. Of all the ‘great idea, poor execution’ episodes, I think this one is the best. One of the things I like about Hustle is that it’s inadvertently more complex than it intends to be. Mickey believes wholeheartedly, that their cons are morally right, and while I wish more episodes challenged this idea, the one that comes closet is Confessions. Johnny Keyes is a brutal, aggressive man, but conning him into believing his dead son is actually alive for monetary gain doesn’t really sit right; its an argument that could go either way and to the episodes credit, time is given over to the fact both Danny and Stacie voice concerns about it; neither totally comfortable with the idea of using such a personal and sensitive experience in a man’s life for their own gain. That alone is brilliant, while I don’t feel Confessions goes nearly far enough, it at least tries (I suspect this reluctance to question the character’s morality stems from a desire to keep the show relatively light as well as maintain their likability). The ending of the episode is especially poignant, Johnny dies in Danny’s arms after sharing an intimate bonding experience with the man he believes to be his son and Danny seems genuinely distressed at the idea of him dying. To comfort him, Mickey gives us a great line “We don’t just lie to people Danny, we tell them what they want to hear, and for a moment, they’re truly happy”. I just wish more was made of the moral question, maybe Danny relives some of his own issues with his father (who, to the best of my knowledge, is never mentioned) and maybe he begins to like and almost think of Keyes as a sort of father figure. If there’s a mark you can feel sorry for, it’s Johnny Keyes.
The sub-plot is also excellent, watching Albert contemplate his own mortality takes on a new weight with the sad death of actor Robert Vaughn earlier in the year, of all the main characters in Hustle, Albert gets the most sub-plots and they’re all great. I especially love Albert’s realisation that it’s not the destination that matters in life, but the journey. It serves as another reminder of just how lonely the life of a grifter can be, and that the achievements that define the life of normal people; marriage, children, steady employment, rarely apply to them.
I do have some complaints though. Firstly, the con doesn’t make a great deal of sense; it does seem very convenient that Johnny died. We are told that he’s not got long to live but realistically that could mean months or years, and as a dying man, isn’t he going to want to spend as much time as possible with the son he thought he’d lost forever? Won’t Danny have to spend large amounts of time with Keyes for relatively little pay-out? Knowing Mickey, he had an answer for that but I’m pretty sure it’s never mentioned in the show. Secondly, wouldn’t the reappearance of a gangster turned celebrity chef’s presumed deceased son be a major news item? Isn’t that just unwanted attention? Surely that runs the risk of a picture of them being spotted and identified by a previous mark, after all, the kidnapping is implied to have been a fairly big story in its day. I know this it nitpcking but for a show that’s usually quite good with loose ends like these, it does stand out. I suppose that tells you how passionate the writers were about this storyline, they were willing to ignore issues like this in favour of a good story. Regardless of some plot holes and the fact I don’t think the writers took the idea far enough, Confessions is a great episode with an excellent main story and a stellar sub-plot, a must watch.
3) Picasso Finger Painting (Series 8, Episode 2)
Ash and Mickey have tried to capitalise on the theft of a rare Picasso by selling a fake to a well-known collector, Petre Save (Peter Polycarpou), a vicious Eastern European gangster. Unfortunately, they learn too late that it was Sava who owned the stolen original. Mickey is taken prisoner by Sava, leaving Ash and the others with just a few hours to return the real stolen painting, otherwise Mickey is a dead man. With their usual contacts unable to give any clues, except only the word that a Scottish crew were behind the theft, the gang visit renowned Picasso forger Dolly Hammond (Sheila Hancock), the woman who created the forgery. She points them in the direction of the McCrary brothers, the thieves in question, and are told that they stole the original painting for another renowned gangster, Harry Holmes (Martin Kemp). Time is ticking and Mickey is edging closer to death; if the group can’t find the real painting, Ash will have to devise a plan that can get him back.
Much as I like Mickey as a character, it is remarkably refreshing to see an episode where he’s barely in it. The episode revolves around the gang, now temporarily led by Ash, looking for the original painting to save Mickey; that’s it, and it’s enough. I love a lot about this episode, there’s a variety of fun supporting characters; Petre Salva is equal parts amusing and threatening, Harry Holmes is the archetypal East End gangster, ‘Mad’ Dolly Hammond is suitably Dotty, and it’s nice to see Bill Bailey back as Cyclops, the man who knows everything. I also really love just how frantic things get, with only 24 hours to give Petre Salva the painting, the gang first find out where the stolen painting is, then plans to steal it, then the police turn up and take the painting before they do, then it turns out THAT painting is a fake, then they have to find the McCrary brothers who have the real one, then they have to steal it from them, then Harry Holmes turns up and take it from them, then they find out THAT one was a fake; it just goes on, and on, and on. The pacing is great and it just adds to the panic of the main characters as they realise they’re not going to get the painting back in time and are going to have to think of another solution, one which totally works and is actually pretty impressive.
That being said, there are problems with the episode. Firstly, while it is great to see just how vital Mickey is to the team and how easy he makes things look, and having Ash struggle to come up with a plan does just that, but I don’t know, Ash isn’t stupid, he does have skills and while Mickey is the smarter conman, Ash still has lots to bring to the table. Personally, I might’ve liked to see that same panic and difficulty but highlighting Ash’s approach to the con, maybe with a more technological aspect to it or something. By far though, the biggest flaw is the reason why the episode starts in the first place. Mickey and Ash forge a stolen painting and unknowingly try to sell it to the guy who owned the original? Are you kidding me? Mickey Stone, the guy who knows every play, calculates every move, plans cons out to the very last degree, didn’t think to check who owned the painting in the beginning? I mean, I guess there isn’t really any need to check but Petre Salva is a dangerous man, surely the theft of the painting would’ve come up in their research on him? It’s a real problem but it results in a really great episode, easily the best of a great final series.
2) As One Flew Out, One Flew In (Series 4, Episode 1)
With Mickey heading off to Australia to help pull off a major con with other grifters, Danny feels that it’s time to take the lead. To prove he’s ready for it, he comes up with an ambitious plan to sell the Hollywood sign to Texan film memorabilia fanatic Anthony Westley (Robert Wagner), a devious and corrupt man who has “bribed, blackmailed and backstabbed, his way to $50,000,000”. Once the crew arrives in LA (since the con has to occur there), Danny convinces Westly that the sign is being put up for sale to be replaced with a brand new one. Westley’s willing to pay big money to get his hands on the sign and will stop at nothing to ensure he wins the bid. When a problem arises mid-con, Danny manages to overcome it swiftly, only for another one to occur that he doesn’t expect. When the mark becomes cautious about parting with his cash, he decides to keep eyes and ears on his $500,000 at all times. After Westly has given the money to Ash (while he’s in character), Danny must devise a calm and well thought out plan to sneak it from right under the mark’s nose
Danny Blue might’ve been a really unlikable character had it not been for actor Marc Warren who brings a really playful endearing touch to it. In the first episode of series 4, Danny is left in an interesting place. His rival is gone so he doesn’t really have anyone to compete with but Mickey is said to be leaving to help some other con artists sell the Sydney Opera House; that’s one Hell of a difficult thing to top. Danny’s answer to this is pretty obvious, he tries to match Mickey by offering to sell Anthony Westley, who at that point has been expressly uninterested in everything he’s been offered, from Citizen Kane’s Rosebud sled to Marilyn Monroe’s shoes, the Hollywood sign. The reaction from the rest of the crew is perfect, they’re pissed off. Not only do they now have to fly to LA to follow Westley, but they don’t even have the first inkling of a plan for such a monumental task. Still, you can’t help but admire Danny’s ambition and genuine belief that everything will be totally fine.
From that point on, everything else is just as great. I love the playful debate the gang have about whether Danny should be leader, I love the genuine falling out over the fact that with Mickey’s departure, everything is far more stressful and less secure, I love the mark; Anthony Westley is such a wonderfully despicable character who seems to love being an immoral bastard. I love the fact the con is set in LA, it’s a rare but pleasant change of pace. Most of all though, I love the con, specifically the conclusion. It is masterful, just genius, perhaps the smartest resolution to any con in the entire show.
However, there are some issues. This episode’s con is one of those that would’ve easily fallen apart had the mark done even the slightest bit of research, that goes doubly for the con’s resolution. I know I expressed my total admiration for it, but it’s inevitable that Westley will figure out he was conned when he hears no more about the sale of the Hollywood sign. Loose ends like that throw me off a bit, if anything, this episode proves that Hustle is a show that is best watched if you suspend your disbelief just a little. Regardless, As One Flew Out, One Flew In, is a solid episode and probably the one I’ve watched the most.
1) The Henderson Challenge (Series 3, Episode 2)
Flaws are revealed in the gang’s leadership as the rivalry between Mickey and Danny escalated to breaking point. To solve this dilemma, Albert suggests that the pair take part in the “Henderson Challenge”. Dropped naked in the middle of London and given six hours to grift as much money as possible, it becomes a test of pure grifting skill between Danny and Mickey and their individual styles, with Stacie helping Danny while Ash works with Mickey, but while Danny starts to get ahead of his opponent, Mickey decides to do what he’s best at, the long con, all the while wondering whether perhaps this challenge is Albert’s way of sending him a message…
If you’re a hardcore Hustle fan and you’re reading this, then I bet you agree with me on this one. How could it be anything else, the premise is amazing, pitting the different personalities and styles of Mickey and Danny is an obvious idea, after all it makes sense that eventually these two great egos would be tempted to have a legitimate test of their skills, but the conversations each of them has add so much more that would be so easy to just let the idea carry them. Danny is very clear that he has no intention of usurping Mickey as leader, that he respects him and he wants that same level of respect back from his idol. Mickey wonders whether he’s still capable as leader, whether maybe he’s getting past it and this ‘Henderson Challenge’ isn’t just Albert’s way of letting Mickey know he might want to consider moving on. This sort of open and honest character insight is just one of a few reasons why The Henderson Challenge is my favourite Hustle episode.
Not only does The Henderson Challenge have a great premise and tell us more about the characters, it also showcases a lot of cons, something that’s always fun to see. We’ve got Danny and Mickey conning their way into clothes, cars, jewellery, phones, money, anything that’ll help them win, and it’s amazing to see these grifters, people at the top of their game, do what they do best. Watching Mickey’s careful planning clash against Danny’s improvised and often chaotic style is great and helps to emphasise just how different these characters are. Mickey’s way of trying to beat Danny is amazing, the reveal of who won is great, and the ending is pitch perfect. It’s such a solid episode, another much watch. Yeah, you could argue that an episode like this would’ve worked better in an earlier series, when Danny and Mickey’s rivalry was at its height, and that the amount of stuff they steal and cons they pull involving totally innocent strangers does sort of undermine the whole “Can’t con an honest man” rule, but you could just as easily counter-argue that Mickey’s boredom was beginning to set in in series 3 and that this episode highlights the reasons why he left in series 4, and that a ‘con’ and ‘stealing’ are arguably two different things, but these complaints don’t really matter. The Henderson Challenge is a stellar episode, and, for now and the foreseeable future, my favourite Hustle episode.
So, there you have it, my top 10 favourite Hustle episodes. I’m not saying they’re all perfect, as I said in my intro I suspect there’s no such thing as a perfect Hustle episode, but in my opinion, some of these come damn close. I’ve wanted to write this list for a while and it was pretty difficult to cut it down to just ten episodes. Who knows, perhaps one day I’ll write a list of my top ten least favourite Hustle episodes, I suspect there may be enough. In the meantime, why don’t you comment below with some of your favourite episodes. Have I missed any out? Are there some I’ve mentioned here you think are overrated? Do you disagree with the ranking? Whatever it is, I’d love to hear it.