This story is part of , our podcast featuring interviews with actors, artists, celebrities and creative types about their work, career and current obsessions.
Not long into the first episode of The Endgame, things start to go sideways. What seems to be a story about two powerful women — one a seasoned FBI agent in New York, the other an international arms dealer who’s finally been captured — turns into a complicated and entertaining bank heist drama.
Then you realize that NBC’s pitch for the show, “The new queen of crime has arrived,” is designed to leave you guessing about which one is the queen.
Ryan Michelle Bathé, who’s enjoyed a career playing strong, interesting women in shows including First Wives Club, Boston Legal, This Is Us, and the Amazon Prime movie Sylvie’s Love, says that’s what makes the role of FBI agent Val Turner so fun. Bathé’s Turner is a smart, principled and relentless agent with a complicated backstory that’s made her a social outcast at the bureau. But even so, she’s the only one who knows how to get inside the mind of Elena Federova, a brilliant and equally complicated criminal mastermind, played with style and flair by the equally fabulous Morena Baccarin.
I asked Bathé, who spoke to me for CNET’s I’m So Obsessed podcast series, to describe what the show is about. “It is bananas,” Bathe´ says with a laugh while on location in New York filming episodes for The Endgame, which premieres on NBC on Feb. 21.
“It’s a whodunnit, who did it, who’s doing it type of situation where we have this Carmen Sandiego figure who is very mysterious and very classy and all the things an international villain is supposed to be,” she says. “But is she a villain? Is she not a villain? We don’t really know … and the only person among the sort of ‘good guys’ — and I put that in quotes — is my character in the FBI, who is the only one, for whatever reason, who happens to have this dossier on this international woman of mystery.”
When Federova is “captured” — with that word also intentionally in quotes — we find out she’s actually staging a series of high-profile bank heists simultaneously across New York. We also learn it’s no accident that Turner is the agent assigned to play a game of cat-and-mouse with her. And that’s just the first episode.
“There’s a lot of subtext about [society] not taking women as seriously as we should be taken, and how we have to fight very hard for recognition — but that sometimes we can exploit those loopholes and men’s thinking about us and use it for our own nefarious, in her case, gain,” Bathé adds. “In my case, I’m constantly proving myself, even though I’ve been on the job for many years, and … I’m still forced to prove why I deserve to be in the room.”
Bathé notes that the FBI had to wait until longtime bureau chief J. Edgar Hoover “had to die — they had to wait for the man to die — before they were allowed to let the first women into their training programs. That says something so profound.” A fact check shows that Hoover, who died in May 1972, did have “one firm rule: only men could be special agents in the FBI.” The first two women agents joined the agency shortly after his death, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
During our conversation, Bathé talked about training for the role, about her career, how she’s been spending time during the pandemic lockdown with her family (including her husband, actor Sterling K. Brown) and how she’s obsessed with an app called Dragon City, which she plays with one of her sons.
“There’s not many things that we can vibe on, because I do not understand Fortnite at all,” she says, with another laugh. “And I know that it’s silly and I know that it’s crazy, but I love Dragon City and that I can do it with my oldest son.”
You can listen to my interview with Bathé in the podcast player at the top of this article. Subscribe to I’m So Obsessed on your favorite podcast app. In each episode, Patrick Holland or I catch up with an artist, actor or creator to learn about work, career and current obsessions.