'Hostages' Toni Collette knows you're asking 'why doesn't she kill him?'

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toni-collette-hostages-cbs-325.jpgThe beauty of the CBS drama "Hostages" is that last week's pilot left us in suspense, and the actors and producers promise they are trying to keep that tension going for the series' 15 episodes.

"How can you sustain a show like that?" asks Dylan McDermott, who stars as rogue FBI agent Duncan Carlisle. "We don't understand it. That in itself is kind of interesting because everyone is asking the same question."

The Monday, Sept. 30, episode, "Invisible Leash," continues that tautness.

Set in Washington, D.C., "Hostages" revolves around an assassination attempt on the president. Rather than have a sniper take him out, here those who want him dead try enlisting a thoracic surgeon to do the dirty deed.

Dr. Ellen Sanders ( Toni Collette, "United States of Tara") thwarted the assassins at the end of the pilot.

"Why doesn't she kill him?" Collette asks Zap2it. "Because there would be no TV show. That's a good question: How could anyone live with themselves? To have to live with that, I can't imagine would be a smooth sail of an existence. You would have to really live with that weight and that guilt."

For anyone who did not catch the pilot, it's a worthy addition to your fall viewing. What unfolded in the premiere was: Sanders was scheduled to operate on the president ( James Naughton). The night before, she was cooking dinner in the large suburban home she shares with her philandering husband, Brian ( Tate Donovan), and teenagers Morgan ( Quinn Shephard), who is pregnant, and Jake ( Mateus Ward), who is dealing drugs.

While they're settling in for what should be a relaxing evening at home, a band of masked, heavily armed intruders led by Carlisle takes over their home. They hold her and her family hostage.

Carlisle explains that either the doctor kills the president or they kill her family. During the pilot, it became clear that Carlisle and those he works for have done their homework: They know everything about this family.

They explain clearly how Dr. Sanders will kill the leader of the free world and how she can do so and not raise suspicions: She can replace a necessary drug with a vial of poison, cleverly camouflaged in the bottom of a tube of lipstick so she can slip it into her pocket. This was supposed to go into the president's IV.

But she foils them by replacing the toxin with a blood thinner, which effectively delays the operation by two weeks.

The episode ended with Dr. Sanders looking straight into the camera, presumably at Carlisle. Regardless of the guns trained on her family, she says, levelly, that she does not give up.

"She is given two options," Collette says, "save your family or kill the president, and what she does is at least buy some time to figure it out, which says a lot about her."

Collette relishes playing this character, whom she describes as a "good-hearted woman with the best of intentions in all circumstances, and she is incredibly smart. And when confronted with this overwhelming situation, she really surprises the person who thought she was a bit of a pushover.

"When put in a situation like this, you really discover what you are really made of," Collette continues.

In this week's episode, Carlisle tells the good doctor that disobeying his direct orders will cost a family member his or her life. However, the family is to go on as usual for the next two weeks. So, business meetings for the dad, surgeries for the mom, pregnancy issues for the daughter, and cash-flow and supplier problems for the drug-dealer son.

That's not to suggest that Carlisle and his gang are giving up; rather, he warns the family that he will be monitoring its moves.

It's the intensity with which they are following the Sanderses, and how brilliantly plotted the assassination attempt was, that grips viewers.

"I think that it's a cat-and-mouse story," executive producer, writer and director Jeffrey Nachmanoff says at a press conference. "I've always been a fan of Hitchcock films, suspense films, and the way I tried to make the pilot work and the way Rick and I are trying to make the series work is to give the audience that feeling and that ride of suspense. And that suspense is a little bit different from surprise in the sense that we are not making a horror film, but you feel on edge because you don't know how it's going to play out.

"You know what he wants," Nachmanoff continues. "You know what she wants. The two things are ... two trains on a collision track. And what's kind of fun and surprising is when you put a switcher in right before they collide, and now we have a new problem. Every episode is another turn of this screw."

The action unfolds over two weeks, with each show covering roughly a day. Both stars say they like the 15-episode setup better as it makes for richer plots.

"What I do appreciate is the constantly evolving story," Collette says. "I find it really exciting being a part of that. I am surprised by the twists and turns."
Photo/Video credit: CBS