Yah. The most obvious options here are, in order:
4) Hacker/Hitter, because they're both out of their comfort zones.
Given the nature of the episode (everyone tells stories about a job they didn't know the others were involved in), only one person can succeed, and that's whoever tells their story last. There are other possible endings to this kind of episode, including nobody succeeding, but you know whoever goes first (and second, and third, and so on) cannot be the one who succeeded, unless they're lying or other shenanigans are involved.
Level -1 structural meta-gaming is to have the thief go last and get the prize. This is the painfully obvious solution that no one will think is clever or interesting unless it's handled extremely well/hidden in plain sight, etc.
Level 0 structural meta-gaming is to have the mastermind or grifter go last and get the prize. While not as painfully obvious, it's still... obvious. And... yeah, maybe a little painful, too, depending how many milliseconds it took you to get to the stack-ranked list, after considering the possibility of the Thief getting the dagger and discarding it.
The writers only start doing anything potentially interesting when they hit level 1 structural meta-gaming and have either the hacker or the hitter getting the dagger. Obviously you have to jump through some hoops to get here, and you can't go straight here all the time, or else your meta-gaming becomes obvious and expecting the "least likely person" becomes level -1 for informed audience members.
Level 2 meta-gaming, of course, is to create the expectation that a member of the cast got the dagger, and have someone else entirely get it, or do something else clever to wrap everything up into a bow. This is even trickier than playing at level 1, and you really can't do it all the time, because people will get annoyed at you for being too clever.
The point here isn't that you can't write stories which work at level -1 or 0, but that if you're going with the predictable approach, you have to do other things that still make it interesting and worthwhile for people who see the ending coming from miles out. I mean, one should really do this for levels 1 & 2 as well, because the unexpected is only unexpected once, and ideally you're aiming to create something that can stand up to re-reading or -watching. You can make it look like you went with a level 2 ending before going back to a -1 ending, with the Thief having been especially sneaky, if you handle it right. But the absolute most obvious plot path is almost never correct, and the level 0 alternatives to are really only okay if handled smoothly and with assurance, IMHO.
Personally I prefer the Level 4 metagame, where the producers break into your house and steal all your stuff while you're distracted watching their terrible TV show.
Yeah, but that requires an episode to contain the Hypnotoad.
NOTHING CAN CONTAIN THE HYPNOTOAD!
But can the Hypnotoad hypnotize... itself?
Happy birthday plus one day!
I just saw this episode for the first time and liked it a whole lot. I think you make good points about how it could've been better, though. Interestingly, I didn't realize that Nate was even going to be in the theft part of the story--that it would be all five of them, not just four--until near the end, so I guess either I'm a less sophisticated viewer than some, or Nate just bores me.
I hate Nate. I want to kick him in the shins multiple times per episode. Sometimes he gets kicked in the shins. I like those episodes.
Heee. Yes. *goes away giggling*
I loved how they gradually subbed in each character for the other actors playing those parts. I particularly loved the not-so-subtle commentary--that Sophie was freaking out about them not recognizing her accent, but that their view of Some Black Dude had nothing whatsoever to do with how Hardison actually looked, so she was at least as bad at it as he was. I loved how they were all assuming that the security head was some kind of evil genius, when in fact he was kind of a schlub.
I just thought they could have done a much better job with those elements.
Yes! I realized immediately that waitress!girl was Parker, and Eliot was pretty easy to figure out, but then I went, "Where's Hardison? There's nobody like Hardison here...there's a black guy but he's nothing like him in the slightest, it must be another black guy somewhere..."
And Parker (or Hardison?) remembering Sophie and Eliot's awkward encounter as them making out madly! Heh.
I almost thought security guy would turn out to be Nate, actually. Was surprised when he wasn't.
This is why I gave up on Leverage.
In the first season, the narrative undermines Nate constantly. (In The Bank Job, he *blows it all* by not trusting Sophie to self-rescue.)
After that? It's all Nate all the time.
And frankly, I am here for the Parker/Eliot/Hardison show.
Right. The more Nate, the less I like the show. I am also not the world's hugest Sophie fan, but the narrative at least seems to recognize Sophie's blind spots. Whereas it recognizes Nate's only to reassure him that they're not such a big deal really.
But I need workout fodder, so I've stuck around, albeit somewhat behind, for Parker, Eliot, and Hardison. Especially Hardison.
Happy belated birthday!
And yes, Nate annoys me considerably, though I've only watched through the middle of season 2. He's an alcoholic in denial, though it's unclear how much of his bad actions are related to that. I want life to kick him enough that he'll decide to fix himself, but the writers of the show don't seem willing (as far as I've watched) to let that happen to him.
I watch the show, when I do, for Parker and the capers and the banter.
I don't know if you intend to watch further, but I cannot say that the show's handling of Nate's alcoholism improves in my opinion from mid-S2. If anything the opposite. There's possibility that it will get better from here, but...so far I am not impressed.
Happy Belated Birthday. I hope this is an excellent year for you!