After a season's worth of tension, Special Ops: Lioness Season 1 Episode 7 finally sets its plans in motion, despite a few unexpected hiccups.
As the team prepares for an increasingly complex mission, Joe and Cruz's stories crash together in a messy, tension-filled collision that sets up a bundle of what-ifs for the impending finale.
Cruz, who's been circling the drain with her feelings for Stephanie Nur's Aaliyah growing deeper each day, finally gave up trying to fight herself in a moment of desperation.
Aaliyah took Cruz to New York City for some last-minute harried wedding shopping, where the champagne was flowing freely while they perused their options. Things grew intensely real when they were finally away from the Amrohi security team.
Though it's apparent she realizes it's a luxury with a time limit, Aaliyah's been used to getting what she wants for most of her life. Stephanie Nur's Aaliyah quickly asked Cruz about their kiss, disregarding the fact that the pair were shopping for outfits to wear to her wedding to someone else.
Cruz, barely having processed the information, operates from a place of id. She wants Aaliyah, Aaliyah wants her, the rest be damned.
The reckless abandon Cruz reacts with when Aaliyah gives her the green light is startling, especially considering their kiss in Special Ops: Lioness Season 1 Episode 6.
For someone in Cruz's position, constantly playing pretend in a way that makes her uncomfortable, the authenticity of her feelings for Aaliyah is the only thing she can cling to for a dose of reality.
Aaliyah allowing Cruz to approach her nearly naked in a dressing room or slide her hand up Aaliyah's thigh on the car ride home confirms the feelings are mutual, that they're not just something Cruz is making up to convince herself that she can do the job she's been tasked with.
When Cruz and Aaliyah are entirely left alone, uninterrupted, the former understands that she's making a choice – the wrong choice for her job and potentially for herself, but a choice nonetheless.
The choice is Aaliyah, and it seems easy for Cruz to pull her in and let herself go.
After the women have fallen into bed together, blissfully ignorant of anything else, reality sets in for Cruz.
The guttural sense of remorse and disbelief Laysla De Oliveira brings to Cruz in a matter of moments is overwhelming in a beautiful way. Her reaction to what's happened between them, gasping and breathless in the most comfortable bed Cruz has likely ever slept in, brings us in as Cruz spins out.
When she reaches out to Joe, who's been preparing for the team to deploy, everything comes grinding to a screeching halt.
Like her reaction to finding out her daughter Kate has been in an accident, Joe understands this is dire and immediately heads out to protect her asset.
When Joe reaches Cruz, we expect to see her in anger. Every other time she's had to deal with an issue throughout this mission, Joe's disappointment has cut deep, and she hasn't held back from letting that show.
Here, we see yet another side to Zoe Saldaña's Joe, one we've seen before in a completely different context.
Joe stoops down in front of Cruz and validates her. She understands – of course she understands – that things can be difficult and feelings can arise. Joe assures Cruz that what she's feeling makes sense before she dismantles it entirely.
The way Joe quietly and carefully appeals to Cruz's sensibilities is fascinating. Joe is phenomenal at her job; she knows how to handle any situation, but this is more than being good. This is fundamental understanding, a bond that can't just be sculpted by professionalism.
Joe's roles in her life are converging, allowing her to bring the mothering she's had to put on the back burner to the forefront for a spectacular show.
The breadth of Joe's emotions doesn't come flooding out until later, though, after she's brought Cruz back to the CIA's prep space and debriefed with Kaitlyn.
Cruz, who has told Aaliyah their relationship can't continue but accepted an invitation to join her in Majorca for the wedding, goes to get some rest. Joe heads home to ensure Kate is set up on her first night home after being in the hospital, Neil and their younger daughter Charlie helping out as they get Kate settled.
When left alone with her daughter, Joe can be her authentic self momentarily. After disappointing Kate, she's honest about the danger she's facing at work.
The mission she's headed into could very well cost everyone's lives involved, and Joe acknowledges this to her daughter tearfully. They've never been quite this honest before.
A resentment in Kate that's been brewing throughout Special Ops: Lioness Season 1 fizzles out when she realizes how difficult it is for Joe to leave her and sees the emotion brewing on her mother's face.
Joe, who's never been so open with her children before, doesn't deal with the change well. She understands all at once what she's been missing out on and, at the same time, what she's been withholding from her family.
Tearfully, she retreats, and when Neil follows her up to their bedroom, she explains that this is it: this is the last mission she's doing with the Lioness team. She's requesting a desk job as soon as she's home.
It feels too easy, likely because it is. Throughout the episode, Joe and Nicole Kidman's Kaitlyn have spent their time preparing us for the possibility that this mission could become fatal for everyone involved quickly, and they're ready for the possibility that no one from the Lioness team makes it back onto US soil.
With each passing scene, an ominous sense of dread seeps in, but it could be a red herring as we move into the final moments of the season.
It simply feels too on the nose for everything to go entirely one way or entirely the other. The result will likely span some middle ground that viewers won't grasp until we see it.
The final moments of Special Ops: Lioness Season 1 Episode 7 are meant to leave us uneasy, looking to what's ahead without truly being ready.
As viewers, we're waiting for the other shoe to drop, for Joe's mothering to betray her biological daughter and her professional one, or for Aaliyah and Cruz's relationship to bubble over into something dangerous.
With just one episode left to put things into perspective, it's possible the Lioness team's mission could go off without a hitch, but highly unlikely.
Special Ops: Lioness has left us with tension that will surely bubble over into its exciting, highly-anticipated finale.
Cher Thompson is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on X.