Forget viral outbreaks; nothing's more contagious than *feels*
Boring lives next door to Interesting, and sometimes you have to walk through its front yard to get there. This week’s Containment presented several subplots that, at their outset, felt very samey and blah before suddenly taking each a step further into the realm of entertaining. A bored scientist pouting? Have her build a cell phone from scratch! A bland couple flirting? Put them in wacky sunglasses while they discuss mental illness! An armed robbery? Add a second group of armed robbers. See, sometimes you only have to take things one step further to get a viewer to care.
The most notable thing about “With Silence and Tears” was how in its fourth week Containment dropped all pretense of being an action thriller and fully embraced what it was probably meant to be all along: a full-on angst-fest. Perhaps we should’ve paid more attention to executive producer Julie Plec’s production card (“My So-Called Company”) or the fact that each episode has been titled after poetry, but it’s now clear that Containment only ever pretended to be a white-knuckle examination of a viral outbreak so that it could Trojan Horse in long conversations about love and dreams and relationships and regret. In other words, forget about the logistics of the cordon and focus instead on the woman standing in the window holding an “I love you” sign. The only thing these characters are trying to contain are feels.
Although it was probably a mistake for Containment to make Lex its main character — there’s only so much mileage to get out of a by-the-book policeman who misses his girlfriend — his plotline did lead to several of this week’s most meaningful moments. For one thing, he’s the human face of the quarantine, and it’s he who has to deliver rote proclamations of “trust us” during press conferences. It remains reprehensible that Containment seems to have taken an anti-freedom-of-the-press stance (the only conclusion to be drawn from numerous sympathetic heroes grousing about journalists), but at least Lex felt horrible about outright lying to the public. His opening speech about how a free flow of information was “worse” than the virus was definitely undercut later when he melted down in the bathroom attempting to rehearse his next set of lies. If he can’t be right, he can at least feel guilty about it.
Lex’s most amusing moment, however, came when he was too busy with cordon business to accept a phone call from Jana, who had built a phone from scratch in order to reach him. Which, fine, none of us accepts calls from “Unknown” numbers, but for me this moment was the most hilarious one in the entire episode. I also found it both amusing (and genuinely moving) when Lex was tasked with the creepy duty of monitoring the cordon via drone, and he suddenly saw Jana on his video monitor holding up aforementioned cardboard sign like a particularly gorgeous and smitten street hobo. See what I mean? Even if Lex has the most boring personality of anyone on the show, at least he’s interesting-adjacent.
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To be fair, not all of this episode was about matters of the heart. In one scene highly reminiscent of The Walking Dead, Hot Jake (literally hot if his constantly sweat-soaked tank top is any indication) ventured out into the wilds of the cordon to retrieve some mysterious meds for Katie. Yes, he unwisely shimmied into a crashed truck and encountered a seizing junkie, but Containment is no The Walking Dead, and therefore we had no real fear of him suddenly getting disemboweled by a stench-emitting ghoul. But this quick injection of adrenaline made his later come-down in the hallway with Katie that much more meaningful: She admitted she’s on mood stabilizers stemming from a previous addiction to “bad stuff,” and he admitted he had been something of a sex addict (though he didn’t use those words). If Containment‘s primary thesis statement is that people reveal their true selves when society falls away, these scenes made that pleasingly clear.
Teresa’s still pregnant and difficult, but her subplot this week had two main thrusts: the unending series of armed robberies that her price-gouging grocer mother seems to invite and the fact that her baby-daddy will stop at nothing to enter the cordon to be with her. Regarding the former, again, it began with the same gang of redneck goons from last week entering the store and brandishing shotguns in every direction. Snooze-fest. We’ve seen this already! But things got interesting when a group of ruffians from the other side of the tracks entered and took control. One, because they just looked cooler, but two, they were immediately more likable. Like, when Teresa’s boyfriend finally arrived and the leader prevented them from hugging? That’s just common sense! There is a virus on the loose, guys. As far as armed robbers go, I trusted them.
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Ultimately, “With Silence and Tears” didn’t do much to move the main story forward — the cordon remains secure, the virus is still infectious — but its main concern was deepening relationships, and in that regard, it was successful. Characters who at first seemed like cardboard cut-outs have begun to act more human and nuanced, and the sheer pleasure of listening in on their long chats felt both cozy and comfortable. Containment seems to know that sometimes the most dazzling special effect is good, old-fashioned angst, and the sooner we accept that, the more enjoyment we’ll have. But it just goes to show how important it is for writers to move past Boring as quickly as possible. The real party’s always next door.