Kittens, lollipops, and serial killers
Credit: Michael Parmelee/CBS
S1 E13
  • TV Show

For someone who works on some of the FBI’s biggest cases, Brian hasn’t faced too many truly terrifying bad guys. Even when we’re faced with some of Limitless’ most notorious murderers and kidnappers, they almost always have some quirky personality trait to make them less scary. The convicted felon who’s committed several murders-for-hire will happily confess to another as long as you give him some bagels. The former mafia man who spent most of the ’70s transporting dead bodies is a total softie as soon as he hears his wife singing opera. The infamous Malaysian pirate leader collects pinball machines.

Sure, all of these quirks can be partly attributed to Brian’s generally optimistic worldview: He’s the kind of guy who tries to see the best in everyone, and he’d rather manipulate people by indulging their more positive desires — e.g. bribing them with bagels and pinball machines — instead of threatening them. Which is why the opening of this episode feels like such a dramatic shift in tone. For the first time, we see the aftermath of a particularly gruesome murder — including a LOT of blood.

Brian is understandably jarred by the grisly scene laid out in front of him, so he immediately retreats into his subconscious, which takes the form of his childhood bedroom. (I love the poster of Rebecca above his bed.) There, the host of one of his favorite childhood TV shows, Josh-o-saurus Josh, is on hand to help him process these traumatic visuals by replacing horrific terms with more G-rated words. The responsible serial killer, who’s been nicknamed The Marrying Man, is now Mr. Pralines and Cream, and so on and so forth.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about replacing words like “strangle and murder” with “tickle and cuddle.” It’s an attempt to make these horrific crimes a little easier to swallow, but it really just ends up making the whole thing creepier. (It’s particularly unsettling when violent rape gets rebranded as “playing cowboys and Indians.”) It’s an attempt to dig into some more serious stuff while still maintaining the (mostly) playful Limitless tone, but I’m really not sure it works in this instance.

Once we leave the dead woman’s apartment, though, the rest of the episode is a little more in line with the show’s established tone. For years, a top profiler at Quantico named David Englander has been chasing The Marrying Man Mr. Pralines and Cream, so he immediately flies up to New York to jump on the case. Englander is…rather pompous, to say it politely. He’s the kind of guy who chases the most vicious and sensational cases possible in the hopes of translating that into a book deal/speaking engagements/general fame. As Englander is (rather dramatically) filling in the FBI on the Mr. Pralines and Cream case, Brian rules out his suspect almost immediately, narrowing it down instead to two other guys. One of them has a secret box filled with finger bones, so it’s pretty clear that he’s the killer. Case closed.

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Englander is, of course, impressed, so he invites Brian down to Quantico to take a crack at a few other unsolved serial murders. Murders committed by serial killers like Mr. Fudge Brownie, Mr. Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, and Miss Mango Sorbet. Brian isn’t too keen to spend much more time with Englander, but he can’t resist the opportunity to tackle some unsolved puzzles. Also, ROAD TRIP. He needs someone to give him his daily dose of NZT, so Rebecca’s tagging along. Just no bongs in her car.

Rebecca is a mostly perfect road-trip partner, and she does a pretty good job at channeling Hall & Oates. The only snag is when she brings up Edward Morra, which sets off every alarm bell possible in Brian’s head. Rebecca isn’t stupid, and she can see how unbelievable it is that Morra can go from being a failing writer to a presidential candidate, and his assassination attempt still seems suspicious. Add that to the fact that the shooter was on NZT, and it’s pretty clear that Sen. Morra isn’t who he seems to be.

NEXT: Malicious distribution of sex toys

Brian does a decent job of deflecting, but while he’s busy solving cases at Quantico, Rebecca spends her free time investigating Morra. But even with Rebecca poking around, Brian does manage to accomplish quite a bit, and he puts away some of the nation’s most notorious serial killers. Englander continues to be impressed because, after all, it’s like he tells Brian: “Game can recognize game.” He’s so enamored with Brian’s capabilities that he bestows him with the highest possible honor: a signed copy of his own book. How kind.

The only thing is that Englander’s book recounts his most famous case: the capture of Mr. Butter Pecan. Mr. Butter Pecan, a.k.a. Andre Hannan, strangled a bunch of high school kids, supposedly because he was a nerd/loner in high school and wanted to take it out on the kinds of teenagers who bullied him — the prom king, the quarterback, etc. Hannan actually confessed to the murders, but something doesn’t sit right with Brian. Mainly because he’s a scrawny dude who couldn’t possibly have strangled a bunch of healthy teenage boys. A quick side trip to Pennsylvania, where Hannan is on death row, confirms this, as he can’t even squeeze a hand gripper.

There is the small matter of Hannan’s full confession and the fact that he passes a polygraph test, but Brian knows that Englander got it wrong. A little digging, and he comes up with the most plausible theory. He even makes multiple elaborate poster boards to make his presentation as effective as possible because he knows how insane this whole theory sounds. (Naz: “We have PowerPoint, you know.) It turns out that there have been recent developments in neurology that have allowed scientists to insert fiber optic wires into the brain to implant false memories into mice. And conveniently, Hannan’s former therapist, Dr. Gilroy, is an expert in this sort of thing. A quick trip to Bethlehem to shave Hannan’s head, and the scars on his skull suggest that, yes, he totally got Inception-ed into thinking he committed a bunch of murders.

But before Brian can figure out how to prove it, Rebecca’s still poking into Morra’s past, which means that he needs to call up Sands for a little favor. Specifically, Brian needs a Brooks Brothers coat soaked in Morra’s (NZT-free) blood so if Rebecca decides to test the coat that’s been sitting in the evidence locker after Morra’s assassination attempt, she won’t find any evidence of NZT.

Sands provides the coat, but it’s up to Brian to break into the FBI evidence locker. Add that to the list of very serious laws Brian’s already broken. (Here are a few of my favorites: yelling “fire” in a crowded theater, maliciously distributing sex toys, running 65 mph in a 35 zone, performing the Macarena in Central Park, using a jetpack on the sidewalk, stealing 120 packs of Post-it notes from work, recording an NFL game without consent, and facilitating the escape of a war criminal.) He has the whole thing planned out, and he’s just about to switch out the coat when he realizes that Sands got sloppy: The buttons on Morra’s original coat are chipped, and the new coat still looks, well, new.

Have we established whether Sands is on NZT? I don’t think he is, but would Morra really want his right-hand man to be an ordinary human being? Or does Morra realize how dangerous it would be to have his henchmen on NZT? Either way, it’s up to Brian to fix Sands’ mistake, and while he’s frantically chipping away at the buttons, Rebecca and Boyle decide to swing by to pick up that coat. Fortunately, Brian manages to make the swap, and he gets out of there before Rebecca and Boyle are any wiser.

Once he meets back up with Rebecca and Boyle, they inform him that they just spoke to Dr. Gilroy, and he has some rock-solid alibis for the nights of every murder. So even if he did implant false memories into Andre Hannan’s brain, it doesn’t explain why. Brian, however, does a little more digging, and it turns out that Gilroy got a very nice donation to his institute from a wealthy billionaire tech guy — a tech guy whose son, Nolan Bale, happens to be a patient of Dr. Gilroy. A quick DNA test of Nolan Bale, cross-checked with DNA obtained from one of the Mr. Butter Pecan murders, is enough to implicate Nolan Bale, his father, and Dr. Gilroy, who accepted the bribe from Nolan’s father to pin the whole thing on Andre Hannan. Check another serial killer off of Brian’s list.

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