Bruce Lee movies can't make you a martial arts expert...even when you're on NZT.
When the Limitless pilot aired, I wrote that the episode felt a lot like a superhero origin story (especially since it was directed by The Amazing Spider-Man’s Marc Webb). Interestingly, that superhero vibe hasn’t gone away as the show has progressed. Many of the challenges Brian has faced since he started popping NZT feel like they came straight from the pages of a comic book — like nipping romance in the bud because he’s afraid of people getting hurt. Even the style of the show feels comic-esque, with pop-up speech bubbles and saturated colors.
And perhaps the clearest superhero parallel is Brian’s struggle with identity since he’s become NZT Man. The episode opens with a video message from NZT Brian to non-NZT Brian, patiently explaining (with help from detailed clay figures and a “Mr. Sandman” soundtrack) that although non-NZT Brian may want to follow his heart and tell Rebecca that yes, her father was definitely an NZT user, that would almost certainly result in a) incarceration or b) death.
Back when Brian was still trying to make things work with Shauna, he confided to Rebecca that he felt like two different people and he’s worried that people only care about him when he’s on NZT. Rebecca, for her part, was an A-plus friend, telling him that he was the same person whether or not he was on NZT, but Brian clearly still sees himself as two separate people, as evidenced by the fact that he makes videos addressed to one self from another. It’s an interesting dynamic, and I’m glad the show is starting to explore it further.
“You can’t be Mr. Happy Nice Guy anymore,” Brian tells himself. “You gotta be Badass Brian. Badass Brian keeps the secrets private. Badass Brian looks out for himself. And most importantly, when all this is over, Badass Brian gets to walk away — free and alive.”
With that in mind, Badass Brian heads into the FBI, where Rebecca and Boyle hand him his next case: The FBI has been investigating meth labs, and they’ve tracked one to a Lower East Side housing project. It takes Brian all of about two seconds to pinpoint the exact apartment, and while Brian’s ordered to stay with FBI surveillance and to not drink too much cranberry juice, the SWAT team heads in. But even with Brian’s “impeccable control” over his bodily functions, he can’t control his bladder, so he ends up sneaking into the building to pee — where he runs smack into a kid running from the FBI. Brian calls on his perfect recollection of Bruce Lee movies, but he still gets punched. “I don’t get it!” he says from the floor. “I’ve seen Enter the Dragon like 15 times.”
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The kid who clocked Brian is named Chris Garper, and he swears he was only following his brother, Sam, who was with a guy named Norris Allen — the owner of the Lower East Side apartment. Allen’s a scary dude, who got mixed up in an anarchist group called Sons of Nathan in jail, and it’s starting to look like this is less of a drug ring and more of a terrorist group.
Chris says he hasn’t seen his brother recently, but he also says there’s no way Sam is mixed up in terrorism. The Garper parents weren’t around, so Sam essentially raised Chris. While they’re trying to track down Sam, Brian heads to his first self-defense class with a SWAT team leader named Casey Rooks.
Man, there sure are a lot of recycled romances on this show. Two weeks ago, Jake McDorman’s Manhattan Love Story co-star Analeigh Tipton showed up as Brian’s pre-NZT GF, Shauna, and now, Jennifer Carpenter has been reunited with Desmond Harrington from Dexter, who plays Rooks. Here’s hoping that Jennifer Lawrence shows up next for a guest arc opposite Bradley Cooper, as the glamorous but troubled wife of Senator Edward Morra.
In addition to being in a relationship with Rebecca, Rooks is a certified badass at martial arts and teaches Brian everything he needs to know about self-defense: “Don’t get into a fight. If you do get into a fight, take it to the ground, get on top of the guy, isolate one of his limbs, and make it bend the wrong way until he doesn’t want to fight anymore. Either that, or you can choke him out until he falls asleep.”
While Brian is learning the basics of being a badass, they get a hit on Sam Garper’s email address, where they find three pictures saved in his drafts folder. (“What do a cat, a spaceship, and Jack Black have to do with terrorism?”) Turns out that they’re encrypted with data, specifically the address of a hospital in Queens where five units of radioactive iridium have gone AWOL — iridium that can be used to make a bomb that could do some massive damage to Manhattan. And security footage puts Sam Garper in the hospital 36 hours before it was reported missing.
Brian has to be the one to break it to Chris that his beloved brother is an aspiring terrorist, but Rebecca offers some sage words of advice: “Chris knows the truth now. It may be harder to take, but it’s better to know, right?” That, of course, gets Brian thinking that maybe he should do the same with Rebecca and tell her the truth about her dad.
So, he calls good ol’ Mr. Sands for advice, who promptly breaks into his apartment for a meeting, like any true friend would. After he’s done insulting Brian’s liquor cabinet (again) and inquiring, “Why is there a clay effigy of me on your coffee table?” Sands tells Brian that if he starts digging around about Rebecca’s father, he may have to arrange for Brian to get a new partner at the FBI, as Rebecca appears to be a “distraction.” And even though he’s menacing and threatening as always, it’s kind of adorable how Sands says “N-Zed-T” like a proper Englishman.
So, Brian decides to officially don a leather jacket and become Badass Brian when Chris shows up with a bag belonging to Sam. Sam wants to meet Chris so he can get the bag, which is filled with materials he needs to finish the bomb, and Brian convinces Chris to go through with the exchange and turn in his brother. The FBI sets up the meeting, and all is going as planned, but when Chris hands over the bag to his brother and Norris Allen, Allen figures out that something’s not right, and he shoots Chris.
After five episodes, Limitless is in an interesting place. The show is starting to perfect its tone, and so far, that tone is a balance of extremely goofy and extremely dramatic — just look at the contrast between the beginning of this episode (how many ways can Brian smush a clay version of himself?) and the end (Chris’ death is a punch to the gut). As a show, Limitless doesn’t take itself too seriously, but when needed, it manages to add emotional gravity, and while that’s a difficult line to walk, so far, the show’s pulling it off.
Rebecca, once again, gives Brian some smart advice, reminding him that while Chris’ death was horrible, he did manage to stop a massive bomb plot that would devastate New York City. (Again, it feels like a philosophical question straight out of a superhero story: When is it worth it to sacrifice the needs of one for the good of many?) All this talk about deception and truth gets Brian thinking, and before NZT Brian can make another video to convince him otherwise, non-NZT Brian reminds him/himself, “Just because you remember everything doesn’t mean you know everything. We are not omniscient, or today would have gone very differently. And if putting myself first means being okay with what happened to Chris Garper, then I’m not playing.” And before he takes his next pill, he shows up at Rebecca’s house — with her father’s NZT file.
Stay tuned for next week, when Bradley Cooper and his baby blues makes their return!