No matter how capable they seem, See’s blind characters remain at a sensory disadvantage in their futuristic world — a fact borne out by the beginning of the series’ second episode, “Message in a Bottle,” which finds Baba Voss (Jason Momoa) taking a morning stroll in the damp, misty forest and coming face-to-surprised-face with a fearsome bear, who separates him from the two infants he’s carrying.
Lest one think Baba is destined to go the way of Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant, however, he once again proves his combat mettle, matching the animal’s roars with his own, and stabbing the bear repeatedly in the neck and torso. Yet before he can finish it off, someone else does, via an arrow. That would be Jerlamarel (Joshua Henry), who emerges from the trees to give Baba a key to a box hidden in a cave near the village’s waterfall. The container — which Paris should also be informed about — is to be opened when the kids are 12 summers old. As for what’s inside, Jerlamarel says it’s “knowledge that will begin a new world. Better even than the world of our ancestors.”
Jerlamarel promises the babies, “Someday, we will be together.” He then tells Baba to name the kids Haniwa and Kofun, so he’ll know them when they finally find him, and promptly vanishes once more.
This encounter concerns Baba, who wants to be the kid’s only father and doesn’t want them to ever depart. It also upsets Gether Bax, who hears Baba calling out Jerlamarel’s name and, with this intel, turns to his aunt, Souter Bax (Marilee Talkington). Their conversation reveals that Gether’s mother (i.e. Souter’s sister) was burned alive for challenging the wisdom of putting the Alkenny tribe in the control of Baba, a stranger who, upon first joining their clan, would not speak of his past. “God doesn’t lose sight of those things. And even if he did, I never will,” vows Gether.
To glean insight into what Baba, Maghra, and Paris are up to, Gether and Souter arrange a secret forest meeting with a Shadow (Yadira Guevara-Prip), a mysterious figure who conceals her true identity from the rest of the clan and can hide her body from detection and purge herself of thought. “She’s in another place. Undetectable,” says Souter. The Shadow appears in the nude, her every inch caked in chalky mud, and glides and cartwheels around Gether and Souter like an evil sexualized mime, making two clicks with her mouth to indicate that she’ll spy on Paris, as requested.
In their hut, Baba and Maghra are joined by Paris to unlock the trunk — which, it turns out, wasn’t hard for Baba to find, since, in a world of blind people, you don’t have to conceal things all that well. Inside is a toy boat and, more important still, a collection of books. Baba sniffs at one and asks, “How do we make a new world out of tree bark?” Paris, though, understands that these are the keys to wisdom: “Books are in the holy shape. They are silent and yet they speak directly into the imagination. You can burn them but they are more powerful than fire. All the knowledge of the ancient ones are put into them. The secrets of the age of vision.”
Maghra isn’t happy about this, or the kids’ possible ability to see, since she fears it’ll just bring misfortune upon them, as well as compel them to one day abandon their home. Nonetheless, she agrees to bury the books until the kids are 12. Paris then detects that the Shadow is watching them, and informs Baba of this by “writing” it on his palm with her finger — but he fails to catch the Shadow before she departs.
The Shadow reports back to Gether about the meeting with lies, saying that the trio only talked about mundane childcare stuff. Gether doesn’t believe her and tells Souter that he plans to send news of the witch Jerlamarel by tossing bottled-up messages downstream until one is found. Then, he kisses Souter, his aunt, in a prolonged, sloppy make-out session that leaves no doubt that both of them are untrustworthy incestuous creeps. Baba certainly knows this, since he subsequently goes to see Gether and lets him know that he’s aware of the Baxes’ dislike for him (because, you know, he killed Gether’s mom). In weird close-proximity fashion, he intimidates Gether by explaining that he’s a fair man — so long as people come to him with problems. Sneaking around and whispering behind his back, however, will force Baba to revert back to his old self — namely, “a man with a taste for terror.”
Tamacti Jun is having no luck tracking down Jerlamarel and is seen puncturing a clueless villager’s ears out of frustration. Back at the palace, Queen Kane listens as an underling reads a missive from Tamacti Jun in which he sends word of his failure and asks to abandon his mission and return home. Kane doesn’t believe this message and reads it for herself, identifying it as a false-knot forgery — which the underling admits is true. For that deception, Kane slits the guy’s throat with a tiny blade she keeps implanted in her wrist.
Then, Kane begins to pray — which, as we learned in the premiere, involves sexual euphoria. A woman arrives and goes down on Kane, while the queen beseeches Jerlamarel (“my one true love”) to return home so she can forgive his sins, and he can give her children with his power of sight. By doing this, she’ll renounce the gods, because she — and her kids — will become gods themselves. Sex, faith, and power have rarely converged so wackily.
Kane then holds a public execution for the two traitors who attempted to trick her with the false knot. They censure Kane for caring more about Jerlamarel than the fact that the dam’s engines are breaking down and the water is rising, but she counters by proclaiming that she’s God’s hand on Earth — warming their winters, cooling their summers, and protecting them from wildlife by putting magic (i.e. electricity) in their fences. She then demonstrates that power by hoisting the two backstabbers in the air by chains and frying them to a glowing crisp with turbine-generated electricity.
In the first of this episode’s four sudden time jumps, we leap forward three years. The new Alkenny village is built, and Maghra shows Paris that Haniwa and Kofun can see (Baba confesses he too has known about this for some time). Maghra wants to deny them the contents of Jerlamarel’s box, but Paris convinces her to keep following his instructions. Then, as a bedtime story, Maghra tells the twins a fable about how the four senses — Scent, Taste, Sound, and Touch — were happy until they were visited by a long-lost fifth brother, Vision, whose comments about their physical appearances led to strife, until they rejected Vision and regained harmony. Via this fable, Maghra instills in Haniwa and Kofun the idea that their gift is a curse, and that they must therefore live as if they were blind.
At the conclusion of the montage accompanying that tale, the kids are now on the cusp of their 12th birthday, and Maghra has decided to keep the box from them, forever. Paris objects, and shows it to them anyway, informing them that the contents are books and that their true father, Jerlamarel, gave it to them (a bombshell that also rocks their world). Kofun angrily storms out, and Paris sends Haniwa after him. Kneeling beside a hearth, Haniwa reads the message left by Jerlamarel, which says that once upon a time, all humans had the power of sight, but they outgrew the Earth and destroyed it, and God punished them — and saved the world — by stripping them of sight. Now, however, this power has been restored in certain chosen people, and the kids should find him when they’re strong enough to leave the village and “begin the world anew.”
Baba learns of Paris’ actions and confronts her. She convinces him that it was just and that it should be hidden from Maghra. “Silence is not a lie,” Paris counsels, arguing that, after all the terrible things Baba has seen and done, he owes it to the world to provide it with the hope embodied by Haniwa and Kofun.
In the final time jump, we see teenage Haniwa (Nesta Cooper) and Kofun (Archie Madekwe) climbing up the waterfall to read, while on a distant riverbed, a young girl finds one of Gether Bax’s bottles.
- The fact that Paris “writes” a silent message on Baba’s palm means that humanity doesn’t just communicate via knotted string; it also has some form of symbolic language. For now, though, its particulars remain a mystery.
- If Kanzua Dam has electricity — and air-conditioning and heating devices, as well as record players — then it stands to reason that Queen Kane has other modern gadgets at her disposal. Including, perhaps, weapons?
- When the Shadow washes off her full-body coat of mud in the waterfall, we learn that she’s Bow Lion, one of the three warriors who stood with Baba Voss against the parliament during the first episode’s standoff.
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