Episode 3 does little to flesh out Leila, Sean or the Inostranka prisoners at the heart of the central mythology

By Jeff Jensen
Updated October 05, 2010 at 05:31 AM EDT
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I said a lot of things last week. I said that I enjoyed The Event. I said that the series was like a cliffhanger serial--a far-out pulp-fiction fantasy, doled out weekly in short chapters with “To Be Continued” endings. I said that it seemed to me that the show seemed to want to be that and only that, and therefore The Event should be enjoyed as such. I said that we should embrace the spirit of expert cliffhanger serial lover Jerry Blake, who wrote that being a fan of such stuff requires an embrace of “voluntary gullibility.” If you can’t roll with a cliffhanger serial’s ridiculous twists and confusing turns, if it all “sounds insane, implausible, and impossible,” writes Blake, “chances are you would be better off watching something else.”

That was last week. But this is this week. And this week, I did not enjoy The Event. It’s not that last night’s episode was any less insane, implausible and impossible than the previous two installments. Yet “Protect Them From The Truth”—the drama’s third episode—did seem uniquely engineered to put my cliffhanger serial blah blah blah to the test. We learned little-to-nothing new about the existing mysteries (I was especially bummed we didn’t get more info about the alleged alien nature of The Whatchamacallums), and we got little to nothing in the way of character development. In fact, the episode worked to stall progress in both areas, perhaps on purpose. The Event might have been trying to re-orient the audience to a more deliberate pace that a show like this probably needs if it wants to be around for the long run.

Nonetheless, there was an artlessness to this episode that bothered me, from Sean Walker’s miraculous liberation via Deus Ex Motor Home, to the squandered opportunity of personalize The Whatchamacallums via the William and Maya storyline, to all things Leila Buchanan. In general, the episode paid a price for lacking genuinely interesting characters that are enjoyable to spend time with even when they’re being put through the paces of bogus drama. I’m not giving up. I’ll be here next week. But this was not the episode I wanted, and not the episode The Event needed. Last week, the show lost over 2 million viewers from the pilot. If The Event wants to hold onto the audience it has, it’s going to have to try harder than it did last night. But anyhow, let’s recap…

SEAN WALKER

Sound and fury, signifying… not much of anything.

Last week’s cliffhanger: Framed for the murder of Broken Arm Guy; arrested by FBI agents in Yuma, AZ, who didn’t buy his kooky yarn about an abducted girlfriend and airplane in the desert and deadly black helicopters.

This week’s resolution: Sean’s story picked up right where it left off, with his FBI captors backing up from the ersatz cop roadblock protecting the secret of Flight 514. Before the car could even complete its U-turn–CRASH!–a runaway RV rammed into them, instantly killing the FBI driver, the RV driver, and presumably the (fake?) highway patrolman tending the roadblock.

NEXT: Anyone notice that for three weeks straight, Sean has gotten all Bruce Willis in Die Hard? (Or something like that, anyway?)

Yet somehow, someway, Sean survived, as did the semi-sympathetic Agent Collier. Sean squirmed out of the wreckage, snagged the keys to his cuffs, and unlocked himself (with his hands still chained behind his back, no less!), and pulled wounded Agent Collier out of the car—all before said car exploded in flames. Seriously: Runaway RV? How did the driver not see that roadblock? And the handcuff Houdini thing? Really? Sean is that dexterous? COME ON. It was like the writers didn’t even try! Now, we all knew he was going to get away. But what we deserved was an exciting escape sequence grounded in at least a shred of reality.

Note: For the third straight episode, The Event gave us a set piece built around Sean selflessly putting himself in harm’s way to save someone’s life. In the pilot, it was Vicky. Last week, it was the air marshal. Last night, Agent Collier. It’s as if the show is working overtime to impress upon us that, geek veneer aside, Sean Walker has action-hero chops, and that he’s a really, really nice guy. UNLESS… there’s more to this than meets the eye. THEORY! Many have been speculating that Sean is the linchpin to the mythology, and more, that we’re dealing with some kind of time travel/time loop scenario here. Maybe these life-saving heroics are more meaningful than we realize; perhaps the lives he’s saving are massively significant to the history that Sean is helping to fulfill. Or not. I don’t know. It’s the best that I’ve got in a down week.

Sean took Agent Collier to a motel. He yanked shrapnel out of her shoulder. He staunched the bleeding with gauze purchased from a local supermarket. Again with the conspicuously needless nice-guyness! Long story short, Sean–revealed to be a computer whiz who got a full-ride to MIT on a hacking scholarship–pulled a Jack Bauer scam on her, the old I’m Going To Leave You Alone Long Enough To Call Your FBI Friends So I Can Sneak Into Your Trunk So You Can Drive Me To Your FBI Field Office So I Can Hack Into Your Computers So I Can Obtain One Scrap Of Information That Will Make You Believe In My Crazy Story trick. Mission accomplished! Then some fake US marshals—bad guys employed by DB Sweeney’s bad guy Carter (who may or may not be linked to potentially corrupt intelligence chief Blake Sterling)–showed up to take Sean away. A gunfight broke out. Death and debris abounded. Yet Sean and Agent Collier–lucky as cats– survived, and off they scampered, to be continued next week. I must tell you, that was a long and ludicrous way to go just to advance Sean’s story by a few inches. He’s got an ally now in Agent Collier, plus a lead on Leila’s mean-girl babysitter Vicky, whose real name might be Erica Bartlett and who might actually be a government secret agent. Could we get a little more than that next week? I certainly hope so.

NEXT: The problem with keeping a hostage in an empty cargo container…

One more big Sean-related complaint before I let him go—something I could have recognized last week, but only became obvious to me this week in light of Sean’s further dealings with law enforcement. Sean never went to the cops to file a missing persons report on Leila after she disappeared from the cruise ship. Why not? Yes, his presence had been mysteriously purged from the ship’s computers—but would that be enough to make him go Conspiracy Theory paranoid and hit the underground? I don’t think so. Perhaps Sean became suspicious after he flew black to the United States and traveled directly to Michael Buchanan’s house and discovered Mrs. Buchanan’s dead body and the rest of the house shot to hell. Still, I don’t see why he wouldn’t have called the police about all the bizarre horror filling his life.

It also hit me last night that Sean has been wanted for BAG’s murder for at least a week, and in that time, he had never been aware of it. Huh? Haven’t the cops been hunting him? Couldn’t he have been caught? He was buying plane tickets! Traveling great distances! For a fugitive, Sean Walker could have been pretty easy to find. Maybe there are simple, compelling answers to these questions, and perhaps they’ll be revealed in time, i.e. VERY SOON. (One idea: Team DB Sweeney wanted Sean out there, on the loose, at least until last night.) Or maybe–and I hate being this cynical, and I’m rooting to be horribly, embarrassingly wrong about even suggesting it–the writers really haven’t really thought all of this through. Am I missing something? Am I the one not thinking this through? I don’t know. Feel free to roast me hard if I am.

LEILA BUCHANAN

Killing Time; Exhausting Our Patience

BOGUS DRAMA ALERT! Vicky transported Leila to the shipyards (killing a cop along the way) and Carter locked her up in a cargo container for safekeeping. Leila tried to get away by attempting to slash Leila across the throat with the dead patrolman’s badge–clever girl!–but to no avail. They exchanged some words about Sean—Vicky questioned his valor; Leila affirmed it. Later, Leila heard a dog yipping. She banged on the container to get the dog’s attention, hoping the yipping dog would in turn get the attention of someone who could help her. Instead, Vicky came in, held a gun to her head. She appeared ready to squeeze the trigger when the fake marshals called: Sean was in the wind with Collier; they still needed Leila as leverage. Point for Leila!

Most of this bugged me greatly. If Carter and Vicky didn’t want Leila making loud clanging noises inside an empty cargo container, WHY PUT HER INSIDE AN EMPTY CARGO CONTAINER SO SHE COULD MAKE LOUD CLANGING NOISES IN THE FIRST PLACE? And the Leila-Vicky bickering over Sean’s gumption just made me feel bad for Leila and her actress, Sarah Roemer. The Event had a chance to allow Leila to show some pluck, to flash some steel and fire. Trying to gash Vicky was fine. Getting in Vicky’s face to defend and brag about her boyfriend? Meh. A better use of her time—and ours—would have been to give us a flashback to her past, showing us something of her own inner mettle, something that illustrates that despite her present circumstances, she has great strength and great hope because she’s been through something she considers far worse, or fills her with a will to live, independent of Sean. Maybe next week.

NEXT: A reader-submitted factoid about Leila that you won’t want to miss!

Look: We simply need to know more about these people than just their relationship to the mystery. They need to have relevancy and entertainment value separate from their significance to the mythology. Besides, what’s going to happen when Sean finally finds Leila or Leila gets rescued? Are they gone from the show—or will the show invent new reasons for them to stick around? I will confess, I probably wouldn’t be all Mr. ‘It’s All About Character, Dammit!’ if the episode had been more credible with the plotting, more dazzling with the spectacle, and more intriguing with the mystery. Still, lame episodes expose a series’ biggest weaknesses—and from beginning, the critical consensus has been that The Event is dangerously deficient in the character department. The show needs to shore this up, pronto.

READER FUN FACT OF THE WEEK: LEILA EDITION!

This comes from a reader named Mo Seaman, who did this bit of research after seeing the Sean/Leila flashback from last week. Possible proof for the theory that The Whatchamacallums are time traveling refugees from a dystopian future?

“Leila Buchanan’s dorm at MIT is named after Dennis Meadows, who started working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the late 1960s. From 1970 to 1972 at MIT he was director of the ‘Club of Rome Project on the Predicament of Mankind.’ He wrote The Limits to Growth in 1972; the book models the consequences of a rapidly growing world population and finite resource supplies. Famous quote: ‘In 1972 it was inconceivable to most people that the physical impact of humanity’s activities could ever grow large enough to alter basic natural processes of the globe. But now we routinely observe, acknowledge, and discuss the ozone hole, destruction of marine fisheries, climate change and other global problems.’ (Source: Wikipedia)”

WILLIAM AND MAYA

AKA: Mr. Bait and Ms. Switch

President Martinez and Blake Sterling wanted The Whatchmacallums’ secrets. Sophia Maguire and Whatchamacallum double agent Simon Lee wanted to keep those secrets secret. (Intriguing: Sophia put forth the idea that once the government learned the truth–once their secrets were exposed–they would be killed. Why? I almost got the sense that the very act of verbal disclosure would bring out the demise of The Whatchamacallums. Might the disclosure trigger some timeline-unraveling ontological paradox?) These competing agendas collided in a subplot involving a Whatchamacallum named William, who was willing to spill everything he knew—how many Whatchamacallums were at large, where they’ve been hiding, what they’re plotting, and more–in exchange for his freedom. Now, I’m no dummy; I knew something was going to happen to prevent him from following through and telling us everything. I suspect you suspected this, too. Nonetheless, I thought for sure that we would have gotten something—just one thing—out of William before the inevitable silencing. That would have been a fair trade, don’t you think? We accept the bulls–t premise that total revelation is imminent and wait with strained patience for the eventual betrayal that we all know is coming; in exchange, the show rewards us for this relative waste of time by giving us a morsel of nifty mythology knowledge we didn’t know before. Right?

NEXT: Unlucky No. 31

NOPE. Sequestered in a cushy Washington DC hotel suite, William made a risky play. He changed the terms of the arrangement, demanding that President Martinez release his longtime partner Maya (Prisoner No. 31 to you) as part of the deal. Reluctantly, Martinez and Sterling agreed—and foolishly, they did so without demanding at least one bit of info first. But apparently, I am a smarter pretend intelligence chief than the pretend intelligence chief on The Event. Maya showed up. The lovers bonded. They looked longingly out the window at the Washington, D.C. scenery, the Washington Monument glowing and erect in the background, and William gushed about the prospect of happily ever after. And then she shivved him dead. For Maya, the only thing stronger than her 66-year-old love for William is her loyalty to Sophia and the secrets they possess. “Keep imagining, William,” she said sadly, as William slumped against her and died. “Keep imagining.” Groan. Man, those secrets better be good.

Okay, fine. They bait-and-switched us; we got nothing. I’ll accept that. But like the Leila storyline, there was an opportunity here for a character-revealing moment, and The Event missed it. I was struck by the very concept of the William/Maya romance, eternally youthful lovers who have been trapped inside an Alaskan prison for over six decades. And yet, despite the forced efforts of the two actors involved, I felt none of that suffering, none of that history, none of that ardor in the moments they had together. A flashback—something on par with the Sean and Leila swimming pool moment last week—could have helped this cause. It didn’t happen. Bummer. Still, there’s Maya. Maybe they can get her to talk—though President Martinez will probably have to come off his high horse about torture to get her to spill. And hey! Another captive female for the main cast! That’s three now. On The Event, you can never have enough.

Briefly: The vice president all but accused Sterling of knowing more about the assassination attempt on President Martinez than he was letting on, if not actually organizing the hit himself. (Does “Who investigates the investigators?” = “Who watches the watchmen?”) Oh, and all the dead Flight 514 passengers woke up at the end. But most of us saw that one coming, didn’t we? The question now is how, and what The Whatchamacallums were trying to prove with the mass murder fake-out. To be continued next week… in what I hope will be a much better episode.

So, what do you think? Did you think this episode was a clunker? If so, will you be back next week? Or do you think I’m being way too harsh? Discuss below, and feel free to send opinions, complaints and of course theories to docjensenew@gmail.com or @ewdocjensen. I’ll share some of your reactions next week.

DON’T MISS: Embedded below, listen to the first edition of EW.com’s TV Insiders podcast. Dalton Ross, Michael Slezak, Annie Barrett, Michael Ausiello (who also gives his picks for best and worst new show of the new season), and yours truly break down the week in television and present it to you in an easily digestible audio format. (Plus, we dish The Event!) Or click here to download TV Insiders to your MP3 player!

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