President Martinez and Thomas engage in a high-stakes game of chicken, while Leila and Sophia finally see the light of day

By Darren Franich
Updated October 19, 2010 at 05:21 AM EDT
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Adam Taylor/NBC
S1 E5
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Sometimes, you have to shoot the baby. That was the one overriding lesson you could take away from last night’s episode of The Event. (I’m filling in this week while Doc Jensen takes a mysterious trip to the mountains of Alaska.) I think this episode was a more consistent than last week’s Night of a Thousand Twist/Reverse-Twists. We got more insight than ever into the nature (and ultimate goal) of the Whatchamacallums. (They’re trying to get “home,” wherever that is, and they split the fricking atom to get themselves there.) The central drama of the episode was more about clashing personalities – President Martinez’ red-phone showdown with Thomas – than about 24-ish gunplay. Sure, Sean Walker was still racing around suburban America, but the Leila-in-Chains subplot seems to finally be over.

But oh, viewers, that baby. I admire the show’s attempt to turn Vicky, who could’ve just been a faceless hottie killer, into a character with some depth. In her flashback origin story, she mercilessly gunned down a family but stopped short of killing the cute little infant. Instead, she took the very Ben Linus-y step of adopting the child as her own, hiding it from her Mysterious Boss. On its own, this plot twist wouldn’t be all that offensive, but it’s epidemic of the storytelling on The Event. The show dangles the deaths of the Avias 514 passengers in front of our faces for one mesmerizing cliffhanger…and then revives them one episode later. Last night, they were threatened again…and then revived again. (For those keeping track, Michael Buchanan has now died twice.) If there’s one lesson that can be learned from the great serialized TV shows, it’s that, sooner or later, you can’t keep on teasing stuff like this. You have to shoot the baby.

But I don’t want to rag too much on an episode that gave us some nifty sci-fi concepts to feast on, so let’s begin by talking about the better half of the episode:

Mutual Assured Destruction

The episode eerily kicked off with the Avias passengers going crazy with the Rage Virus or Space Madness or something. Nosebleeds, loud screaming, and a general bubonic plague-like panic set in. Thomas had the cure, but he was holding it hostage. He demanded the release of the Inostrankans, or promised the passengers would all be dead by morning.

At this point, we got a weighty flashback, in which Thomas and a beret-sporting Simon led the uninjured refugees away from the crash site. (They didn’t seem too bothered by the snowstorm: potential evidence that the Whatchamacallums have superhuman stamina to go along with their near-immortality?) Thomas and Simon found a bunker with lots of ’40s era equipment inside. (Simon noted that no one had been there in awhile – perhaps it was an old listening station?) There were, by my count, three revelations in this scene, two of them rather large:

1. Simon noticed stacks of canned food and said admiringly “All this food!” There’s no way an alien would be able to just guess that that was food, right?

NEXT: Noir detective visits the Manhattan Project, so to speak.

2. Thomas explained that their ship was destroyed, so “We have to figure out another way of getting home.” So does this mean that Earth is basically the Lost island for these immortal castaways?

3. Thomas was sad to note that “They’re still using vacuum tubes…nowhere near the level of technology we’re gonna need to get back.” The emphasis on still seemed very much like the despondent rumination of a man from the future who was hoping to find himself in a much later time. What do you think?

The second Thomas-centric flashback of the night was even more brainteasingly profound. This time, we were in New Mexico, 1945. Simon — who in the intervening year had changed his fashion style from “Irish Immigrant” to “Noir Detective” – had tracked down Thomas. In a potentially show-(re)defining revelation, Thomas said that he was working on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, and claimed that he had singlehandedly pushed America’s scientific knowledge forward, “Creating nuclear fission in a matter of months instead of decades.” (I couldn’t read the name on his nametag, and I think it may have been intentionally blurred – any eagle-eyed freeze-framers catch a better look?)

So this is awesome for all kinds of reasons, the main one being that, if the Whatchamacallums are in fact time travelers, their presence has radically altered the timeline. We are living in the parallel universe. Heck, even if they’re just aliens, plugging them into 20th century history so decisively certainly adds to our understanding of their powers.

Thomas is a fascinating character, and even if he’s not quite a Big Bad, he poked and prodded President Martinez into a true show of force. Martinez came back at Thomas with a counterthreat: If the Avias passengers died, then so would the detainees. Predictably, Blake Sterling instantly walked in to give Martinez’ threat the proper Holocaust overtones, noting that the Inostranka facility had an execution plan: “Seal off the prisoners’ living quarters and pump carbon monoxide from the plant into the air ducts.”

All the back-and-forth brinksmanship ended in a stalemate. Metaphorically speaking, no babies were shot here. Still, I liked how Thomas and Martinez’ compromise sent Sophia into the world. Personally, I’m just happy to see Sophia out of her prison cell, and I’m hoping that her reunion with Thomas will add to our understanding of the Watchamacallums.

The Best Little Conspiracy Ever

The problem with all-powerful conspiracies on serialized TV shows is that, inevitably, they have to be defeated by regular people, and that can’t help but make the conspiracies look just a little bit silly. On FlashForward, a show which The Event resembles if you squint, the evil conspirators were literally omniscient – aware of every possible future eventuality – but they eventually got outsmarted by a mental patient. It didn’t matter very much, because FlashForward, for all its flaws, was a show directly focused on its characters. (The best episodes had almost nothing to do with the central mystery-mythology. Unfortunately, there weren’t too many “best” episodes.)

NEXT: Did a stained carpet and a jaunty screensaver just undo the bad guys’ plot?

The Event is a very different type of show. In the first few episodes, at least, it’s been at its best when it’s focused more on ideas than characters. The Inostrankans are a handy symbolic fill-in-the-blank: One second they’re the Gitmo prisoners, the next they’re Cuban refugees, the next they’re inmates in a concentration/internment camp. You and I could argue with the unwieldiness of the premise, and the world would certainly be better if Zeljko Ivanek never had to actually say the words “Our country does not negotiate with terrorists.” But I find this aspect of The Event incredibly fascinating.

And then you have the Sean Walker stuff. Listen, I love remakes of The Fugitive. Loved the Harrison Ford movie. Loved the Tim Daly show. Even loved U.S. Marshals, the sequel-remake starring Robert Downey Jr. and Wesley Snipes. But the Sean Walker storyline has devolved into a bit of a mess. At one point last night, Sean called his friend Rick (Samuel Page, aka Mr. Joan from Mad Men). Rick possessed the power of tech-omniscience and managed to track down Vicky’s cell phone, and thus, stop Sean from walking into an ambush. C’mon, The Event, you have to make it at least a little hard for him!

But unfortunately, we’re witnessing a truly clunky group of evildoers here here. For all of their bluster – and I do love how the conspiracy is peopled entirely by beloved character actors like DB Sweeney and William Russ – these bad guys weren’t even smart enough to clean the bloodstains off the carpet. And their brilliant ruse was ultimately undone by a screen saver. My computer is crying.

I’m being cruel to be kind here. By the end of the episode, Leila and Sean were reunited, and Agent Collier had taken the injured DB Sweeney hostage. I’m hoping this means that the Sean/Leila storyline is moving closer to intersecting with the really interesting stuff. I don’t want to sound like I’m totally writing off the conspiracy subplot. I’m intrigued to see if Vicky works for Thomas, or another branch of the Whatchamallems, or an as-yet-unidentified group of plotters. But so far, it makes sense that Leila and Sean first met during a remedial swimming lesson, because they’ve been treading water for weeks now.

Viewers, how’d you feel about this episode of The Event? Wouldn’t you prefer to see more of Thomas and less of Leila? Do you agree that this episode makes the “They’re From the Future” theory seem even more likely? You have to figure that Thomas is going to teleport Sophia out of that subway car, right? Share your own theories below. (Also, if you want some fun reading, last night TV writer Kay Reindl and comedian Dave Anthony live-tweeted The Event for West Coast audiences. Their tweets are basically MST3k for The Event, and are hilarious.)

THINK OF YOUR TELEVISION AS A VITAL MEMBER OF THE FAMILY? Then don’t miss this week’s TV Insiders podcast! Michael Ausiello, Michael Slezak, Annie Barrett, Dalton Ross, and Jeff Jensen weigh in on the returning series that are hitting creative peaks this season, and dish the latest happenings on Mad Men, Survivor, and Dancing With the Stars. Click here to download the podcast to your MP3 player, or listen to a YouTube embed below!

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