'To Keep Us Safe' reveals intriguing details about the Mt. Inostranka detainees, but not the whole truth behind the Flight 514 plot

By Jeff Jensen
Updated September 28, 2010 at 05:57 AM EDT
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Mathieu Young/NBC

The Event

S1 E2
type
  • TV Show

Once upon a time, Hollywood made you go to movie theaters to see TV shows like The Event. They were called “cliffhanger serials”—pulp fiction on celluloid, doled out weekly in short chapters that would always leave the hero dangling in “To Be Continued” peril. Universal Studios—the same entity that produces The Event—contributed much to the genre. Gritty Westerns like The Red Rider and Gordon of Ghost City. High-flying adventures like Tailspin Tommy and The Phantom of the Air. Far-out spy sagas like Secret Agent X-9 and The Great Alaskan Mystery. Spacey science fiction like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. THEORY! After last night’s episode of The Event, I am tickled—yes, tickled!—by the possibility that the show’s producers were brought to Universal’s vaults by an exec and told: “Make something out of this! Turn our library of cliffhangers into one of them serialized dramas that the Internet nerds like so much. Watch this oldy moldy stuff; let it inspire you. Feel free to ‘borrow’ all the ideas, characters, and stories you want. Have your way with it! Leverage our assets, damn it!”

Based on just two episodes of The Event, it seems to me that the show isn’t just a cliffhanger serial, but perfectly content with being just that, and only that. What we have here is a fast-paced, plot-driven sci-fi fantasy filled with twists and turns and “To Be Continued” climaxes, populated not so much with characters than with archetypes, played by likable, credible actors whose job, at present, is to be likably credible. So far, I’m enjoying the ride. My goofy pop culture-researching, theory-making brain is truly activated, as this recap will (painfully) prove.

And yet, I am fretting the future. The difference between a TV show and a cliffhanger serial is that TV shows can’t end after a dozen chapters. Does The Event have enough story fuel to keep chugging hot and fast for the long haul? Probably not. And that’s to be expected. But TV shows survive their runty episodes with rich, complex, entertaining personalities that we enjoy hanging out with, even when they’re stuck in a suck plot. I hope The Event knows this. Fleeting, sentimental flashbacks dropped into the stride of swift-moving story (think: the Sean/Leila college meet-cute in the pool, which was a very nice scene) are effectively endearing—but they’re not enough. So I hope to see The Event invest in its people in the weeks to come. In my recap of the pilot last week, I fleshed out some of the characters using info from their bios at the NBC website. Even more information has been posted since then–but this week, I’ll allow you the “fun” of doing the homework required by “transmedia storytelling.” In fairness, I will say the predicaments and the intrigue are impacting me in such a way that makes me even more interested in getting to know the show’s players–and perhaps that’s exactly the strategy. I can be patient. This shiny new TV plaything has not yet lost its novelty for me. [Full disclosure: Last week, NBC provided the media with screeners of last night’s episode, which I watched immediately, and next week’s episode, which I decided to not watch until after writing and posting this recap.]

NEXT: What a difference a percent makes.

The second episode, entitled “To Keep Us Safe,” resolved the pilot’s “Where did the plane go?” cliffhanger (answer: Arizona, approximately 3:10 To Yuma if you’re walking by foot), gave Sean Walker a framed-for-murder storyline ported straight from The Fugitive (there’s even an One [Broken] Armed Man!), and introduced the idea that the Whatchamacallums incarcerated at Mt. Inostranka can’t be considered “people,” as their DNA content falls less than 1% short of the going rate. (By contrast—and to underscore the significance of such a seemingly slight differential—National Intelligence honcho Blake Sterling told President Martinez that chimps are just 2% off the human mark.) And because Sophia Maguire and the rest of her cryptic ilk were found next to a spaceshippy-looking vessel back in 1944, and because they haven’t aged much in 66 years, the working assumption is that “they are not of terrestrial origins.” Which means they’re extraterrestrials. Who just happened to speak English and have names like “Thomas” and “Sophia.” Hmmm…

The eggheads in the world of The Event must not be true nerds, because they obviously lack the imagination for other utterly plausible possibilities that could reasonably explain Sophia’s trippy tribe. And I really, really do mean utterly plausible. For example, they could be X-Men, or Inhumans, or New Gods, or Eternals, or—and this is far more likely—toy cloned humans that escaped from Santa’s workshop. (That wasn’t spaceship tread in the snow–those were sled tracks!) I was going to suggest these alleged ETs could be quantum-leaping refugees from the future, and their unique DNA makes them the missing link between our current state of evolution and our inevitable Planet of the Apes genetic destiny—but then Christine O’Donnell notified me that evolution is a myth, so that shot that to hell. That leaves only one possibility. Clearly, The Event–a sly sublimation of countless Amazing Stories just like it–is telling the story of a world that has been retroactively reshaped into a sci-fi wonderland as a result of a futuretime Singularity produced by the collective super-consciousness of nerdy TV watchers hooked on shows like The Event per the logic of the Anthropic Principle. Don’t you see? It’s the triumph of pop-soaked imagination over the tyranny of reality! It’s like this Twilight Zone episode meets that Twilight Zone episode! It’s… probably best that we move this along.

SEAN WALKER

(Jason Ritter)

Last Week’s Cliffhanger: He was aboard Avias Air Flight 514, which had been turned into a suicide bomb missile aimed at President Martinez’s Miami compound. But then the plane was sucked into a wormhole.

This Week’s Resolution: Zipped to Arizona via Boom Tube, Flight 514 landed in the desert and skidded to a sandstormy stop. With a swarm of unfriendly Black Helicopters straight outta paranoid conspiracy theory lore buzzing toward them, Sean ran—then, after hours, passed out from dehydration. He awoke in a Yuma hospital and ranted to his nurse about his abducted girlfriend, about being on a plane that was going to kill the President, yadda yadda heatstrokey yadda. Or so the nurse assumed. She followed through on a promise to Sean to call the police—and the cops said he was wanted for the cruise ship murder of that Broken Arm Guy. (Real name: Greg Kervin. But I’m sticking with BAG.)

NEXT: Not dead yet!

The marshals came; Sean ran. He scampered through the hospital (none of the doctors tried to stop him; did they not get the memo? Surely there must have been a memo!); but the badges nabbed him. He tried his best to convince the authorities of his insane-sounding claims, but they weren’t buying it. At least, not initially. After getting stopped at that dubious roadblock hiding the presence of the plane in the desert–a chemical spill, they were told (shades of: The Devil’s Mountain cover story in Close Encounters of the Third Kind)–those lawmen did seem to soften. To be continued…

What Wasn’t Resolved: What did Sean do in the week between Leila’s disappearance and the Flight 514 drama? How did he learn about the plan for the plane—and how did he learn that his girlfriend’s father would be piloting it?

MICHAEL BUCHANAN

(Scott Patterson)

Last Week’s Cliffhanger: Michael and his wife and his 7-year-old daughter Samantha were attacked in their woodsy eco-friendly home. Days later, he was piloting a plane toward President Martinez’s head.

This Week’s Resolution: Flashbacks revealed that after the home invasion, Leila’s protective father was brought to a remote location and bullied into doing the kamikaze thing by a rogue named Carter, played by DB Sweeney (who starred in Chris Carter’s short lived sci-fi series Harsh Realm, about people stuck in a virtual reality world), who may or may not have any connection to The Whatchamacallums. Carter confirmed that Michael’s wife—gunned down in the last episode–was dead. He then made Michael look through a peephole and spy with his sad little eye Leila sitting in a chair, gagged and bound, with a gun to her head. The threat: Fly the plane, or your girl gets it. Michael caved.

What Wasn’t Resolved: Waitasec. MICHAEL IS DEAD?!? The final scene of the episode gave us the image of the seemingly lifeless pilot lying in the desert. There was a pulse check—but no verbal declaration of death. We also saw all the Flight 514 passengers littered across the sand in a mass grave. Now, these folks were verbally declared deceased by the authorities, but… THEORY! Not dead! Instead, I say the Black Helicopter people dosed them with drugs to make them fake dead. They’re being used as hostages of a sort. When Sophia and the Inostranka detainees are set free, the at-large Whatchamacallums will provide a reviving antidote. Don’t roll your eyes! They did it on 24! And that was, like, real-life terror stuff! So I see no reason why it can’t happen here.

LEILA BUCHANAN

(Sarah Roemer)

Last Week’s Cliffhanger: Got sick (or poisoned?) after a long night of Love Boat libations with thwarted fiancée Sean and relationally-pushy/PDA-inappropriate couple Vicky Wallace and Broken Armed Guy. Then she disappeared, with all traces of her presence and passage on the ship erased.

This Week’s Resolution: A flashback revealed what happened to her during Sean’s snorkeling session with vixenish Vicky, who was revealed to be one of Carter’s cohorts. While trying to fend off the sexual advances of Broken Armed Guy, a cruise ship security guard intervened on her behalf… by stabbing and gutting the fishy slimeball. The security guard was really Carter, who got an assist from another ersatz security guard in subduing and drugging Leila.

What Wasn’t Resolved: Was BAG just a jerky swinger—or was he part of the conspiracy? He may have thought his job was to drug and nab Leila, but I suspect his true function was to play the victim in the Sean frame-up. Also: Is it too soon to make snarky comments about how Leila’s entire character is so far defined by her relationship to the men in her life? I say: Yes. And I guess we did learn something: She couldn’t swim prior to her days at MIT. Progress!

NEXT: The old sitting-backwards-in-a-chair technique!

SOPHIA MAGUIRE and PRESIDENT ELIAS MARTINEZ

(Laura Innes, Blair Underwood)

Last Week’s Cliffhanger: Sophia was basking in the Miami sun, relishing the prospect of freedom after decades of incarceration at Mr. Inostranka in Alaska, and President Martinez was prepping for a press conference that would tell the world about the existence of these purported ETs, when both of them saw Flight 514 hurtling right toward them… and then disappearing in a snap, crackle and whoooosh of reality-rending static discharge. “They saved us,” Sofia marveled. Then, to Martinez: “I haven’t told you everything.”

And then she told him everything. Right? After all, “Sophia” does mean “wisdom” in Greek…

This Week’s Resolution: Wrong! No wisdom for you! (Saw that one coming, right?) The President tried his best, though. Despite sporting an array of tough-guy James Dean poses–leaning against a wall; straddling a chair; boring into her with Don’t f– with me eyes—Martinez couldn’t persuade Sophia to cough up any secrets during their stark cell room confrontation. “We mean you no harm,” she insisted. But that’s what all the aliens say, don’t they? She warned the President that it was in his best interest to do what Pharaoh did for Moses and just let her and her people go. He snarled and balked. And so the Black Helicopter plagues begin.

But Sophia’s reticence struck me more as well-meaning inhibition than defiance. (Again, I appeal to the possibility of time travel: Maybe she can’t come clean with her secrets because doing so would put The Future at risk.) In a flashback to her arrival on November 2, 1944, Sophia tenderly parted company with a confidante named Thomas, just as they were about to be discovered by the U.S. military. She wanted to stay with those who were wounded during the rough landing in the mountains (or in some skirmish that preceded their arrival?); Thomas was instructed to take the able-bodied and vanish into the world. Since then, Thomas’ peeps have been living at large as proverbial Strangers In A Strange Land, and more, slowly working their way into corridors of influence and power. Their ambition? TBD. But intelligence chief Blake Sterling—apparently made paranoid by years of watching The Invaders, The X-Files, and especially V, in all of its cheesy forms—can only assume the worst. By episode’s end, President Martinez was coming around to his line of thinking. “I was told many times I was making a mistake,” he said coldly. “And as it turns out, it would have been a mistake.” We shall see. (Man, can Blair Underwood work a close-up. My favorite moment was his quiet shellshock upon being told of the the Inostranka prisoners’ extraterrestrial origins. “What?!” Perfect.)

What Wasn’t Resolved: Why the President ever thought freeing these cagey maybe-aliens was a good idea in the first place. In the pilot, we learned he had been tipped off by an unnamed source about the existence of Sophia’s people over a year prior. The safe bet is Agent Simon Lee, but the story remains untold. But Agent Simon’s own backstory was provocatively teased, too.

NEXT: Blood? Simple!

AGENT SIMON LEE

(Ian Anthony Dale)

Last Week’s Cliffhanger: Not much of one. Tried to stop the Avias 514 from taking off. FAIL.

This Week’s Revelations: Simon is Inhuman, too. And he’s in league with Thomas, who took responsibility for the Flight 514’s teleportation to Arizona at Simon’s direction. In a flashback to Simon’s CIA orientation, we saw a nurse struggle to draw blood out of his arm—and then we saw Simon sneak into a bathroom stall and yank a long, skinny fake vein out of his arm. All the better for an alleged alien to fake a blood test, my dear. Apparently, these Inhumans have slightly different circulatory systems than most human beings; in particular, they have small veins. I suspect this is significant; I don’t know enough real science to confidently speculate, but if I were to make an uneducated, grasping-at-straws guess, I might say that life forms with narrow veins thrive better and longer in Arctic environments, or that Sophia and friends spontaneously generated from mutant bacteria that came to Earth embedded in a squall of meteorites. Or maybe they sprung from leafy-topped pods. Or maybe it’s all about the Midichlorians.

What Wasn’t Resolved: My biggest question at present about The Event: Who was really behind the Flight 514 scheme? Was it really an (outrageously impractical, outlandishly ridiculous) assassination attempt on President Martinez and/or Sophia Maguire? This line of questioning begs another question about The Whatchamacallums. Are they united in purpose and strategy, or are they divided into separate, disagreeable factions?

For now, here’s how I’m piecing it together. DB Sweeney’s Carter is the leader of a radical anti-Whatchamacallum terror cell. Carter wanted to take out Martinez and Maguire with the plane, but Thomas and Simon, with considerable reluctance, used their sci-fi magic to beam the plane to the wild wild west. The passengers aren’t dead, but were indeed drugged by Thomas’ Black Helicopter operatives, in order to coerce Martinez into following through with liberating the imprisoned Whatchamacallums from their Alaskan hellhole. Make sense? I hope so. But if it all sounds a little too complex or confounding or just plain crazy… well, welcome to the land of the cliffhanger serial. As I learned from reading this awesome site devoted to cliffhanger serials, confusion and incredulity come with the territory. This entry on a colorfully titled 1945 Republic serial about an alien invasion sums up my current affection—and grace–for The Event:

The Purple Monster Strikes is one of those serials that can be used as a test case to determine if someone has the ‘voluntary gullibility’ (Bill Cline’s words) necessary to be a serial fan. If you can accept that the people of Mars know how to drive cars and fire guns, that they can listen in on any earth communications they choose with a “distance eliminator” but are incapable of building an effective rocket ship, then you pass the test. You’re a serial fan! If all this sounds insane, implausible, and impossible, chances are you would be better off watching something else.”

The floor is now yours, folks. After two weeks, is The Event is happening for you–or are you ready break it off? Is the lack of character development bugging you, or not so much? And if you have a theory that you can succinctly summarize and wish to share, email me at docjensenew@gmail.com. I’ll be posting one a week in this space beginning next week. Until then: The Truth Is Out There. Right?

Episode Recaps

The Event

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  • TV Show
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  • In Season

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