We still don’t know what “the event” is (I’m sure we won’t for quite some time), but going into the third episode of “The Event,” we finally have some idea of what the show itself is about. The government is trying to conceal the existence of people they think are aliens (but who aren’t forthcoming about their true identities), while another, seemingly more anti-alien government faction seems intent on killing everyone who stands in their way, and stuck in the middle is Sean Walker, who just wants his girlfriend back.  For all the fanfare and hype surrounding this big mystery, I’ve been underwhelmed to say the least.

[Full recap of Monday's (Oct. 4) "The Event" after the break...]

But now that the “The Event” has revealed its alien-conspiracy premise, this week’s episode, “Protect Them From the Truth,” will likely establish how the series will operate on a week-to-week basis. And if that’s the case, things aren’t exactly promising: this episode is just a whole lot of “24” style action and political intrigue, unjustifiably harried editing, and yet another closing shot designed to blow our minds.

Though, if that’s the format, how is “The Event” going to keep one-upping itself? In Episode One we watch as a commercial jetliner disappears just before obliterating the president and the aliens’ leader, Sophia. Episode Two closes on a shot of the plane’s passengers lying dead in the Arizona desert, seemingly at the hands of renegade alien Thomas. The payoff this week comes when the same passengers, now resting in a makeshift mass morgue, groggily come back to life as if waking up from a heavily sedated sleep. It’s a neat enough shot, that once again reverses everything we think we know about the aliens, but “The Event” seems to view episodes as mere vehicles by which to deliver cliffhangers. These shots aren’t just designed to excite us about next week (in which they’re successful enough)--they’re relied upon to make the preceding episodes notable in some way (not so successful there).

“The Event” is getting better at crafting these cliffhangers in such a way that we’re left asking questions. Maybe Thomas isn’t evil after all, but what is his game plan? And if the aliens aren’t evil, why are they so recalcitrant that one of them would murder her own boyfriend to avoid him exchanging their freedom for telling the president the truth? In this respect the episode hits its mark. The problem is that the first nine-tenths of the episode seem entirely disposable, which hurts any attempts to make us care about the characters as much as we do about the mysteries. Furthermore, the questions the cliffhangers raise lose their potency when the episode as a whole fails to make us care about the subject matter being questioned.

So what of the rest of “Protect Them From the Truth”? We spend the majority of it with Sean Walker, whom we first see driving up in a police cruiser and then entering a motel room where an injured Agent Collier lays bleeding on the bed. How did Sean and Collier wind up in this predicament, you ask? Don’t worry, a quick cut back in time soon reveals the serendipitous traffic accident that kills three people but nonetheless frees Sean Walker and sets him toward the next stage of his journey. I realize that at some point I should just let my misgivings about this asynchronous storytelling go and accept it as part of the show’s format, but it would be easier to accept this format if the episode didn’t open with such a pointless display of it.

Sean himself remains the show’s only candidate for a character worth investing ourselves into, but the writing far too often sabotages Jason Ritter’s attempts to create a likable underdog we can cheer for. We’re supposed to believe that Sean is an “everyman” sort of hero, but the writers are unable to accentuate the “hero” aspect without painting the character with ridiculously broad strokes that undermine anything that might actually make him interesting. It turns out, you see, that Sean is a genius computer whiz who graduated from MIT and “hacked” into the Pentagon's servers as a teenager.

I feel like I could have gotten behind Sean as a preternaturally bright dork who’s good at his job, loves his girlfriend, and somehow becomes enmeshed in mankind’s biggest conspiracy; instead he winds up conforming to some notion of a computer hacker Hollywood had in 1995. This is just lazy writing that misses a real opportunity to develop Sean from an earnest kid to a bad-ass hero with some actual nuance. I actually like the scene where Sean explains how he figured out Collier’s password by browsing through her many pet pictures, and I happily accepted him as a plain-old really smart guy before the show had to go and turn him into a cartoon.

We soon find out that Sean’s abilities extend even beyond hacking and avoiding negative floating positions, as it dawns on Collier that Sean played her for a fool by allowing her to escape and then stowing away in her trunk so as to gain on-site access to the FBI servers. (The Pentagon and the FBI? The guy’s an animal.) But as she figures this out, we’re treated to a flashback of a scene earlier in the episode, where Collier explains to Sean that he can’t use the FBI’s (quite magical) facial recognition program over wi-fi. I’m not sure if the show doesn’t trust its audience to remember something that happened half an hour ago, or it just needed another time-jumping cut, but it’s nonetheless a great example of just how many pointless devices “The Event” throws around.

Leila, Sean’s damsel in distress, turns out to have a little spunk of her own, as she uses a badge she picked up from a dead highway patrolman to slit Vicky’s throat. The cut fails to do more than annoy Vicky (she’s a tough-as-nails psychopath, being the poor man’s Mia-Kirshner-in-”24” as she is), but it was nice to see her do something in addition to talking about Sean coming to save her. Speaking of which, I know I complained about the flashback last week, but I really hope we’re given something in addition to “he taught her how to swim” to explain Leila’s faith in Sean’s ability to battle a team of murderous covert operatives. Sure, he’s a nice guy, and he’s smart, and a really great swimmer and all, but so are a lot of people who nonetheless lack the ability to infiltrate an agency that even the President doesn’t know about. But, then again, Sean has already checked the Pentagon and the FBI off his list, so why not!

On second thought, maybe Sean is better equipped to deal with Leila’s captors than I give him credit for. We still don’t know anything about Carter, Vicky and their band of bad guys, other than that they’re probably some government branch so secretive that neither the FBI nor the president knows about them. Yet for all this covert stealthiness and pervasive power, all it takes is one inquisitive phone call for them to maniacally lay waste to an FBI office. You’d think they would have developed more inconspicuous methods at this point. Vicky has innumerable identities all over the globe, but she’s sloppy enough that she winds up murdering a highway patrol officer over a busted tail light. This is not the work of great spies. Leila may be justified in believing Sean will rescue her after all.

For all my misgivings I found myself moderately more intrigued at the end of this episode than I was a week ago. “The Event” is a long way from producing an hour of good television, and its format and weak characterizations make me skeptical that that will ever happen, but at least its mythology is starting to show a little potential. I feel like I’m finally having the reaction I was supposed to have at the conclusion of the pilot: I want to find out what the hell just happened. Rather than being some random display of bombastic technology, like the airplane’s disappearance, the passengers returning to life is a twist that tries to be conceptually interesting.

But if “The Event” is going to salvage a decent season of television out of this beginning, it’s going to have build significantly off this kernel of conceptual interest and, most of all, stop getting in the way of its characters. This show has a solid cast, and being a fan of serialized television I want it to be a lot better than it is. It’s about time for the show to get its ass into gear, because right now I could happily satisfy whatever intrigue “The Event” has instilled in me by reading next week’s spoilers.

What'd you think of Week 3 of "The Event"?