Now in its final stretch, “The Event,” in this week’s episode “Strain” weaves together a story of presidential assassination, frozen corpses, influenza genocide and coffee. (You’ll be surprised which of those things gets the most screen time.) It’s an episode that features none of the show’s periodic strangeness, but all of its dull political intrigue plots. This is a series that can’t afford any more episodes slogged down by tiresome filler, and yet this is another.
[Full recap of Monday’s (April 25) “Event” after the break...]
But, first of all, I have to give a shout out to commentator David Hansen, who last week correctly predicted that Sophia’s “weapon” would be a frozen specimen of the 1918 Spanish flu, which is speculated to be the single deadliest pathogen in human history. On paper, I like this development. “24” proved that biological agents can be the most frightening of looming threats. There’s something immediate and real about them, and they can be administered in degrees, leaving the writers with plenty of wiggle room to ramp up tension. Making the biological threat here something historical seems like a smart move (there’s even a theory that suggests the Spanish flu was extraterrestrial!)
Though, of course, “The Event” immediately destroys any tenuous tether it may have to something we might actually relate to. I had expected Sophia to use her alien technology to weaponize the virus in some manner, but there’s clearly no need for her to do so: the virus, fresh out of a 93-year-old frozen corpse, goes airborne within seconds and kills everyone on an old Russian sea vessel before they have a chance to make their way to the upper deck or, you know, seek medical attention, or something. As best I can tell, every one’s dead by the time the ship’s skipper gets back from purchasing a pack of smokes. (Also, as best I can tell, Sean and Vicky travel from France to Siberia during during the same time frame.)
In one fell swoop “The Event” takes something that could have created a real, and intimate sense of danger, and turns it into something just as silly as the rest of the show. But despite the silliness, and the missed opportunity, I actually look forward to Sean getting back to the US and finally fighting it out with Sophia, because, for as many faults as the character has, Sean is finally the most exciting part of “The Event.”
I’m not sure, however, if that is because his scenes have become more exciting, or if the rest of the show has just become more frustrating. The low point of “Strain,” for me, comes when genocidal Sophia, seemingly becoming more smug and psychotic by the second, tells one of her cronies that there’s “no need to be callous” after he celebrates news that Jarvis successfully poisoned Martinez. I’m not sure if this was an attempt to portray Sophia as conflicted, or to convince us that this is actually the same character we had been watching during the first half of the season, but it quite honestly angered me in a way few moments of “The Event” have. I sincerely hope the writers aren’t still banking on Sophia being any sort of sympathetic character, because if so her arc is bound to become even worse than it already is.
Meanwhile, the bulk of the episode, sadly, dwells on Vice President Jarvis’ nefarious ascent to the presidency after slipping President Martinez some poisonous sugar (why can’t that stuff serve as Sophia’s “weapon”? She can mix it in with high-fructose corn syrup and give the show yet another inane link to a timely issue.) I like Blake Sterling (well, Zeljko Ivanek at least) well enough that I can be invested in his quest to bring Jarvis down. Problem is, Jarvis is so uncompelling, this story so dull, and Blake’s helper-guy so totally uninteresting, that I just wish Blake would hit the VP with a tire iron and get it over with, and I would happily watch the 45 minutes of dead air afterwards. Yes, I’m now cheering for the good guys to win, but this is just not enjoyable to watch. This episode literally becomes a quest for coffee stains. Coffee stains! One of the episode’s climactic moments features Blake horrified to discover that one such stain has been cleaned by a janitorial crews. “By whose authority!?” he demands to know.
Last episode’s cliffhanger was a closeup of a coffee mug, and this week’s hinges on a closeup of...you guessed it, a coffee stain! I have a hard time convincing myself that I’m not making this up. How do you introduce genocide as the overriding plot thread and then expect us to care about this?
But the episode’s biggest problem is a difficult one to avoid: this is “24.” While in the past “The Event” has been a mishmash of several genre shows that came before it, “Strain” very clearly focuses on one influence. Even the old “24-with-aliens” criticism of the show does not apply here; the fact that there are aliens in this show is entirely irrelevent. They’re terrorists, living in their little colony, looking, talking and acting just like humans, and planning mass attacks on human civilization. The fact that they’re extraterrestrial adds nothing to either the story, in this episode at least, or to how we relate to these people as characters. They’re just “24” terrorists without the burden of having to make them be from “that country.”
Meanwhile, a weak and corrupt vice president ascends to power after poisoning the president, and our rogue protagonist stays off the grid and follows leads. I was half expecting the beeping clock to make an appearance at any moment (ticking down to the end of the episode, of course, just after the camera zooms in nice and close to a coffee stain on Blake’s shirt.) Lord knows I was never a fan of old Dempsey, but at least his presence provided “The Event” with its own nonsensical flavor.
But this is all fine. I honestly have very little issue with “The Event” aping “24” wholesale. I hardly consider it hallowed grounds, or anything. All I ask is that, next time, they remember that “24” was typically exciting, as well. At least more exciting than Blake’s search for coffee-soiled linens.
What'd you think?