This past week it’s felt like the actual show “The Event” is merely a necessary byproduct of NBC’s hype-building advertising campaign for the series. That’s not a statement on the ubiquity of the ads, but rather on how effectively they boil down everything the show itself seems to want to express; so far the episodes have felt largely superfluous. For last week’s pilot the ads let us know that some terribly mysterious people were involved in some sort of terribly mysterious “event,” while for this week’s episode, “To Keep Us Safe,” they let us know that a plane disappeared, and now we’re going to find out what happened to it. When the ads for week three inevitably reveal that answer (“aliens did it”), you’ll be more-or-less caught up.
[Full recap of Monday's (Sept 28) "The Event" after the break...]
As you may have guessed, I didn’t like the pilot all that much; it told us absolutely nothing about what was going on and gave us even less in the way of characters we might actually care about. But creator Nick Wauters and his team (along with NBC’s ads) had been promising us that answers are on their way, and soon we’d have some sense of what’s going on. And sure, now I suppose I have a better idea of what this show is actually about, but unfortunately I still didn’t find “To Keep Us Safe” to be much of an improvement.
It may take a while to unravel the plot from the continued asynchronous editing, but here’s the general gist: President Martinez discovers that the United States government has been keeping a population of nearly-human-like extraterrestrials locked up in an Alaskan gulag since 1944. The aliens (we think they’re aliens, anyway; it’s suggested that they may have a common ancestor with human beings, and their only difference from us is that they don’t age--should we just call them “Others”?) crash landed, and their leader, Sophia, was taken into custody along with 96 others who were too injured to flee into the Alaskan wilderness with Thomas, Sophia’s right-hand-man and likely her love interest.
The President plans to make history by announcing the aliens’ existence to the world and allowing them to go free into the general populace, but his plans are interrupted by an airplane sent to crash directly into him (by an unnamed, D.B. Sweeney-led band of baddies that we assume are at odds with Sophia and her people). The plane, as we know, disappeared, and as it turns out it was sent into the deserts of Arizona by alien Thomas by way of a giant burst of electromagnetic radiation (or lord, not this again). Martinez is outraged because Sophia refuses to tell him what happened, and as a result he cancels the prisoner exchange.
Our hero, Sean Walker, was on the plane (how he wound up there, we’re still not sure) and he flees into the desert after his would-be father-in-law warns him not to trust the coming rescue team. He then runs around in a hospital for a while before eventually being arrested for a murder he didn’t commit. On paper, I actually kind of like this character, who’s played well by Jason Ritter as a wide-eyed kid in over his head, whose girlfriend Leila disappeared along with his identity while he was on a cruise. But rather than giving us a frantic, non-heroic hero that might actually be interesting, “The Event” injects awkward scenes of Sean taking charge of the plane’s evacuation (the passengers seem pretty quick to accept the guidance of a man who had just hijacked them at gunpoint), and an entirely superfluous flashback of Sean meeting Leila in college. The latter scene seems designed to make us care about the character, but it mostly seems out of place in a show that lacks the grace to include decent character moments in the actual plot line.
We also find out that Agent Lee, put in charge to smoke out Thomas and his people (who have lived free all these decades, unbeknownst to the US government), is actually an alien secretly embedded in the CIA. He’s working with Thomas, but obviously there’s a coming clash between the two men; while they both wanted to save Sophia and Martinez from the plane attack, Thomas wanted to keep his existence a secret and simply let US forces shoot the plane down, while Lee pressured him into using their awesome alien-tech to teleport the plane, thereby saving its passengers. Confusingly, Thomas kills the passengers anyway, rendering his revealing display of technology entirely pointless. I get that Thomas’ motivations should remain largely cloudy at this point, but is it too much to ask that they don’t seem entirely self-defeating and stupid?
But this is what ultimately irks me: “The Event” hasn’t provided us with any legitimate mysteries or given us any significant answers. All it’s really managed to do is hide its general premise from us and reveal it over the course or two episodes. Now we know that “The Event” is about aliens, but why should we care? The show seems to think we should be excited about that revelation just because it took way too long to get there. I’ve never been much of an “answers” man, if for no other reason than that I generally assume the writers can make up whatever bullshit they want and plug it in with relative ease (like “God did it,” or “aliens/awesome technology did it,” which are basically the same thing anyway.) I care about answers insofar as they affect characters in interesting ways or cast new light on the themes. But “The Event” has nothing in place to affect. Its so-called, and much-advertised “answer” is nothing more than its most basic plot element.
I may not be much of an answers man, but right now answers seem to be all “The Event” is running on. The larger problem is that, even by its own metric, the show isn’t quite up to snuff. While the arrival of extraterrestrial life would indeed be a defining event of human history, it’s not exactly notable in the world of television. Without any decent character work, there’s just not a lot going on here, and the confusing editing does a poor job of hiding that. Now that it finally has its premise worked out, hopefully it gives us something more interesting next week.