For anyone who has been following my reviews of “The Event” so far this season, it’s clear that I am far from the show’s biggest fan. On the other hand, in the wake of last week’s paltry return-episode ratings, it’s also clear that I’m one of the few people still watching. As such it felt strangely morbid watching tonight’s episode, “Turnabout,” spin its wheels, knowing that NBC could pull the plug on this show at any minute, well before its few remaining viewers find out where any of this is heading.
[Full recap of Monday's (March 14) "Event" after the break...]
This series promised a lot from the beginning, and its creators specifically claimed it wouldn’t be another post-”Lost” mystery show, lacking in tangible content, that runs out of steam once the initial intrigue wears off. I think we can officially say that “The Event” is at that point, but what’s more disappointing is how rote its process in getting there has been, as if it never attempted to put up a fight, or do anything beyond following a script to its own demise. The only thing left, at this point, is to figure out where it all went wrong.
One of “The Event”’s most glaring problems has been momentum, as it has never been able to string multiple exciting episodes together, and it cursed itself with an inopportune hiatus just as the plot began moving forward. “Turnabout” is another example, following up the action-packed “Inostranka” with an episode that’s mostly filler (hell, its opening segment is a dream!) Even within the episode itself, any moments that seem to pick up the pace a little bit are truncated by cuts to inexplicable scenes of a wayward Sean getting into a bar fight, or something. The show has always modeled itself much more after “24” than “Lost,” but it lacks the resolve “24” writers had to cut anything that might interrupt the series unrelenting pace. In “24,” the ticking clock ruled all; in “The Event,” even gun battles feel like they’re just filling the time.
The show has always had questionable execution, but I wonder if tighter execution would have come naturally were better decisions made concerning the content. At every corner “The Event” seems to sabotage itself. Take the episode’s master plot for example. We find out that Thomas is not only responsible for the Manhattan Project, he’s also responsible for the Chernobyl disaster. The disaster, apparently, was caused when Thomas, with the help of an alien named Hanson, attempted to steal the plant’s uranium rods using a wormhole. Instead, there was a meltdown, and on top of the other horrors, Hanson was horribly disfigured in the process (the episode’s best moment comes when Hanson dives his fingers underneath his own skin and painfully removes a receiver from his jaw.)
Now Thomas has apparently employed the help of Hanson to try his luck at the heist yet again, this time planning to steal the uranium from a plant outside of San Diego. The plot is incredibly silly, yet in an alternate reality I could imagine this being a fun bit, where sociopath Thomas is so arrogant and so fixated on accomplishing his mission that he’s willing to endanger the entire western United States by reattempting something that has already ended in such disaster. And pulling poor mutant Hanson back in for more torment would be all the more deliciously evil.
And yet the (oddly timely) idea of a nuclear meltdown is discarded nearly as quickly as it’s brought up. It is barely given enough development to be a red herring--it’s just another one of Thomas’ half-baked ploys that manages to dupe the United States of America. Fearing a meltdown, President Martinez takes Sophia’s advice of transporting the uranium, employing a comically tiny convoy to do so. Thomas attacks the convoy and steals the uranium without much trouble. Whatever threat that could have loomed over the episode dissipates before it has a chance to fully materialize. Sure, Thomas is still intending to use the uranium to power his warp gate to bring over an army of aliens to wipe out humanity, but that’s far too vague and intangible to create any tension in this episode.
“24” was most effective when the threats felt real, and the suspense was tangible. The virus outbreak of season three was terrifying, because it took the time to trap us inside a space with people who are dying and desperate to escape. “The Event” glances over its various plot elements as if saying words themselves, like “nuclear meltdown,” will do the job of a tightly-scripted suspense plot. We’re told that Thomas tricks everyone, setting up what should be an exciting heist, but his plot relies on a whole lot of serendipity and the army stupidly deciding not to protect the all-important uranium. Thomas may be manipulative, as is the episode’s script, but Thomas’ manipulations are so easy, and the script is so transparent, that it’s a wonder anyone could be upset about either. The script continually tells me how high the stakes are, but I refuse to believe it, because none of it is affecting. There’s a lot thrown at us, but none of it has impact.
At one point during “Turnabout,” disfigured Hanson nearly strangles Sophia to death. The episode’s cliffhanger features President Martinez discovering Sophia’s general whereabouts, and smirking to himself as he shows off his new iron will by ordering a hit on her. These are two key moments that hinge on Sophia’s well being that just don’t work for me because I have no feelings for her whatsoever. It’s not that I dislike the character or Laura Innes’ performance, it’s just that, like so many other characters on this show (notably, Sean) she’s a supposedly central figure whose absence wouldn’t affect the series at all. When you think about it, she really hasn’t done anything. She’s given President Martinez a whole bunch of nebulous non-answers, she let Thomas break her out of prison, she put Thomas and his girlfriend in their place, only to be promptly double crossed by them anyway, and now she’s allowed Thomas to play her for a fool.
If this were a different show I’d say it was examining the conceits of leadership, but let’s not kid ourselves, “The Event” is a collection of type characters who lack the substance to back up their types (“Lost” was always great at making its types feel real--“Event” writers should have taken better notes.) We know that Martinez is “supposed” to trust Sophia, and yet he is right not to, because none of her supposed virtues have ever been supported by content. Like everything else about this show, she’s all talk. We’re supposed to still believe that she’s a great and powerful leader because, at one point, we were told that she is. Just like we’re supposed to care about what the “event” is because once upon a time an ad told us to. It’s the show in a nutshell.
My take on “The Event” has often bordered on cruel, but that’s only because I’ve expected the show to be what it claims to be. I attended the pilot’s first public screening back at Comic-Con, and I’ve been writing about every episode since. Whatever my opinions, I’ve had to be invested in this show, and it has been an incredibly frustrating experience. I have always cheered for the show to back up its many conceits, but that has just never happened, and at this point I have as little interest left in the plot as I do in the well being of the characters.
Quite frankly, for whatever time we have left with “The Event,” I’m cheering for Thomas.