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'The Event' recap: Running 'round in circles

October 4, 2010 | 10:00 pm

NUP_141429_0583.JPG  I think everything that's still irritating about "The Event" can be summed up in the last two episodes' cliffhangers. Last week, the episode ended with the shot of all of the passengers from the airplane lying dead in the middle of the desert. Somebody sure wants to cover up the story of what happened to that flight! This week, the episode ended with a shot of all of those passengers spontaneously waking up in a hangar somewhere. Somebody sure wants that story to get out there! It's not just that the show immediately reversed itself, which is annoying, or that the show got two cliffhangers out of the same basic plot point, which rankles, but that all of these things are simply happening, without any real sense of a greater context behind what's going on. This episode was the episode where "The Event" realized it had to be a TV series, not a miniseries.

This means that the series has to frantically begin stalling for time. People with good information get killed. Characters race from one place to another with not even the slightest semblance of a reason for why they're so frantically running everywhere. And after Episode 2's big series of revelations, there's just nothing on that level for Episode 3. But how could there be? If you're going to base your series around handing out big answers as often as possible, you're going to burn through story so quickly that by Season 4, your show will be about a post-apocalyptic band of warriors who ride on unicorns, just to keep the story moving forward. "The Event" seemed like it had solved this problem in the first two episodes, if not creatively at least in the sense where audiences (which have been good-sized) would be interested: It came up with a show where everything is a climax.

But this doesn't end up being exciting after three episodes. Even if I didn't quite like the first two episodes, I could see that they had a kind of momentum that kept driving them forward, leaving the audience breathless to ask what happened next. And the show dealing out fun set pieces (like the near plane crash) and answers that were predictable but at least answers (like the whole bit about the aliens, or future humans — take your pick) gave the series that much more of a rush to it. It felt less like a TV series and more like a dumb but still kinda fun summer blockbuster, where everything rushes forward at a breakneck pace simply because it can. The whole thing's going to be over in two hours plus change, and then the audience can simply forget about it.

But on a TV series, the answers have to be spaced out. They have to be hung precisely on the clothesline that is the story. Bunch too many answers together, and the clothesline sags, making it hard to get anything dry. Stretch things out too far, and the wind can whip the clothesline around, getting everything dry but so quickly that it becomes stiff. Similarly, bunching answers together can create a depression the storyline can't get out of, but stretching them out too much diminishes the power of any given answer. I really fear that "The Event" has fallen into the "bunching answers too closely together" pitfall because the third episode is the lightest on answers yet, and it ends up repeating itself over and over and over, until everything that happens feels like a remix of the previous two episodes. Needless to say, this is not a good problem for a series in its third episode to have.

It starts at the beginning, which is a replay of one of the climactic scenes from last week's episode but a lengthy one, as though the show fears we didn't check out last week's episode and need such an extensive refresher course. But we probably don't. Most of what we needed to know is in the "previously on" segment, and what happens here doesn't do anything all that new with what we knew before. All it does is launch yet another episode where Sean Walker stays just one step ahead of the men and women trying to capture him. Sometimes he escapes narrowly. Sometimes they get him. But it all plays out like something that would normally take a few episodes, compressed into just one. It's all action climaxes, and when it's not leading anywhere but is, rather, there simply for the thrill of the chase with nothing backing it up, the whole thing becomes an empty exercise in keeping plates spinning. Ultimately, who cares if Sean is taken? And who cares if he finds Leila? When so much of the episode is built around the star-crossed lovers being apart, it'd be nice to care even the slightest bit about them, but "The Event" has placed all of its faith in moving the plot forward.

Look at the other major plotline this week. The president offers a deal to the aliens (I'm calling them this for now, though I realize their outer space origins have yet to be conclusively determined). He'll let any of them who offer him information about the attempt on his life (and, more accurately, I think, Sophia's life) walk free among the human population. He was going to tell the world about the aliens' existence. Maybe that was why he was targeted. But, of course, the alien who decides that, hey, maybe he should tell the president what's up with his species ends up getting killed and betrayed by a woman who was his lover (or wife or girlfriend or something; I've learned to take nothing at face value on this show). Killing someone who knows something that would help the audience determine what's up is the oldest trick in the book, and it indicates that, absent of any interesting character storylines, "The Event" is just going to keep cycling through the same four or five basic plots over and over, the excitement factor getting emptier and emptier every time. Need further proof? How is the scene where the president interrogates Sophia this week ANY DIFFERENT from the one from last week, outside of a few dialogue differences?

But I've seen plenty of folks who thought this episode was the best one, so maybe I'm just cranky. "Protect Them from the Truth" nearly bored me to tears because I don't see the human tack to hang my hat on here. The characters are still so paper-thin that the plot putting them through the same paces over and over is going to lead to ever diminishing returns. I usually give a serialized show like this three episodes to win me over, since I tend to like science fiction and serialized shows usually take a while to put all of their pieces in place. Obviously, I'm following "The Event" for you guys, so I'm not going to give it up. And even if I weren't being paid to look at this series, I might stick with it, just because it's so easy to watch and the cast is pretty good. But there's little here that's making me say, "Hey, that's interesting," and that's the death knell for a show like this.

The plot in a nutshell: Sean escapes custody after the car he's in is hit by what appears to be Walter White's mobile meth lab, but he saves the life of the female agent who took him into custody, making her start to think, "Hey, maybe this guy ranting about the enormous conspiracy is RIGHT." Sean then races all over, and the feds race after him. Eventually, he discovers the girl from the cruise ship — who's still holding his girlfriend hostage — has many, many aliases. Surprise! Meanwhile, the president tries to cut a deal with the aliens for information on what they're up to, but the one who decides to talk is killed before he can say anything (by the girl he asked be brought to him no less; that's cold). Oh, and remember those dead people from the plane? They're alive again. 

— Todd VanDerWerff (follow me on Twitter at @tvoti)

Photo: Sophia (Laura Innes) refuses to cut a deal in Monday night's episode of 'The Event.' Credit: NBC.

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