'The Event' recap: This show is about the wrong characters
For reasons too boring to explain here, I had occasion to watch the entirety of the run of “FlashForward” last year. That show, one of the first on the list of shows with intriguing premises that fell apart because there was absolutely no attention paid to the characters (a list “The Event” is in danger of joining), had a lot of problems, but one of the problems only gradually revealed itself as the series went on. The show, for lack of a better phrase, was about the wrong people.
It wanted to be about a bunch of regular folks whose lives were changed by the fact that they got wrapped up in a global cataclysm, wherein everybody saw the future. But their visions of the future were often ridiculously prosaic and based on stuff nobody cared about. Who cared if one boring woman cheated on her boring husband with another boring man? So much more thought had been given to the overarching story than the characters that the soapy details of the characters’ visions just didn’t matter.
But lurking around the edges of that show was a whole host of fascinating characters. They were the people behind the global blackout and the visions of the future. And as the season went on, it became evident that they were doing this because one of them had discovered that the world was going to end and wanted to figure out a way, using the many-worlds hypothesis, to jerk our universe over onto a pathway where the world DIDN’T end. The few times we saw these people, they registered as fascinating characters. They had an agenda. They had terrible things they were willing to do to realize that agenda (like kill millions of people). They arguably had the best of intentions. And, more importantly, they were smart enough to realize that the problems of two married people weren’t worth a hill of beans when the world was about to end.
I’m feeling roughly the same way about “The Event” at this point. Sean Walker doesn't aggravate me nearly as much as the main characters on “FlashForward” do, but he increasingly strikes me as the poorest choice to anchor a show like this. Nearly every show of this nature that has launched since “The Prisoner” all but invented the “weird-things-happen” genre in the '60s has been about ordinary people who get caught up in a globe-spanning conspiracy of one sort or another. A bunch of troubled misfits crash land on a mysterious Island. The world’s most taciturn FBI agent ends up in a funny little small town with weird inhabitants. Two FBI agents stumble upon a giant conspiracy to prepare the Earth for an alien invasion. All of these shows start small and go global (or, in the case of “Twin Peaks,” mythical). So it’s obvious that “The Event” is supposed to be about one man -– Sean -– who stumbles upon a conspiracy to do … something involving aliens that crash landed in the 1940s.
There are two problems with this, however. One is that, at this point, we’re just too savvy about how all of this conspiracy stuff works. We already know the general beats of how Sean and company are going to uncover just what’s going on. To a degree, the show circumvents this by showing us the aliens and what they’re up to (as well as the president and everyone else), but the point-of-view character is supposed to be Sean. Unfortunately, outside of saving Leila, Sean has no earthly reason to keep pursuing the “truth,” even if his future sister- and father-in-law are all wrapped up in it. He just keeps pursuing it because the show needs him to. On the other hand, the other character this episode focuses on, Simon, turns out to lead a highly interesting life, wherein he’s had to leave women he’s loved because, for all intents and purposes, he doesn’t age. The Simon sections of the episode are fascinating. The Sean sections are highly predictable and sort of boring.
Here’s the other problem: It’s still not immediately clear just how many sides there are in this thing. There are humans who want to work with the aliens. There are aliens who want to work with the humans. There are aliens who are only in it for themselves. There are similar humans. There are players who try to play all sides, like Simon. And there are people who have no idea they’re even in the game, like Sean. Without a better picture of the full game board, it’s all but impossible to care about which side wants Sean for what. It also means he plays a lot of catchup, as when Trixie from “Deadwood” spills the beans on the aliens to Sean and he doesn’t buy it. He’s seen a lot of weird stuff this week. Shouldn’t he be down with aliens? And why do we need to see him get caught up? We know this stuff already.
I mention all of this because, against all odds, “The Event” is turning into kind of a fun show. It’s never going to be great TV, and its conspiracy isn’t as original as it thinks it is (at least not yet). But Monday night’s episode pointed a fine way for the show to go as it headed into the rest of its first season: The series should just blatantly copy “Lost.” Monday night’s episode was Simon-centric, which meant that it actually featured flashbacks to Simon’s past in Venice Beach, wooing a beautiful young woman, then decades later, when the same woman ran into him on the street, looking the same as he did when they were courting. She’s suffering from Alzheimer’s, now, so it’s easy for him to say he doesn’t know her, but the moment is affecting and well-acted by Ian Anthony Dale. The Simon stuff is so much more compelling than the “Have you been paying attention?” material of the Sean storyline that it becomes irritating to have to go back to whatever Sean and Leila are doing (particularly since Sarah Roemer seems incapable of figuring out what to do with her face when she’s reacting to something, leading to lots of blank stares).
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I want “The Event” to turn into a consistently fun guilty pleasure. Monday night’s episode had at least four “That was cool!” moments -- Simon helping Sophia evade the government by dosing the others in the coffee shop, Simon’s final farewell to Violet, Sophia and Thomas’ escape attempt, and the building implosion. I’d like to see more of those cool things in the weeks to come, just to keep my interest piqued. But so long as the show is about Sean Walker and his cavalcade of bumbling plot points, I don’t know that it will be able to turn out episodes as fun as this one on a consistent basis. The show either needs to catch Sean up as quickly as possible or shift its focus.
The story, in case you still care: Sophia’s on her way to reunite with Thomas, but the government is tracking her by way of a radioactive isotope she ingested in her food. Fortunately, Simon helps her evade capture, and she finds her way to Thomas. As it turns out, Simon has the same problem all fictional immortals do: He once fell in love with a mortal woman, and we learn how their relationship came to ruin throughout the hour. Meanwhile, Sean and Leila learn from a crazy journalist named Madeline that Leila's father accidentally flew over the Alaskan alien facility. Also, Leila’s sister is still being held, and the two learn all about the aliens. In the end, Thomas and Sophia escape (presumably through the giant portal Thomas opens up), and the building they were in collapses around Simon.
-- Todd VanDerWerff (follow me on Twitter at @tvoti)
Photo: Simon (Ian Anthony Dale) was in love with Violet (Holland Roden) back in the 1950s, but he had to leave since he didn't age normally. Ain't that always the way? Credit: NBC