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'The Event' recap: Aliens in America

November 30, 2010 |  6:41 am

Martinez

I don't mean to turn this into the weekly "Comparison of sci-fi shows 'The Event' is worse than" column, but I can't help but think some about the mid-2000s remake of "Battlestar Galactica" while watching Monday night's episode of "The Event." "Everything Will Change" is predicated around a pretty big revelation at the end, a revelation that suggests a character we've known since the first episode is one of Them, and yet the revelation is utterly devoid of any excitement or emotion. "Galactica," of course, featured the murderous robots, the Cylons, as its villains, but one of the great entertainments of the show was trying to guess which of the many characters actually WAS a Cylon. When it was revealed at the end of the miniseries that launched the series that fighter pilot Boomer was a Cylon, it was a terrific moment because it revolved around a character who was interesting and created a twist that built anticipation for what was to come. When we find out this character is one of the aliens (or whatever they are), it doesn't register at all, for a number of reasons.


The biggest single reason the revelation that Michael, Leila's dad, is an alien doesn't register is because it seems like he hasn't been in the show for five or six weeks. And before that, it wasn't like he was a compelling character. He was pretty much just the pilot of the plane that was meant to kill President Martinez and Leila and Samantha's dad. That's it. He has no distinguishing characteristics or personality beyond "dad." And unlike on "Galactica," the reveal of Michael as an alien doesn't resonate because we know basically nothing about the aliens and who they are and what they want. We know a little, sure, but the many Cylon revelations on that other show worked because they were always awful, awful surprises for the characters involved. They frequently used the audience's knowledge that a certain character was a Cylon to build suspense. Here, we just get Sean and Leila sitting in a room, reading over some old documents. And, oops! Michael's an alien. (This is not to mention that there were only 12 Cylons, and, theoretically, every major cast member could be revealed as an alien before "The Event" is over, because there are so many of them. It removes some of the specialness of the moment.)

It doesn't help that this cliffhanger -- the one chosen to send the series off into the sunset until it returns in February -- isn't built to in any real way. It's lame as a cliffhanger, sure, for the reasons outlined above, but the story line leading to it, involving Sean and Leila trying to find the place Samantha was being held, is enormously silly. The two manage to find a secret mental hospital where the old lady little girls (who would all seem to be the offspring of aliens who, presumably, have mated with humans) are purportedly being held. Even though Dempsey knows his guy in the field is out of commission, presumably, Sean and Leila are still able to infiltrate this highly secretive facility, where they take advantage of a mental patient's shaky memory in a scene that's, bizarrely, often played for comedy. Sean runs around, but he doesn't see anything. Sometimes the mental hospital is just a mental hospital.

Except for when it's not! Because one of the patients tells Sean and Leila that he sometimes hears the voices of little girls coming from the floor, suggesting that the secret facility is beneath the earth somewhere. Sean and Leila buy what he's saying because this is That Kind Of Show, which means he's right (well, and Leila sees the water tower Abby described last week), and they've soon found their way to the place where we saw Samantha being held earlier in the episode, though, of course, it's been abandoned at this point. The heroes stumbling on the abandoned facilities used by the conspiracy at the heart of the conspiracy series is such a time-tested trope of this type of show (think of how many times Mulder and Scully did this on "The X-Files") that I was looking forward to this plot. Instead, Sean's and Leila's investigation was kind of dry and perfunctory, not really turning up anything worth knowing, unless you're deeply excited by the Michael revelation.

Meanwhile, the aliens and the Martinez administration are at odds yet again, as Thomas is about to carry out his terrible, terrible plan, the one that will shock all of the aliens and scare the humans or something. I'm a bit baffled by the way this story line plays out. The president and his staff discover that there's a potentially nuclear missile pointed at the West Coast (we'll see you all later, I guess), and after they rule out any other countries and terrorists, they spend a lot of time talking about "WHO COULD THIS BE?!" I'm not sure if the characters are trying to avoid the obvious for convoluted reasons or what, but this is "The Event," and the answer is always, "the aliens," so you'd think they'd get to this solution a lot sooner. Anyway, there's some muddled hand-wringing on the part of all involved, but then the president threatens the imaginary ambassador of the imaginary country where the missile is parked with retaliation if the missile strikes U.S. soil. It doesn't feel terribly convincing, because we know the show's not going to tack a "foreign war" subplot onto the top of everything else, but it's there.

But don't worry everyone! It WAS the aliens, and it turns out that Thomas' terrifying plan was ripped off from "E.T.," because he just wants to send a magnificent satellite of some sort into orbit to send a message home. It's actually a pretty cool moment, thanks to some good effects work, and I liked the gradual realization on the part of the president and his staff that the missile wasn't aimed at the U.S. but, rather, toward outer space. Granted, it might have been hard to explain all of this to the public, but if Thomas had just told everyone he wanted to do this, Sophia and Martinez might have been able to work something out with him. But then, of course, this wouldn't be "The Event," where people keep information from each other for no good reason and are revealed to not be who they say they are with absolutely no emotional effect whatsoever. A little uninspiring for what's supposed to be a mid-season finale. The ratings for the show have tumbled to God-awful in recent weeks, and long hiatuses never help a brand-new show (see: "Jericho," "FlashForward"), so I suspect this series is not long for this world. But I guess we'll all find out! So see you in February, when the wheezy calliope starts up all over again!

The plot, in case you care: So it turns out that Michael, who is Leila's dad and the airplane pilot from the "Pilot" (tee-hee) and Luke from Luke's Diner and the dad from "Aliens in America," which just feels like prophecy now, is an alien, which means that Leila and Samantha are part-alien. This would seem to explain why Dempsey and crew have been holding the little alien-human hybrid girls (though not why just girls), as whatever they're doing to the girls results in the de-aging serum everybody involved uses. Leila and Sean find all of this out after spending a lot of time going through doors at a mental institution (more specifically, in a recently abandoned sub-basement BELOW the mental institution). I'm not even kidding. There's, like, five minutes of Sean and Leila just opening doors wordlessly in this episode. Meanwhile, there's a missile that seems to be pointed at the U.S., and it's not terrorists or another country. Could it be the aliens? It takes an awfully long time for Martinez to arrive at this conclusion. And guess what? It IS the aliens! But all they want to do is phone home. Aw.

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

Photo: President Martinez (Blair Underwood) in "The Event." Credit: NBC

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