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'The Event' recap: Same stuff, different year.

March 8, 2011 |  7:00 am

There are few more action-packed shows that are still seemingly designed to lull viewers to sleep than “The Event.” After being gone since November and seemingly having every opportunity to fix what’s wrong with the show, the series’ producers returned with a two-hour midseason premiere that resolutely refused to do anything to patch up the series’ problems. This is pretty much the same show we had last fall, the show that only has one or two compelling characters (none of whom are the regulars), an abundance of not terribly compelling mysteries, and a lack of believable character motivation. As I complained about last year, this is a show where I have absolutely no idea what anybody wants, and, sadly, “And Then There Were More” and “Inostranka” do absolutely nothing to clear this central question up. There’s no effort made to explain why we should care, and without that effort, “The Event” simply becomes a lot of repetitive noise. And repetitive noise is easy to fall asleep to.

Let’s get the good things out of the way first, though: Blake Sterling’s storyline in the second hour of tonight’s double-length episode was pretty awesome. It shows just how well things can work on this show where we know a character pretty well and know what they’re trying to do. Blake is someone we’ve gotten to know in flashbacks, and while he’s not the most original character in the history of television, his adventures here are smartly conceived and in keeping with what we know of the man and what he’s been up to all this time. In particular, any time you put an aging government agent with a wound leaking blood into a situation where he’s trying to retake an elaborate prison complex with only one man for backup, you’ve got a recipe for awesomeness, and Zeljko Ivanek is just the guy to play out this miniature riff on “Die Hard.”

The backdrop for Blake’s adventures, however, leaves much to be desired. Thomas has set the “aliens” (remember, they might not be aliens, but it sure sounds like they come from the galaxy NGC 185, according to something another character says tonight) free from their imprisonment, and now, he’s offered them a choice. If they join up with him and help him complete his goal of shipping in a bunch more of his kind into the Tibetan wilderness via some sort of very-large array, he’s happy to get them out of the Alaskan prison. If they want to remain loyal to his mother, Sophia, they can stay in the prison. Sophia’s trying to find a way back home; Thomas wants to bring home here and destroy the Earth in the process. It’s the most clarifying sense we’ve gotten of what these two want since the show began, and yet it feels mildly disappointing. 

Why? Well, after all of that hubbity bub about what was really going on, that one of the many parties on the playing field merely wants an old-fashioned alien invasion is a little deflating. This is what everybody’s willing to do such terrible things to cover up? Sure, you’d probably want to keep an alien invasion under wraps, but as an answer in a science fiction work, it’s not exactly the most original thing to put out there. Honestly, the show could have gotten this out of the way much longer ago, since we all were pretty sure some sort of invasion was imminent anyway. Maybe with a show that’s already this complicated – there are something like six different individuals or organizations pursuing their own diametrically opposing goals in these episodes – the answers need to be simple and easily understandable. But I’m willing to bet the show is just scrambling, tossing answers out there in the hopes that it will satisfy some of what the audience wants to know. There’s an air of desperation to both episodes tonight, but the series is still unwilling to just start putting cards on the table, even coming up with incredibly silly visual metaphors for the game as it’s being played. (That final shot of the giant table where Dempsey keeps the many game pieces he moves around in weird, metaphorical fashion was just hilariously bad. Is he playing "Carcassone"?)

Also, the show has seriously run out of things for Sean and Leila to do. Sean’s motivation in the pilot was probably the most believable motivation anyone has ever had on this show: He wanted to find his girlfriend. Then, he fought to get away from the men who were trying to kill him and framing him for murder. Then, once he FOUND his girlfriend, he wanted to help her find her sister. (This last motivation isn’t the best motivation for him, but at least it’s a reason for him to do what he does, right?) Now, after helping Leila find her sister and helping her figure out that she’s half alien, on her dad’s side, he’s been told by everybody that he can’t go along with Leila as she heads off with her dad to find out the answers she wants to know about herself. Presumably, this is because Sophia is tight-lipped about security. (Really, it’s because the show can’t give the audience most of these answers just yet and, thus, needs Sean, the point-of-view character, to be in the dark.) But all of the angst about this just doesn’t matter because it’s hard to care about Sean and Leila, and it’s hard to buy Sophia’s ultimatum. Surely she could trust Sean, no matter how little she wants her kind interacting and having children with humans. Bah.

The other major plot thread in these episodes involves the president dealing with the sitting Alaskan senator, the widow of a recently passed six-term senator. She’s played by Virginia Madsen, who is frequently awesome, but there’s not really a lot to this storyline. The senator finds out about Inostranka, but since she only has 30 days on her temporary term left, the president and his team think they can bluff her and wait her out. (She actually gives an awful speech about how she plays poker and knows the president is bluffing. Terrible.) Instead, she takes to the airwaves with the evidence she has on Inostranka, and the president and his team have to scramble to find a way to shut down Chris Matthews. This could have been interesting, but, again, this show has been constructed on such a shaky, constantly eroding foundation, that nothing comes of it. It’s that kind of show: Things threaten to happen or actually happen, but it’s hard to care. And sadly, even though the producers had months to prepare for these episodes, that hasn’t changed about the show since its last incarnation.

Photo: Thomas (Clifton Collins, Jr.) has a plan to gain the help of his people for his elaborate invasion scheme. (Credit: NBC)

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