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'The Event' recap: That was pretty good; I'm not losing my mind, right?

March 29, 2011 |  9:00 am

NUP_143455_1366 I'm going to resolve to say only nice things today because that was a pretty good episode of "The Event." It had action-packed stakes. It had the grand, epic sweep the show has been going for. It had characters that behaved mostly rationally. It had stuff going on in both major plots that was interesting. If the show hadn't been such a mess on the way to this point, this might have felt like a huge midseason episode, one that legitimately changed everything and set us on the inevitable course toward the season finale. The various factions have become crystal clear, and the show has for the most part believably set them at war with each other. Maybe not everything works here, but "Face Off" is the episode "Event" fans would have been waiting for in the alternate universe where "Event" fans were really into this show. It reminds me of that pretty cool "FlashForward" episode near the end of that show's run, when we learned the big secret behind the giant conspiracy and it was worth the wait, for once.

Anyway, here's where all of the characters stand: Sophia, Thomas and the other alien-type folk are holed up in a church in Los Angeles, trying to figure out a way to process the bad news about the imminent death of their planet and a way to escape the government forces closing in around the church. Meanwhile, President Martinez and the gang behind the scenes at the White House are trying to capture or kill every alien type within that church, the better to keep them from bringing an invasion force to Earth. Sean and Vicky, after fleeing from the dinner where they accosted the vice president, have made their way to France to search for Dempsey. He's there digging around in the ground, searching for evidence of the alien types, and when he finds it, he dubs them the guardian angels that pop up in every major human mythic tradition. There's a healthy dose of "24" here, a healthy dose of goofy alien invasion movies, and a healthy dose of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" for good measure. That's a mixture I'd be more than happy to watch week after week.

The best thing about this episode is the direction, from Steven Spielberg's cinematographer of choice, Oscar winner Janusz Kaminski. In particular, I love the way Kaminski frames the scenes inside the White House so that the president's face is always looming as he realizes in horror the terrible things he has to do -– namely, blow up buses carrying lots of those he's vowed to exterminate from the Earth -– or just how thoroughly he's been hoodwinked, as when he realizes that Simon has been a sleeper agent all along. But Kaminski also brings just the right touch of mystery and awe to the scene in which Dempsey treks through the ancient chamber with all the "angels" painted on the wall. It's almost certainly some empty room on a back lot somewhere, but between Hal Holbrook's portrayal of amazement at the find and the way Kaminski lights the scene almost entirely with torches, it feels suitably spine-tingling. 

The other best thing about this episode is that "The Event" breaks out all of the crazy stuff it's been apparently saving in its big bag of plot twists. For a while now, NBC has been teasing the destruction of the Washington Monument in its promos for the show. It makes sense. This is a big, money shot, and it's the sort of thing you'd sell a disaster movie on. To entice an audience to the show, you want to give them a sense that things are happening on a grand, Earth-shattering scale. So you show things blowing up or crumbling into dust. I never expected, however, that the crumbling of the giant pillar would come so early in an episode (here, it closes out Act 1!), rather than at the end of one. By situating a moment as big as this early in the episode, "The Event" is signaling that pretty much anything can happen here, and that we should sit back and enjoy the ride. There are nitpicks to be had in the episode, to be sure, but by leading with a moment like this, the show finds a way to neutralize them fairly quickly. Sure, it's gratuitous to have Sophia do this (though it's ultimately a good bluff), but it does make it seem like the show is playing for keeps now and not pretending to take place in our reality.

From there, the show keeps pacing its revelations nicely. Dempsey's archaeological business in the middle of nowhere France (which made me keep thinking of the legend that sprung up around the supposed treasures of Rennes-le-Chateau) was a constant, intriguing through-line. Simon's attempts to play both sides and the president and Blake's discovery of his betrayal came up around the midpoint, the better to goose drama in that story line. And the final evacuation of Sophia, Thomas and everybody else at the end of the episode provided its final, huge action sequence. In that moment, "The Event" made a choice that signaled that, yeah, it was playing for keeps now, but also signaled that once the show goes back to its fairly disappointing other self (as you know it must), it won't be nearly as entertaining.

See, the series killed off Thomas, arguably its best character. It did so in a way that would have been powerful if the series had bothered to develop the relationship between him and his mother via something other than dialogue that constantly retold the story of how the two had come to be at odds, but it was still a nicely shocking moment. As the buses are headed toward LAX, part of Sophia's last gambit to protect her people, the White House's new tap on Simon's encrypted calls finally bears fruit, and everybody behind the scenes learns that Sophia doesn't actually have any juice left to destroy the greater Washington area. It was a bluff designed to buy her more time. Whit this information in hand, the president mobilizes helicopters to fire on the three buses, first blowing up the bus that doesn't carry any of the characters we know and care about. And that seems like it might be where the episode ends up, with Thomas and Sophia (on the other two buses) somehow escaping death yet again.

Instead, Thomas fields a call from the man running the portal array. He's got enough juice to get one of the buses out of harm's way. And, after a moment, Thomas calls his mother to let her know that she's the true leader of their people, and that he's figured out a way to get her to safety. And so, as the helicopters fire a missile at Thomas' bus, killing both the rogue leader and everyone else inside, Sophia's bus races through a portal, off to safety (and presumably her home world, though I doubt the show would go there this soon in its run). It's a surprisingly tense sequence, and if it had played off a more-developed relationship than the one it did, it might have been a high point of the TV season. Instead, it had to settle for being a lot of fun.

I'll be honest. I'm not looking forward to a version of this show that doesn't involve Thomas. He had turned into the one character who actually seemed to be doing something that made a vague amount of sense, and his plight (get his people to Earth or have them all die) gained a poignancy it needed in last week’s episode. Now, his mother appears ready to become a hard-liner like him, but we're going to miss the show's most reliably entertaining character and the one villain who actually seemed to have a plausible reason for his actions. Can the show work without Thomas? If every episode from here on out is as tautly suspenseful and well-written as this one, sure. But I'm not counting on the show suddenly gaining a second wind this late, and I suspect we'll all be missing Thomas soon enough.

Photo: Dempsey (Hal Holbrook) finds something he's been seeking for ages buried in the mountains of France. Credit: NBC

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-- Todd VanDerWerff
Twitter.com / @tvoti

 

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