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'The Event' recap: Dumb plot twists galore

October 11, 2010 | 11:50 pm

Does “The Event” exhaust anybody else? Every week, the individual scenes are crafted specifically to avoid giving the audience any helpful information. After the second episode – where we learned about the aliens and what happened to the plane – we’ve been getting an increasingly elaborate shell game, one seemingly designed just to keep the audience riding high on a buzz of constant plot momentum. But when the plot keeps circling the same five or six things, it just gets tiring to have to cheer loudly as the juggler at the center of the show keeps all of the balls (and chainsaws and what have you) in the air. Put another way, I’m pretty sure I could skip all but the first five and last five minutes of “The Event” and not really miss anything (well, I could, if it wasn’t my job to keep up with it). Everything in between is a long, long journey to nowhere.

“But, Todd!” you say. “Lots of other shows have had this ‘put the action up front and at the end’ structure, and you’ve liked many of them!” Indeed, I have. “24” was the epitome of the super-fun TV thrill ride (at least when it was good). “Lost” was one of my favorite shows ever, combining a bunch of genre tropes I really liked with some awesome plotting and mysteries. I even liked the goofy fun of the first seasons of “Prison Break” and “Heroes,” which were supremely dumb shows but at least sort of proud of that fact, as they just kept coming up with endless strings of insane plot twists. Honestly, if “The Event” were more like those latter two shows, I’d just be rolling with it. I’d know, deep down, that it wasn’t GOOD, but I’d at least be having fun. But look at those four shows I just listed. See how many characters you can name from those shows, just off the top of your head. Now see how many you can list from "The Event." Without checking IMDB, I get to Sean (because he's the main character) and President Blair Underwood before running out of room. Even the DUMBEST of those other shows - "Prison Break," if you're playing along at home - had a wealth of fun characters in it. But “The Event” wants to have its guilty pleasure cake and eat it too. It wants to be dumb and profound and thrilling all at once, and it’s failing at all three tasks.

Take tonight’s final plot twist, which might just be the dumbest plot twist in the history of plot twists. You know that whole thing where the evil Vicky (or whatever you want to call her) and her good pal Carter (played by the always enjoyable D.B. Sweeney) are apparently foiled by the feisty Leila, who breaks out after the latter leaves a giant chunk of glass in her basement prison, the better for Leila to cut loose her bonds and make her escape, shooting Vicky in the process, leading the evil one to tumble down the stairs. Of course, Leila goes to the cops, and of course, we’re suspecting that the cops have been turned (or the conspiracy is monitoring the phone lines). But what happens at the end is even stupider: The conspiracy has set up an elaborate ruse to get Leila to call Sean, so he’ll come and try to rescue her and they can … do something to him.

Let’s leave aside for the moment that the easiest possible way to get Leila to call Sean is to leave a cellphone within her reach. Let’s also leave aside for the moment that a global conspiracy could probably get a guy’s cellphone number if they really wanted to – regardless of whether that guy is on their radar or not. What makes this whole sequence so frustrating is that it exists purely to keep the audience guessing. Nothing can change, and everything has to be reversed because otherwise, there can’t be a series. Leila can’t escape. Sean can’t find her. The conspiracy must always exist because shows like this always have a conspiracy. It’s like there’s been no thought given to explaining to the audience why any of this is worth caring about or why any of these characters are worth our affection. Instead, every effort has been made to just keep plates spinning as long as possible, while the show tap dances.

Every week, I go into this show thinking that this will be the episode where I can turn off my brain and just go with the stupidity. Every week, I’m wrong. It’s simply a long chase sequence that sacrifices everything in the name of superficial forward momentum. Honestly, if you were to summarize everything that’s happened this season so far, you would probably cover less space than if you were to summarize the events of non-serialized shows like “Hawaii Five-0” or “The Defenders.” At least in those shows, the characters take on new cases from week to week. On “The Event,” everything is devoted to keeping up the illusion that things are happening, even as the show is constantly struggling to get back to the status quo. To take another exceptionally stupid example from tonight’s episode, just why would a threat be made to kill all of the people from the plane when they’ve been killed and resurrected once already (and had their memories wiped)? Why not have the alien leader guy use the death of the people on the plane as a legitimate threat? Or promise to use his technology to make all humans immortal? Or something other than just going a step forward, then immediately taking that same step back?

I write enough about what makes me angry about this show from week to week that I suppose it would be best to talk about some of the things I am still enjoying. Jason Ritter remains a likable presence at the show’s center, and his scene with Vicky’s son (yes, she has a son) was well-done. I like the occasional bit of story development when the show lets the audience figure something out for itself – like when we caught a glimpse of Sean’s phone being low on battery and were able to piece together that Leila wouldn’t get through to him because … his battery died. And I really enjoy the scenes between Blair Underwood and Laura Innes, even if they keep repeating the same basic lines of dialogue over and over. The actors are such pros that pretty much everything they’re handed ends up being more fun than it has any right to be.

But I headed into “A Matter of Life and Death” wanting to write about how I can sort of enjoy the show on that stupid level I did “Heroes” and “Prison Break,” before I realized that that’s simply no longer true. Maybe it was true in the pilot, and maybe it was true in the second episode, but by now, the series has put enough of its cards on the table that we should be getting into some truly insane stuff. Instead, it mostly just keeps having the same chase sequence over and over and over, with a little computer hacking thrown in for good measure. Sure, “Heroes” and “Prison Break” were stupid, but they weren’t afraid to blow stuff up. “The Event” keeps lighting fuses and then snuffing them out just as quickly.

The plot in a nutshell, in case you’ve been sensible enough to give up on this show: All of those people who woke up last week? They’re alive, but they don’t remember what happened on the plane. Until the possibly evil alien guy is all, “Look what I can do!” and gives them nose bleeds, which apparently will lead to their deaths. (You ever notice how often a nose bleed is a harbinger of doom on TV? Sometimes, a nose bleed is just a nose bleed.) President Blair Underwood receives a threat to this effect from a phone that was secretly placed in his kid’s backpack. The other aliens want Sophia and company, and they’ll do anything to get her. Torture keeps getting brought up obliquely because the show wants to seem like it has its finger on the pulse of modern America. (And when the president first met Sophia, she just wanted to be like any other immigrant  – also topical!) Sean and his new FBI friend race all over, without really accomplishing anything (though they find Vicky’s mom and son), but Leila breaks out of her bonds on her own. It turns out it was a set up by the conspiracy to lure in Sean. And Hal Holbrook’s disembodied voice controls the conspiracy!

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

Photo: Leila (Sarah Roemer) spent much of Monday's episode of "The Event" cutting herself out of her bonds with a piece of glass. Enthralling! (Credit: NBC)

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