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'The Event' recap: A new, horrifying meaning for the phrase 'forever young'

November 8, 2010 | 10:00 pm

If there's one thing I always say -- and I do always say this, and you should ask anyone who knows me -- about TV shows, it's this: "If you can't end an episode of your TV show with a little girl entering a mysterious apartment full of what appear to be other little girls but are actually some kinda weird old people in little girl drag, then your TV show is a complete failure." The list of shows which this old maxim could be applied to is incredibly long, including such illustrious series as "The Wire," "Mad Men" and "The Dick Van Dyke Show," and tonight, "The Event" joins their ranks, as Leila's little sister, whose name I haven't bothered to learn just yet, is ushered into an apartment that looks more like a library in an ancient country house, then confronted with the fact that all of the little girls there look like old women. (And some look like old men!) Cue the end of the episode.

I have no idea what any of this means, other than the fact that "The Event" just wants to keep tossing weird stuff at us in the hopes that we'll keep watching. Tonight's episode was a decided step back from the last one, which at least suggested the series was figuring out its voice and its structure, so maybe this last scene was just a way to keep the weirdness quotient high. It happens. But in terms of making sense of anything or dragging the story forward or even making Leila's little sister a character who's something beyond "generic little girl," the scene didn't work. It was just oddness for oddness' sake, and the producers would surely be pleased if you tuned in for next week's episode, which is already going to the well of "let's watch the highly-rated pilot from a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT ANGLE." Usually, shows don't go to this well until Season 3 or 4. There'd better be a darned good reason for "The Event" to be doing so so soon. (And, as we all know by now, there won't be.)

Anyway, this is the part where I'd theoretically summarize what happened tonight and talk about what sort of bearing it had on other events. Except, the thing is, pretty much nothing DID happen. The show wisely kept to the character-specific flashbacks of the last episode, this time letting us get to know Zeljko Ivanek's Blake Sterling just a little bit better, but the connection between the past and future storylines was far more tenuous this week than it was the last time around. In that last episode, Simon was the focus of both the present and past storylines, and the two of them commented on each other in interesting ways. In this episode, Blake is pretty much just hanging out around the edges of the present storyline, and all of the big decisions are made for him in the past (outside of one crucial one). It leaves the episode feeling oddly shapeless, especially since the main plot -- the aliens making sure that Simon isn't fingered as one of them -- has so little to do with Blake.

The flashback story for Blake isn't a bad one. Fourteen years ago, he was serving in the CIA under his father and happily married to a woman named Laura. Except, whoops, as it turned out, Laura was a Russian spy, embedded in a marriage to Blake to help leak U.S. state secrets to her compatriots back in just barely post-Communist Russia. Confronted with the truth of his wife's betrayal, Blake tells her that he knows everything about what she's done, but he believes she actually loves him. (Ah, we men! Always so stupid in these matters!) Of course she doesn't, and of course she bolts, and of course his father is lurking in the bushes to shoot Laura in the head. Blake's out a wife, but his dad offers to let him take credit for shooting the woman, the better to help him advance his career. Gee. That's great, dad. Anyway, in the "present," Blake apologizes to the president for not realizing the mole (the recently framed Murphy) was in his department. He's usually better at catching these things -- since he's cultivated a "mole sense" after the thing with his wife -- but he let the country down this time.

This is all well and good, but it has so little to do with the major plots of the episode proper, which mostly have to do with Thomas coming up with a way to get Simon off the hook when he's so obviously guilty and Sean and Leila seeking out a mysterious dude who can help them find her sister, that it feels inconsequential. It's nice to know more about the past of Blake, but it's simultaneously far from necessary. The title of the episode, "I Know Who You Are," is what Blake says to his wife when he finds out her terrible secret, but I think it's also meant to be applied to more and more of the characters, who reveal little things about themselves in this episode. (For example, as it turns out, Sophia is Thomas' mother, though I have this weird feeling we learned this before.) So, yes, it's good to know more about who Blake really is, but the best episodes of shows like this unite the past and present action through some sort of character and thematic continuity. This episode might have been better off as a flashback about Thomas, but it's obvious the series doesn't want to play that card this soon into its run.

So what we're left with is a centerless episode that doesn't do a lot to justify its existence. So little actually happens -- when the episode ends, we're basically where we were at the start of the last episode -- that it's tempting to write this off as yet another episode for marking time. Yet Ivanek is such a skillful actor and there are just enough neat little touches around the edges that I would rank this above the first few episodes of the show, where it felt like everything was just going to keep running in circles. And then there's that ending, which is just strange enough to make me want to see how it's resolved. (My prediction? The little girls are the ones from that encoded document Sean found, and the conspiracy dudes -- led by Hal Holbrook, who's mostly wasted but always a welcome presence -- have been trying various things to make them ageless, like the aliens, and have mostly failed.) This is a bland, shapeless episode of television, but it isn't as bad as it could have been.

The story in brief, in case you've checked out: It sure looks like Simon's the mole, which means that he's going to face some pretty horrific "enhanced interrogation" as Blake and his pals try to get information about the aliens' plan out of him. Thomas, however, has other ideas, and he spends much of the hour figuring out a way to get Simon off the hook, finally framing Murphy, the guy who caught on to what Simon was up to in the last episode, for the leaks. Oh, and Sophia is his mom. Blake, for his part, was betrayed by his wife 14 years ago -- she was a Russian spy! -- and then his dad killed her. Yikes. Sean and Leila spend most of the episode running around (when don't they?), but they at least find out that somebody somewhere was interested in girls around Leila's sister's age, right before the hacker they've turned to to help get this information blows up his apartment to stop the Feds, who are closing in. Oh, and Leila's sister? She's led to an apartment full of creepy old person kids. Yeah, we have no idea either.

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

Photo: Blake (Zeljko Ivanek, left) and Thomas (Clifton Collins Jr.) shared an elevator ride in tonight's "The Event," but mostly, they just talked about quitting smoking. Exciting! (Credit: NBC)

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