In general, pilots are giant messes. They are an hour of television designed to set up the plot, tone, setting, and themes of the series, introduce the main characters, their pasts, and their relationships to one another in a clear but not overly repetitive manner, deliver some form of plot and not just mindless exposition, and make it sell. It’s the last one that usually bugs me the most. Lingerie-clad women stroll through scenes; there’s violence; there’s blood: everything networks think audiences love. Honestly, it’s a miracle when a pilot doesn’t suck. That said, this pilot sucked.
The plot centers on Dr. Jason Cole (Steven Pasquale), a handsome, young neurosurgeon with a sociopathic alternate personality named Ian Price. Let the absurdity of that sentence sink in for a minute. This show has ‘guilty pleasure’ written all over it in cherry-scented magic marker. It thinks it’s filling NBC’s cerebral thriller void (R.I.P. Awake) but I think it very likely Do No Harm will take over the terrifically ridiculous, terribly addicting crown left by Ringer. It’s the kind of show you claim to watch ironically, but secretly cannot get enough of. Not that I loved Ringer. I only watched it ironically.
The episode fell into some common pilot pitfalls. Firstly, it spent far too long setting up the basic story. I get the feeling the writers thought their split personality idea was highly complicated. It is not. Dr. Jekyll anyone? They really should not have spent so long on this. Secondly, they tried to do too much. The escape of Ian Price, the would-be romantic rendezvous with Dr. Solis (Law and Order’s Alana De La Garza), the return of the ex-fiancée Olivia, the abusive husband story, and the brain surgery plotline in addition to all the exposition created a completely over-stuffed episode.
I was a little perplexed by who Jason chose to tell about his special condition and why. His buddy the lab technician knows, the support group guy knew, and Olivia knows. Why not tell his boss (the always divine Phylicia Rashad)? Why not tell his love interest? Hell, why not tell everyone? Ian Price’s existence is presented as a legitimate medical condition. What would be the harm in letting everyone know he exists and allowing himself to be locked up at night?
I liked that Ian could be suppressed with medication and that his body chemistry is somehow different from Jason’s. Not only is the pseudo-science a nod to the original The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but this leaves the sci-fi door open. The idea of a science fiction split personality is much more interesting to me than exploring the difficulties a person with the actual, real-life version of the problem.
The suds-loving side of me also liked the love triangle between Olivia, Jason, and Ian. I’m really liking the set-up of this and not just because I adore Ruta Gedmintas. I am not happy about the kid, however. Not happy. Throwing the kid in at the end felt like a response to a note from the network (“Where is this going?”). Cole can only serve to complicate the situation in an un-fun way. I was supposed to be enjoying a good old-fashioned love triangle of super sexy people. Now I have to worry about the welfare of an adorable child? Grar!
From a storytelling perspective, I think the show’s biggest problem will be the good/evil dichotomy. In the pilot, it is absurdly clear that Ian is evil. I think it was supposed to be clear that Jason is good, but positioning Ian to kick the crap out of the abusive husband falls into a bit of a grey area. Of course, the abusive husband completely deserved the crap kicked out of him, but Jason set Ian up in such a way that he could have turned on anyone. It didn’t seem super responsible.
I think they will run into problems if they try to keep Ian as evil, particularly if they want to work the love triangle in any meaningful way. I think it would make for a fantastic twist if Olivia was two-timing Jason with his alter, but in order for that to work, Ian is going to have to be slightly less evil. Not to mention, Jason as the consummate good guy will get old. I like shades of grey in my television. Black and white gets old very quickly.
Bits and Pieces:
The whole concept really reminded me of Glory and Ben from season 5 of BtVS.
I’m choosing not to address the completely unbelievable fact that a man in his thirties was able to attend medical school, complete his internship and residency, and ascend to being chief of neurosurgery at a large hospital while only conscious for twelve hours a day.
Dissociative identity disorder affects .01% of the population. Philadelphia has a population of around 1,500,000, meaning approximately 150 Philadelphians suffer from DID. Therefore, the size of Jason’s support group is not as ridiculous as you might think.
Why is a neurosurgeon performing a shoulder surgery?
When he’s talking to Olivia, Jason indicates that he used to be the one out at night, while Ian had the days. When/why the switch? Also, are we sure that Jason is the real person and Ian is the alter?
No quotes section because most of the dialogue in this ep was extremely awkward exposition. It was seriously some of the clunkiest writing I’ve ever heard.