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Persons Unknown: The Edge

Safely ensconced in the warm blanky of the second episode, we can now indulge in some actual information. None of it is real information, of course, since Persons Unknown is still shocking and dissembling. But if you haven’t seen the pilot (but plan to), don’t read this review yet. Otherwise, onwards and upwards:

The big spoiler from the first episode that I didn’t want to reveal? It’s that the Chinese restaurant and hotel are staffed. I think that’s just so odd and such an interesting addition to the locked-town mystery story, especially since the night clerk (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Stephen King) and the restaurant workers openly admit that they work for whoever is doing this, but simply won’t give up any more information. That, to me, is the most surreal thing about this show so far.

Last week, we were left with two questions: will Janet kill someone? And, what’s up with the implants? Once they removed the implants, our heroes tried to escape, until they ran into a microwave wall that fried them just enough to be discouraging. They kept banging their heads against the electric wall (in the only funny quote from the night) and trying variations on escaping from it, including torturing Stephen King.

Janet might not have been willing to kill Joe, but Blackham (the used car salesman) and Charlie (Alan Ruck from Ferris Bueller) had no compunction about beating up Stephen King and forcing him toward the fence. He made a break for it and ran home—only to return hours later to greet our heroes after they’d driven in a circle back into town. Time elapsed: just a few hours, right? Then why was he bruise free?

As far as I can tell, there are three possible explanations for Stephen King’s rapid recovery:

1. He went to a V healing center and Joshua, or possibly Anna herself, cured him before sending him back to experiment with the silly humans and their odd emotions. Flaw with this theory: V and Persons Unknown are on different networks.

2. More time elapsed than we, or the heroes, are aware of—they were knocked unconscious by the light. Flaw: that would require that the B-storyline involving the reporting be asynchronous with our heroes’ timeline. Other flaw: Charlie’s face was still burned from the fence, so he didn’t have time to heal even though Stephen King did. Final flaw: even if the heroes were knocked out, wouldn’t they have that awful, my-bra-strap-is-permanently-scarring-my-back feeling if they’d slept in their clothes for a few hours?

3. Blackham and Charlie never really beat the guy up, and it was all makeup. After all, we never saw the beat-down. Flaw: I could believe one of them being in on it, but not both of them. Especially since they seemed to be honestly discussing their options, even when alone together.

Other than that, not much else happened. Someone doesn’t want reporter Renbe to dig any deeper into Janet’s disappearance or her mother’s abusive tendencies. I was really worried that we’d have to watch Janet’s mom beating her granddaughter up, but luckily things don’t seem to have gotten to that point. I hope we don’t have to watch it, if it does. That would make the San Francisco storyline even more unbearable than it already is.

The reason for that storyline is interesting, though: Janet’s abduction is the only one we saw, so hers is the only story that we know is true. We’re still in the dark about her husband, but during Janet’s meltdown in Joe’s room I started to wonder if she was talking to her husband (or her mom)—does she have a sense about who is behind all this, and why? And, hey, did you notice that she was the only one not to scream when the implant was removed?

By the way, the cctv-style shots are everywhere: not just Our Town, but Janet’s mom’s home and the bar where the reporter met the cop. Is a cctv company running this gag? Or is this just a weirdly belated commentary on postmodern voyeurism?

I didn’t enjoy this episode as much as the last one. The surreality was lost, which made the lack of comedy really apparent. I’m not saying I want our heroes to slip on banana peels and crack wise every two seconds. But why can’t one of them exorcise their stress with humor? Oh, well. I’m still interested, mostly because I really like Joe. I hope Joe’s not the bad guy.

What We’ve Learned (Even Though Some of It Definitely Isn’t True):

• Joe calls himself Joe. He believes in God.

• The sergeant was in Iraq and knows lots of stuff that’s useful for a situation like this. His name is Graham McNair, and he’s a Muslim.

• Moira is either a volunteer, a psychiatrist, or a mental patient. She knows enough about medicine to be useful, and enough about butterflies to reveal her real profession of lepidopterist. I think she’s got a thing for Tori, too.

• Tori's dad is the former head of the CIA, and the current ambassador to Italy. She’s got issues, and she either has a thing for Moira or is just one of those lost girls who flirts with anyone. She thinks everything is about her. She also feels hung-over, but that might be a bad reaction to Chinese food.

• Charlie is a cowardly cad with a money obsession, and he’s a Christian.

• Blackham claims to be a used car salesman. He says this is where he learned how to hotwire cars. He doesn’t like Chinese food. I think he’ll be the first to die, which is sad, since he’s the closest thing we have to comic relief.

Two and a half out of four pupae.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

3 comments:

  1. Great review, Josie. Solid point about the lack of humour.

    My issue with Persons Unknown, apart from it being a very familiar premise to any contemporary horror fan--for example, Saw II is the ultra violent version, Cube the sci-fi take, and House of 9 probably the closest to this series (it has a wickedly satisfying ending by the way)—is that television might be the wrong format for this story.

    In theory, the extended pace would allow the writers to really explore the characters’ psychology before they inevitably get bumped off, making it a more satisfying experience. However, in practice, it only gives us more time to question the internal logic, things we’d be more inclined to let go of in an hour and a half flick with decent momentum:

    1. The hotel clerk obviously knew more than they did, whether or not he’s part of the conspiracy. Not questioning the man borders on the idiotic. More importantly, why are there only two options available: ignoring him completely or beating the crap out of the guy? Did it not occur to anyone to ask him detailed questions nicely?

    2. If you’re planning your escape, it might help not to do it in front of the cameras. Actually, I have that issue with all permutations of the plot. It seems to me the first thing I would do is bust every camera one by one, if only to annoy my captors and force them to send repair men. Yes, the cameras are mechanically replaced, but you’d figure there’s got to be a limited number of black domes in between the walls. I’d be taking them out one by one and obnoxiously waving hello every time.

    3. Why would stealing a bunch of files derail the journalist in any way when he could just go to his cop friend, who’s already read the document? In fairness, I suspect that whole subplot is just a red herring.

    4. If you know there’s a microwave wall surrounding the town, why in hell would you release the butterfly just two feet from it? Idiots.

    Anyway, I’m still curious enough to keep watching for now. My theory right now regarding the clerk’s quick healing is that the town is on top of the source of all life, which gives it fast-healing properties and the prisoners simply time-travelled to another point in his life because they got out through the wrong bearing.

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  2. I'm still intrigued, even with the obvious horror movie elements. Somebody has to be a plant. Moira feels like a plant (if only because of her choice in clothes), so I'm sure it's not her. So maybe none of the seven are plants? I couldn't believe Moira set the butterfly free so that it could get fried. As soon as it escaped the bottle, Dan and I both said, "ZZZTTT."

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  3. I totally laughed out loud when Moira and Tori set the butterfly free only to have it be electrocuted when the two of them were trying to be "free".

    But I did wonder for a short moment if it'd be able to go through the whats-it-wall unscathed.

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