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Persons Unknown: And Then There Was One/Shadows in the Cave

Wow, that was unsatisfying.

Even Phineas P. Bear (pictured, right) is unhappy.

And Then There Was One

Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (aka Ten Little Indians) is a beautifully plotted mystery novel. It is deft, agile, witty, sneaky, and suspenseful. The twelfth episode of Persons Unknown was not.

The cliffhanger (from the web-only episode; my review has a recap if you don’t want to watch it) was quickly resolved, and then quickly unresolved. Madam Director said she wouldn’t red-card the town, and then body bags appeared as fast as the restaurant workers disappeared. Joe and Ulrich cleared everything up: our heroes were meant to kill themselves off. Ulrich, besotted, decided to help everyone escape. So they made his head explode.

They didn’t get me with the bait-and-switch this time. It was pretty clear to me that it was Charlie beating up Blackham (or not), that Erika/Theresa couldn’t have injected anything into Charlie, that Moira’s psychotic break came out of left field, and that Graham probably would have survived what appeared to be a two-story drop.

What did throw me off were the disappearing bodies. That was a major plot point in the movie Identity, which was itself a psychological spin on Christie’s famous novel (with a terrible ending; don’t watch it if you haven’t yet). The Programmers were still in the town, but they weren’t hip to the heroes’ wacky plan. Odd.

But that doesn’t matter, as our heroes seem to have escaped in a van. Wait. They’ve tried that trick before. Which brings me to…

Shadows in the Cave

This episode was fairly suspenseful, at first because the idea of being declared insane despite telling the truth is terrifying. After Janet escaped the hospital, I started to realize there was no way they could wrap this up by the end (which was equally suspenseful). And they sure didn’t.

After the van crashed, Janet found herself in a San Francisco hospital. Moira and Erika/Theresa wound up in Morocco, of all places. Graham was in a white room, similar to the one we saw in “Static.” Bill and Charlie were joyriding their way through the Midwest (not, all things considered, a bad way to spend a day.) I guess that everyone woke up disoriented, wherever they landed—but why was Janet the only one with bruises?

Kat and Renbe, meanwhile (after having flown or driven to Iowa and back, with no money), were abducted again. And I think Renbe is wanted by the police, again. Perhaps because Janet’s story about the town meshes with his story about the town, which means they both must be lying. (Ah, logic.) When last we saw her, Kat was trapped in a cage evocative of the first part of Lost Season Three, and that spectacular episode of Firefly about the Mudders. Maybe she and Ambassador Fairchild will get it on while Renbe watches on an old-fashioned screen.

But why am I wasting time with all that? What really matters isn’t that Janet got to see her daughter, however briefly, or was betrayed by her mother, or that Blackham seems to know more than he lets on. What matters is how it all ends.

It didn’t.

The producers obviously thought they’d get a second season. As we left it, our heroes (except caged Kat) are divided into two groups: Joe, Renbe, and a bunch of newbies are in a town identical to the one we’ve experienced for the past 13 episodes: Tori is the new manager. Janet, Graham, Moira, Erika/Theresa, Charlie, and Blackham have all progressed to Level Two, and the old night manager is their new guide. Level Two is on a big freighter in the middle of the ocean. Which brings me to...

Some Lightweight Doc Josie Theorizing

I’m pretty sure the ship was called the Almas Perditas (Lost Souls). It may have been traveling towards a storm, or that might have been an island off in the far distance. Traveling over water towards an island is a scenes straight out of Dante’s Purgatory, which implies... well, it implies that the writers are again using iconic religious imagery. I’m not sure it implies much more than that. If there were to be a second season, and if Purgatory (with its video-game-like levels) were the guiding conceit, I’ll bet our heroes would have moved rather quickly to Levels Three, Four, and maybe even Five. At some point there would have been some symbolic forgetting.

Bits and Pieces

• Every one of the heroes complained about having to take the stairs. Throughout, I’ve been amazed they didn’t take them more. They’re only on the third story. That’s only two flights of stairs!

• Charlie and Blackham were camping in a cactus patch. Why there, of all places? Who sleeps that close to thorny things?

• The meeting of the board of directors was very dimly-lit. I don’t know why.

• There’s some movie that has a scene with the hero (Nicholas Cage?) in prison; he breaks out only to realize he’s on a freighter. What movie is it? Is it the last scene of a movie? Should we not say, for fear of spoilage?

This wasn’t satisfying, but I’m not sure that’s anyone’s fault—wrapping everything up neatly would have been silly, if they didn’t know they were being canceled. Even if they did, how else could this have ended? Miraculously taking down the all-powerful Program?

I am glad that they didn’t go the “it was all a dream/game/fictional construct” route. I’m really thankful for that, in fact—I hate it so very much. I’m also thankful that it means I don’t have to delve too deeply into Plato, which wouldn’t be much fun for you or for me. I’m also not going to do a “Thoughts on the Series” section, because I’m just done with this show.

Instead, I will leave you with our last Persons Unknown rating, and thank all five of you for continuing to watch with me:

One out of four body bags.

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

11 comments:

  1. There’s some movie that has a scene with the hero (Nicholas Cage?) in prison; he breaks out only to realize he’s on a freighter. What movie is it?

    Josie, that movie is Face/Off, an action classic from John Woo (he’s only good non-Hong Kong film). The scene you're thinking off comes from the middle of the film when Cage’s master terrorist (who's really John Travolta's undercover Fed) escapes from the ultra secret maximum security prison only to find out it’s on an oil rig. It's a bonkers film.

    By the way, I love that picture.

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  2. It wasn't just that they advertised the damned show all summer with "by the end of summer, all will be revealed", which was a big honking lie. It was that they sprinkled so many unanswered little questions in there along with the big unanswered ones. I feel cheated.

    Thanks for hanging in there with this one, Josie. I'm sort of glad that I saw the end, and I didn't completely hate it, but this show was ultimately a disappointment.

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  3. Thanks for reviewing this Josie, if nothing else, you've persuaded me to delete the pilot from my hard drive, i'm sure theres better stuff out there for when I need a new show!

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  4. I also remember an episode of ST: Voyager where our heroes try to escape a prison just to find out they are aboard a space station.

    Thanks for reviewing this, it made the show a little bit more bearable. I'm really glad I can spend my time with better stuff now though.

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  5. Thank you all for your kind comments--they made reviewing this show worthwhile.

    Although I am kicking myself right now for not making a joke about a "Kat in a Box."

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  6. I too was sold this show with the "one off summer event" "all questions answered" gubbins. Although, as I'm british, I have no idea where this came from. (I'm dreading rereading your pilot review just in case it was there!) As far as I can tell, Persons Unknown was cancelled before it even aired, and then marketed as a miniseries just so they could show it. I'm ever so slightly tampin'.

    Saying that, ep. 12 was the best since the first 2, and I and my girlfirend didn't see the twist coming at all. Which is saying something, between the two of us we usually suss this stuff out. And the last episode almost made it worth it by giving us Star Trek Voyagers EMH in the worst wig ever.

    In the end though, utter rubbish. I had to watch some Firefly afterwards to make me feel better. Thanks for reviewing it Josie, most would have given up with weeks to spare.

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  7. "Persons Unknown is being billed as a mini-series "event" by NBC, and it looks like there are about 10 episodes, if Imdb is any indication."

    Gah! It was you! You owe me around 10 hours of my life back :p

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  8. Not my fault! Blame NBC--I was foolish enough to take them at their word.

    :-)

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  9. Well, they got me with the bait and switch this time.
    They made a series with so many plot holes and characters doing things that don't make sense that I spent the entire episode noting how random Moira's breakdown appears, how Graham just died immediately after falling 3 meters, etc.

    I never would have guessed these scenes were part of a master plan they came up with (avoiding somehow all the surveillance) in which they pretend to kill each other and then make the bodies disappear. Maybe all of the scenes in which people acted odd and all the things that didn't make sense were part of this plan and the series was misunderstanded

    Except...
    How did the bodies disappear?? It would only make sense if it was the people behind the program, but then someone would have noticed the undeadness of the corpses while putting them in the bodybags, no?
    Why spend the entire series letting Renbe shout to everyone about the conspiracy and putting the program at risk - i'm assuming the program was in risk because the scary guy with the scary white hair said so - before just putting him in Level One?
    Why, after discovering a company linked to the program, Renbe and Kat decide to go there and shout that they know behind the cameras is an all-powerful group of people that could make them disappear in one second?
    Why would anyone put a camera in the middle of the desert? (and was it a full monitored desert or they just managed to lie in the right spot?)
    Btw, should we conclude from that conversation Blackham is part of the program? If he is, when did that happen? If it was from the begginning, what's the point of inserting a useless guy in the group, and why have all that scenes about him choosing not to leave the town? If it was recent, when did he have time to learn the name of Charlie's wife? If he is not working for them, how did he learn her name?
    How did Erika and Moira arrive at Morrocco? Did the program put them there? If so, why? They were back with the rest after only one scene escaping in burqas...
    In the same reasoning, why torture Graham, and only him, in the white room?
    What was the secret the Director was trying to make Joe tell?
    How does an organization that has so many cameras in so many unusual places keeps failing to notice all the attempts to trick it, despite people having conversations about what they are going to do everywhere? (notable exception for the master plan of faking deaths)
    How does an organization that has so many people pledging eternal alliance to it has so many of its employers betraying it? (Joe, Liam, Tori's father, Janet's mother, ...)
    Is the program interested in Janet because of her super-powers of seduction?
    How does one simply kidnap an ambassador and what's the point of locking him in a cage?
    Why fake Tori's death? It would only make a difference for those in the town, and they never heard of it.
    Why did the amabassador rebel if Tori didn't really die?
    If he really thought Tori was dead, why make him think that and risk him getting angry and rebelling the program? Tell him she's alive or just don't tell anything, she was already missing!!
    Why put Rembe in the same town as Joe and Tori, if the company knew he knew both of them?
    How come Tori simply joined the program, when none of the other characters got anywhere near, despite spending more time in the town? (if it was some kind of brainwashing in the white room, why not do this directly with all candidates?)
    How does the powerful guy who is so evil he scares even The Director mantain that hair? (seriously, what were they talking about in that scene? I kept getting distracted by the hair)
    How could the producers of this show think there would be a second season?
    If they didn't, why would they think this is an ending?
    Why was this sold as a miniseries?
    Couldn't Kandyse McClure find a better gig after her role in BSG?
    Where did we come from?
    Why are we here?
    Where are we heading?
    What's for dinner?
    Why do I bother with all this??

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  10. I actually loved this show in hindsight... while watching it it wasn't so great :P

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