Persons Unknown: Seven Sacrifices

NBC is not airing this episode; it is only available on their Persons Unknown website. It’s not a stand-alone, though—what we learned will definitely be relevant for the two-part season finale to come. For that reason, I’m including a synopsis for those of you who dislike watching TV online.

Recap

Moira and Graham slept together. This means a lot to Moira—we know that because she wrote the word “love” on her wall. They also got suspicious about how “chummy” Blackham and Charlie were getting with Liam Ulrich, Night Manager. What they don’t know is that, while at first Blackham wanted to join the program, Charlie eventually convinced him not become Patty Hearst.

Erika revealed that her real name is Theresa Randolph.

Theresa Randolph/Erika became worried that Janet was falling for Ulrich, and tried to get Joe to see her side of things. (This is the “the enemy of my enemy…” technique.) Joe eventually did, and punched Ulrich.

Janet played a confusing game: she seduced Ulrich, very effectively, and while she told Erika that she could “handle it,” it seems like she might be getting sucked into her own lie.

Meanwhile, Kat and Renbe made it back to SFO. Renbe was promptly arrested for the kidnapping of his ex-wife Janet, and the SFPD found six severed thumbs in his bag. Kat was evicted from her apartment because the news ran an article fingering her for the theft of painkillers from pediatric cancer patients (holy hand-grenades!); fired from her job because her newspaper was bought out; and stripped of all of her money by powers unknown.

Various national governmental agencies began to poke around Renbe’s six severed thumbs, and the detective let Renbe go free, because to do otherwise would be to kill the Kat/Renbe plot. Luckily, Renbe had secreted a seventh severed thumb in a bottle of tequila. So they’ve got that going for them.

Ulrich, during Janet’s seduction, preached the gospel of the program. Turns out, our behavior is determined simply by our environment and our “ancestral DNA.” 50 years of research has decided it. I’m not even going to touch this. My ten-foot pole is in the repair shop.

Ulrich, by episode’s end, is certain that Janet is “on board,” because their “connection” will make them useful to the program. Once he tells this bit of news to Evil Boss Lady (thus tipping his hand as far as his infatuation with Janet), she declares that “Town 27” needs to be flushed, and Ulrich (I think) killed.

The old Night Manager, with some cool scars and an even cooler eyepatch (argh!), is now Evil Boss Lady’s amanuensis.

Review

I have to hand it to NBC: they’ve managed not to air the best episode we’ve gotten in a long while. Blackham and Charlie, Janet and Ulrich, Joe and Erika/Theresa, even Kat and Renbe all moved their alliances around. Each character had an emotional arc that was realized in a satisfying way.

Janet’s attempts to seduce her way out of the town (and her obvious manipulation of Ulrich’s sudden infatuation) had a parallel in his story of how he reacted in the same Level One scenario: he tried to kill everyone in his town, hoping to end the experiment right there. (That may have been part of Joe’s motivation for shooting him, but that wasn’t addressed.) Trying to burn six people to death, and trying to seduce a man who works for the enemy are certainly miles apart on the morality spectrum, but ultimately they’re the same thing: using other people as pawns for one’s own gain.

Erika/Theresa bonded with Joe over their hatred of Ulrich. That bonding paralleled Charlie and Blackham—specifically, the way that their own relationship began to be defined by Ulrich and their shifting emotions regarding him. On the other hand, I had the odd sensation while watching this episode that Charlie and Blackham were originally written as one character, but that he was split into two so that his mercurialness wouldn’t be entirely internal.

I still don’t understand how Ulrich could have fallen for Janet so hard, so fast. Oh, well. Kat and Renbe’s plot seemed equally ludicrous: they need to be in the US for some reason, but getting them there was not done with much dexterity.

A few other nit-picks: I got the distinct impression that when Charlie and Blackham were having a drink, it was nighttime. But later conversations made it seem like the entire episode only took a day. Also: Janet walked with great purpose throughout the episode. But where was she going? She just kept entering and leaving rooms.

Reflection

With only two episodes left, I want to point out a few things so I can say “I told you so!” if they become important in the finale:

Sometimes the shots that are supposed to be from the surveillance camera seem to move more than cameras in ceilings, or located in odd corners, could. In fact, many aspects of this show are extremely “meta”: the opening credits, which flash to an old broadcast screen before getting into the show proper; the fact that the governing conceit is called the “Program”; the reality-TV-like idea of people trapped in a town; the way that the voyeurism of the Program employees is attacked, despite constant reminders that we’re voyeurs, too.

There was a theory floating around, back in those distant days before the finale, that Lost was some sort of consciousness-download self-help video game. In other words, we weren’t watching “reality” (whatever that means in the context of TV), but a simulacrum in which each moment could be progress or backsliding. When people died, they did so because they’d achieved whatever it is they wanted to achieve, and so had “won” the game. [I may be getting parts of this theory wrong. If so, my apologies.]

I keep returning to this idea, the more that I am puzzled by the all the meta-narrative stuff I just mentioned, as well as the way that time behaves oddly on this show, and—most importantly—the fact that I can never figure out what people are supposed to be doing when they’re off camera. Really: where was Janet going with such purpose? Where? I think this is bugging me so much because I can’t tell if it’s intentional or just shoddy story-telling.

I’d hope that Persons Unknown wasn’t going to go to a “it’s all a dream/video game/fictional construct” place, because that always makes me feel cheated. But the title of the last episode (“Shadows in the Cave”), which alludes to Plato’s allegory of the cave, has me wondering.

We’ll find out in just a few days whether that’s relevant. If so, I’ll talk more about Plato then. Yippee.

In the meantime, please enjoy the above picture of the supercute, superquizzical baby seal. Yippee!

Two out of four severed thumbs.

(A big no-prize to whoever correctly tabulates the number of references to fingers and hands in this review.)

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

4 comments:

Trousers said...

I'm very good at suspending my disbelief whilst watching cult/sci fi/fantasy tv.

I can believe that Chuck can be a spy and the government not consider him a liability.
I can believe that Sookie Stackhouse can do half the things she does and yet her brother is supposed to be the stupid one.
I can believe in an island with a giant cork that stops it from imploding.
I can even believe that the human race is actually stupid enough to cancel The Middleman and Firefly. (Yes, I'm still bitter)

And yet the fact that Janet, that grumpy, humourless boring human facsimile is utterly irresistible to every man and lesbian within a 10 mile radius, pushes my suspension of disbelief beyond its boundarys.

Speaking of boundaries, how has noone tested the sonic death fence in weeks. How has noone notice at least 27 of these towns around the world. Do we not have Google Maps? People have spotted a replica miniture mountain range in china, but small town america around the world doesn't get spotted.

And finally, Candyce Mclure as a Gangsta? Never before have I actually hoped for cancellation.

Josie Kafka said...

Yes, but isn't that baby seal the cutest thing you've ever seen? :-)

Trousers said...

No, the cutest thing I've ever seen is and shall forever remain this

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Bmhjf0rKe8

Josie Kafka said...

You're completely right. That is the cutest thing.