“The Event” (2010)

| September 23, 2010

I never became a fan of Lost or 24, the former because something in the style and the characters put me off from the beginning; the latter because it was too gleeful of a fascist wet dream with no moral compass at the center. The Event (NBC Monday nights, after my current favorite show, Chuck) is clearly intended as the heir-apparent to the above two shows but, if the pilot is any indication, will incorporate all of the action and intrigue of 24 with the WTF? factor of Lost. Not to mention that most of the characters are just a lot more likeable.
It’s impossible to discuss the opening of the show without tossing spoilers around left and right, so be warned: HERE BE SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen the pilot yet and don’t want it ruined, stop reading here and come back after you’ve watched.
Okay.
So…
Just us now, the ones who don’t mind the spoilers? Good. The Event begins with a bang, literally, as we’re thrown right into the middle of chaos via a news crew camera. Something is going on. Something big and nasty, and we have absolutely no idea what, except that it is clearly disastrous. Nuclear bomb? Incoming asteroid? 2012 arrived early? This teaser leaves all of those possibilities open before we jump back in time twenty-three minutes to meet Sean Walker (Jason Ritter, seen as Jeb Bush in Oliver Stone’s W), who is rather ignominiously rousted from an airplane restroom by a flight attendant because the plane is about to take off. We keep returning to Sean on the plane throughout the episode – did I mention that, as we first see him, it becomes clear that a buttload of Federal agents are racing desperately to the scene to stop the plane? To the writers’ credit, my first thought watching this was, “No way. If the feds wanted that plane stopped, it never would have left the terminal.” How and why it was able to do so is shown to us later on.
The entire pilot keeps flashing back and forth between the moments leading up to the apocalyptic event at the opener and pivotal moments – days earlier for Sean and his (almost but not quite yet) fianceé, Leila Buchanan (Sarah Roemer, Disturbia), months earlier for Simon Lee (Ian Anthony Dale, The Bucket List), who is also desperately trying to stop the plane but, by episode’s end, we don’t know whether he’s working against Sean or with him.
Along the way, we meet the President, Elias Martinez (Blair Underwood, Madea’s Family Reunion), he of the Hispanic name but Obama-esque casting, made doubly strange by a vice president, Raymond Jarvis (Bill Smitrovich, Seven Pounds) who is physically more evocative of Dick Cheney than Joe Biden. Then again, certain elements of the plot can’t help but evoke both memories of 9/11 and certain people’s claims that that event was an inside job. In any case, the President has decided to make an announcement, coming clean over a very, very classified matter (he had to obtain the files through unknown means himself), much against the advice of the Vice President and the Director of the CIA (a wonderfully creepy Zeljko Ivanek (“Heroes”)). This story line eventually collides – almost literally – with Sean and Simon’s stories, as we return to the (little “e”) event from the opening, only to learn that this is not the (big “E”) Event of the title.
Like all good serial dramas, the end of the first episode leaves us with lots of questions, but also lots of clues as to what the answers might possibly be. I still find myself wondering –
1) Was Simon Lee trying to stop Sean Walker from stopping the hijacking pilot on the plane, or trying to stop the plane itself? I’m still not sure which side he’s playing on, but there’s plenty of evidence both ways.
2) The plane is able to take off because its transponder suddenly shuts down and air traffic control loses radio contact. While reminiscent of what happens at the finale to keep the plane from being shot down, the two incidents actually have conflicting intents. And why were the VP and CIA Director conspicuously absent at the end, triggering the Secret Service to suddenly evacuate the First Family? I suspect the shut down at the airport was an inside job, while the sudden disabling of an Air Force fighter jet was… an outside agency, shall we say?
3) Why is the family of the hijacking pilot killed? To give him no reason to live, hence the willingness to carry out a suicide mission? There’s just over a week gap between this incident and the airplane. Was he perhaps set up to believe that his target was responsible for the murders?
4) Who are the 96 secret prisoners the President wants to release, how long have they been in captivity, and where did they come from? This is the most evocative line of questioning of all, since it seems pretty clear by the end that “The Event” refers directly to the answer. Foreign terrorists? Aliens? Time travelers from the future? All are possibilities, the latter two bolstered by the sudden disappearance of the rogue passenger jet just before it hits its target. Since the prisoners we have met seem quite human, although their accents are a bit off and unidentifiable, time travel does seem a viable option and, not that I think this is what happens, but it would create a wonderful strange loop if the vanished airplane wound up in the past and the 96 prisoners were always, in fact, the passengers on that plane. Big reason to vote against this option, though – Sean is on the plane and he’s one of the leads. Making him a prisoner in the past wouldn’t give him a whole lot to do. All we do know is that a diving passenger jet suddenly vanishes, so there is some advanced technology in the works here.
5) Who kidnapped Leila, and why? More importantly, why go to all the trouble to set up the classic “Vanishing Wife” situation, and erase any record that she and Sean were ever registered passengers on a Caribbean cruise ship? Is it the work of the same people who killed the pilot’s family, just taking care of a loose end? Or, rather, was she kidnapped in order to provide disincentive for the pilot to crash a plane? Are the couple they meet on the cruise, after Sean rescues the woman from the ocean, innocent bystanders just interested in a little old-fashioned four-way fun, or – since neither Leila nor the other boyfriend were able to go scuba diving, conveniently sending Sean away for a day – were they in fact the ones who carried out her kidnapping? Earn trust, separate couple, distract, kidnap. Who else on the ship, after all, would Leila willingly walk away with, except for one of the two people who have become her and Sean’s BFFs so quickly?
I’m sure there are more questions and possible answers. If anything, The Event makes it fun to play this game. This is a series in which things are not what they at first appear to be, and alliances, motives, and needs shift and morph as we jump back and forth in time. I suspect that answers to some of the above questions will come quickly. I hope that each episode brings just as many intriguing questions, without flying off into ridiculous land.

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