Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
Season 1, episode 1: “Horizons”
Written By Max Landis
Directed by Dean Parisot
[All photos Bettina Strauss and courtesy BBC America]
Everything is connected. That’s the tagline for this new series from BBC America loosely based on the book series by Douglas Adams (Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul). And that’s what’s important in watching the show.
With that in mind, buckle your seat-belts and hang tight, because we’re about to go on a wild ride. There’s a lot to get through.
We open on Dirk Gently (Samuel Barnett), being woken up by a phone call. There’s been a murder. Like a weird murder. Like ‘bite marks on the ceiling’ weird, as the police duo Zimmerfeld (Richard Schiff) and Estevez (Neil Brown Jr.) explain later in the episode. It’s very bloody. Oh, and there’s an adorable black kitten that gets picked up — this comes up later. (You’re going to be reading that phrase a lot, by the way.)
We switch over to Todd (Elijah Wood), being woken by his landlord Dorian (Ty Olsson) destroying Todd’s car, asking for $300 in rent money. Todd insists he paid. Dorian doesn’t listen. Todd’s day continues along the trajectory every ‘bad day’ storyline follows, and he is locked out of his apartment, making him break in.
He heads on to work, and notices a corgi walking along the sidewalk. This comes up later. Todd’s a bellhop at the hotel where the murder mentioned above happened. His boss asks him to check in on the penthouse. Todd goes, but not before we find out that he has misplaced his master key — which again, comes back later.
On the way up, he leaves a message for his sister, indicating he owes her money as well. The elevator stops at floor 18, and he sees himself, wearing a weird fur coat and a face that looks like he’s been beat up, talking about time travel. The two “Todds” see each other, and time stops for a moment.
Time goes back to normal and Todd gets to the penthouse floor. The lights are flickering and there’s obviously SOMETHING WRONG, but before he goes in, he bends down and finds a lottery ticket. It’s the room we saw at the beginning. We run into Zimmerfeld and Estevez, investigating this as it might be connected to a missing persons case they’re working. After looking at the scene, they question Todd. Zimmerfeld mentions the coincidences of Todd being late and not having his key for the suite, and how it all seems rather “confluent”. They show Todd some security footage, and it’s a man in a gorilla mask going into the penthouse suite with what appears to be Todd’s key. Todd asks them whether they have footage from the 18th floor, but doesn’t tell the two police why he’s asking. Todd’s advised to not leave town.
Todd’s day continues on its downward spiral, as this murder gets him fired. On his way home, he sees the corgi again. As Todd goes into his apartment, Dirk is breaking in. After a gloriously silly fight between the two, he asks whether Todd is a clue, an accomplice, or an assistant. After Todd’s unspoken acknowledgment of his very bizarre day, Dirk determines he’s an assistant, and decides he will live there and sleep on the couch. (Which Todd doesn’t go for.)
We switch to a couple of military looking guys out in a surveillance van: one the grizzled old veteran Riggins (Miguel Sandoval) and the other the young (and not so bright) new recruit Friedkin (Dustin Milligan). Friedkin — thinking he’s supposed to kill Todd — takes a shot that the universe has Todd duck at the right time, making the bullet ricochet into the apartment above him. There’s a woman (Jade Eshete) tied to the bed with duct tape over her mouth, and the bullet gets the guy who was attacking her. We check in on her throughout the episode. We find out later that they are there to protect Dirk. (Also, Friedkin is chewing gum, which — surprise, surprise — comes up again later.)
Next is some sort of mechanical equipment, where hacker Ken (Mpho Koaho) is working on something while a man with a gun and odd tattoos threatens him. While Ken is working, a woman (Fiona Dourif) comes up and kills the other guy. Just as she’s heading toward Ken, he notices and, as he mentions later, runs due to the simple fact that she has a machete. After an intentionally pathetic chase scene, she goes in for the kill: she thinks Ken is Dirk Gently.
We, of course, do a Gilligan cut back to Dirk at this point. He’s waiting for Todd, heading off to his sister’s. Amanda (Hannah Marks) is apparently sick, and he needs to give her money. Dirk offers Todd a ride, and thanks to Dorian once again showing up about the rent, Todd takes him up on it — but not before noticing that Dorian knows Dirk’s name.
We switch back to the two police discussing the murder. We find out that the lady who was attached to the bed is Farah Black, security personnel for the murder victim. In a later sequence, we also learn she’s trying to rescue Lydia. The guy in the gorilla mask knew where the security cameras were, or was already staying at the hotel. Estevez switches to the security feed, and look at that: it’s the corgi, running through the lobby.
Todd finds out that Dirk is a holistic detective. He believes in how everything is connected, that everything he encounters will eventually lead him to the solution of the case.
Back to Ken and the machete-wielding woman (named Bart), driving. They stop for gas, where there’s a robbery in progress. Bart kills the robber. We find out she’s an assassin — a holistic assassin. She kills whoever she feels like killing, and if she kills them, that means they were her target. “Everything is chaos, but it’s synchronized,” she says.
Dirk and Todd arrive at Amanda’s. The TV tells us that the murder of Patrick Spring was actually an animal attack. We discover that Amanda has Pararibulitis, a nerve disease that has the potential to make her have hallucinations that seem real. In other words, normal things can turn deadly. Todd had the disease and got better, and so she has hope.
We have a fun little sequence of Todd and Amanda rocking out, before Amanda sees knives instead of her drumsticks. The two leave, and Todd gives Amanda money to pay for her medication. We find out it’s literally his last $300. He feels obligated, as their parents went into debt paying for Todd’s treatment. They’re being followed by a van with the words “Rowdy 3”.
Dirk’s investigating the murder of Patrick Spring. It’s Patrick’s daughter Lydia who’s the missing person. Dirk was hired by the victim — six weeks before it happened. The fact that Todd was there — and that they used his key — means the cases are connected. “All cases are connected.” Todd asks if Dirk’s ever actually solved a case, to which Dirk references some of the events of the books. (“There was a thing with Thor.”) Todd is worried about money, which Dirk says won’t be a problem: now that he’s said Todd is working the case, the universe will make that so.
The van with “Rowdy 3” pulls up to the apartment complex: Dirk knows who it is. The four people (yes, we know they’re called The Rowdy 3) look like punks, and are obviously there to cause trouble. They come into the apartment complex, smashing everything in sight. Dorian notices, and of course can’t leave it alone. He pulls a gun — which is noticed by the cops and the special ops people. After destroying most of Todd’s apartment, the Rowdy 3 stand around Dirk on the floor, who glows oddly and seems to fill them with some sort of energy. They then leave.
Dorian comes in with the gun, asking about the rent. As he’s waving around the gun, the microwave errors out, which Dorian shoots — and in the same sort of coincidences we’ve been seeing all episode, the bullet ricochets off a number of objects to end up in Dorian himself, killing him instantly. At the shot being fired, the cops, the special ops, and apparently a pair of FBI agents all end up in a Mexican standoff.
Todd is now in an interrogation room. Zimmerfeld and Estevez enter the room and release him. Turns out the FBI were there for Dorian: he sold drugs. Todd isn’t a suspect, but, “you’re a person of interest — permanently. Even though you’re not an interesting person.”
Back to the hotel, where Todd’s old boss is locking up the basement. He sees someone there, and tells him to leave. Another man — tall, odd looking, and who knows his name — asks him if he had found a kitten. (See? I told you it’d come back.) When he says no, the men uncover themselves — and they have the same sort of tattoos we saw on the guy at the pipeline. When they confirm the man didn’t see a kitten, they taze him.
As Todd leaves the police station, he sees a flyer for the missing Lydia Spring. He pulls out the lottery ticket as well. Todd tells Dirk that the reason Dorian was after the rent was that Todd had stolen it, so he’d have the money for Amanda’s medication. Todd finally goes off on Dirk. Dirk tells Todd to take control of his life, as “the instant you take control, interesting things will happen.” Todd walks away. On the bus ride home, he once again sees the corgi. He decides to get off the bus and rescue it. The owner opens the door, and behind him is a woman that acts oddly.
The cops are watching security footage of Todd’s apartment with one of the FBI guys, and all three chewing gum in sync. Back to Farah, who wakes up and goes toward a knife, only to have a foot land on it just as she gets it. Then, back to Ken and Bart, still driving. Then, to the Rowdy 3, the leader of which has a photo of Amanda and seems … intrigued by it.
Finally, Todd is walking — dejected. He passes a convenience store, where the lottery drawing is happening. “Every second is an opportunity,” the lady says. This is intercut by footage of Dirk bringing in his luggage to Todd’s apartment. We see a gorilla mask, and the kitten. The lottery woman talk about how the smallest decisions can have the biggest consequences, when a flyer for the missing Lydia flies into Todd’s face. She announces the $10,000 winning lottery numbers — and to no one’s surprise, it’s the same numbers as the ticket in his hand.
I attended the screening at the LA Paley Center last week (and interviewed some of the cast, but alas in a twist of fate worthy of this show, the audio stops RIGHT BEFORE my interviews are supposed to begin). In the panel that followed, show runner Max Landis talked about how this isn’t an actual adaptation of the two books, but more ‘inspired by’.
Now, many a fan usually does the massive eye-roll at such a phrase, but he went on to say he wanted it to be more “a tribute album to Douglas Adams” and take the character (and ideas) of the books into a new direction. As he stated, Adams is virtually impossible to adapt outside of a book, because the books are so dense and complex. You pretty much need an advanced degree in theoretical math and philosophy to understand many of the references in the two Dirk Gently books. Landis wanted it to be true to the source material, and feel ‘very Douglas Adamsy’, but have the two books be more stories Dirk would be telling within this adaptation.
Coming late to this recap, I’ve already seen how other reviewers are calling this show a mess. I don’t agree. Yes, there’s a lot of stuff that seems incongruous, but there’s a definite feel that this will all make sense in the end. And while I’m usually one that also eye-rolls at ‘inspired by’, I found this episode fascinating and filled with humor that ‘feels’ like Adams at its core. There’s a lot of violence, but it’s not violent, if that makes sense. It’s very comical, in a dark kind of way.
As I wrote in an essay I posted about turning 42 on Towel Day, Adams was an atheist. His writing tended to be commentaries on the randomness and lack of purpose in the universe. However, just because it’s random doesn’t mean it’s not connected, and I feel Adams would’ve probably so far been good with this interpretation. My only quibble is the Americanization of it, having the action take place in Seattle and having Dirk being pretty much the only Brit in the batch. Adams works because of the British humor, and while there’s plenty of dry wit here, it’s hard to maintain. I look forward to seeing how the rest of the pieces fall into place.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency airs on BBC America on Saturdays at 9/8 pm Central. The first episode can still be viewed for free online, and you can see my photos from the Paley event here. For more information on the show, visit the official site.
You can see more of Angie’s work (and her social media connections) over at her website.