Episode 1, “She Was Provisional”
[Photos: Cate Cameron, © BBC Worldwide Limited]
I really don’t know what to make of Intruders.
Yes, it’s only the first episode, and yes, it’s just a piece of the bigger story, but what we have here is barely a narrative. We have a great cast, and intriguing concept, and four, at least four, story threads that are all running at the same time. It makes for a series of scenes instead of a story, and taken together, it’s basically a really well acted, really well shot, mess.
I am, and if you’ve listened to our H20 podcasts you would know (shameless plug #1), a big critic of the studio system failing to trust audiences. You see it all the time, with big blockbusters that are clearly written without any sense of story or real character development (anything by Michael Bay), promotional campaigns that don’t understand the film at all (JOHN CARTER), or just a general disregard for the people paying to see the films (any so-called parody film of the last decade. God, I miss the Zucker Bros.).
So I’m going to give BBC America, the folks behind this, the benefit of the doubt and, for now, assume that they have a plan, considering that they’ve assembled an impressive cast and clearly spent a decent amount of money on the project. But based on this first episode, a lot of the audience won’t. Not because they aren’t smart enough to follow along, but because they are smart enough, and just get ticked off by the lack of any kind of narrative flow. BBC America has paired this with Doctor Who, but I don’t think they are really aiming this at the same audience. I know from the promotional material that this show is supposed to be about people keeping themselves alive through possessing others, but you could watch this episode cold and not have any idea that that’s what the story is about. It’s kind of a bold move in a way, but also incredibly risky, because smart though the audience may be, they also have to have a reason to care, and I’m just not sure there is one here.
And the cast and crew are impressive. We have John Simm (Life on Mars, Doctor Who), James Frain (Grimm, Sleepy Hollow, TRON: Legacy), Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite, Mimic), a cameo by Robert Forster (Good Lord, so many things), and a pretty impressive young newcomer in Millie Brown. The production team is lead by Glen Morgan (X-Files, Millennium, Final Destination), and some of the eight episodes in this season will be, like this first one, directed by Eduardo Sánchez, who wrote and co-directed The Blair Witch Project. It’s all adapted from the novel of the same name by Michael Marshall Smith (Only Forward, Spares), and if anything, this episode feels the most like chapters in a novel.
It is also rather creepy. And I rather think that’s the point, honestly.
So, what we have here is the story of Richard Shepard (James Frain), who is an assassin of some kind, working for an organization of some kind, whose first mission involved doing something of some kind to a young lady in 1990, mentored by Robert Forster. Whatever they did to the young lady results in some dramatic imagery, and her ultimate suicide, and a note that states that she’s not who she is.
Flash forward to now, and Shepard is looking for a man, and when he doesn’t find him in a suburban home, he straight out murders a mother and her teenage son. Meanwhile, Simms’ Jack Whelan, an ex-cop and author, is noticing some odd behavior in his wife Amy (Mira Sorvino) on the eve of her trip to Seattle. Such odd behavior involves dancing to jazz music that she has heretofore claimed to not like, and as she leaves for her trip, she insists he not call her office, but her cellphone, should he want to reach her. This is not, apparently, remotely suspicious behavior to the ex-cop, for… reasons, apparently.
When an old friend who is, apparently, sort of stalking Whelan, shows up with a story about a certain double murder that he thinks would be a great topic for Jack’s next book, and who refuses to talk to Jack about it in Jack’s home, while asking repeatedly about where Jack’s wife is, well… apparently that isn’t much call for alarm. What is, despite Jack’s failure to attempt to contact the Seattle police, sort of what you do when someone goes missing, is the two-day long disappearance of Amy, and the rather odd and suspicious behavior of the people at her office, where jack’s requests to speak to her keep resulting in him getting told that they will leave a message for a man who is decidedly not his wife.
And then there is the guy broadcasting pirate radio from his tricked out van, who takes a call from someone who seems to know all about the conspiracy theories the guy is spouting, and who, when they meet, turns out to be a fellow named Richard Shepard. Things end… poorly for Van Guy. But he’s not the only person Shepard is crossing paths with, as he is also hunting a small girl named Madison, who is experiencing weird moments where she doesn’t seem to be in control of her own body, and finds herself doing things she can’t remember doing, and then she’s… someone else. Someone who is not at all happy that Shepard has “woken her too early”, and for that, he will pay.
It’s all… cryptic. To say the least.
Still, it is a great cast, and an impressive production team, and there seems to be a plan in place. Word is that by the third episode it all becomes disturbingly clear what is going on, and while I can’t say that I’m gripped by it all yet, I’m willing to give it some more time. Frain in particular is always fun to watch in whatever he’s working on, and here is no different. There are clearly things going on in Shepard’s mind while he’s working whatever his plan is. Millie Brown’s Madison is also intriguing, and it’s always good to see a child actor who is able to believably bring two clearly different personalities to the fore on cue. Her normal little girl is terrified by what’s happening to her, and the rage in the other… entity? Yeah, entity, is properly unnerving. Mira Sorvino really only has the one scene that stands out, but it really works, and if anything, it’s John Simm that is getting the short shift here, with what really does seem like odd behavior for an ex-policeman. The whole thing might be feeling unfocused with this first episode, but it does seem to be parts of a larger picture, and one can hope that it really will all come together.