Recap – Persons Unknown 1.03 “The Way Through”

Did you miss last week’s Persons Unknown, “The Edge?” Catch up with a recap here.

This week’s episode, “The Way Through,” begins with one of the security cameras panning the town square, unable to find The Captives. The cameras switch to different angles , but are unable to find the group. They are underground, digging a tunnel underneath the town. At the twenty foot mark, and therefore past the ADS “pain gun,” McNair hits metal. It’s a steel wall. Janet despairs at yet another blocked exit. Joe bangs on the steel, and a siren sounds. The slats on the wall open, and gas pours into the tunnel. They all hurry out of the tunnel, but Janet is overcome by the gas and passes out. McNair and Joe go back to retriever her and successfully get her about ground. Janet isn’t breathing at first, but Joe is able to revive her.

Later, demoralized, the Captives dine yet again on Chinese food. Tori wonders if there is any any means of escape at all, especially after they just spent a week digging the tunnel. Moira starts singing, “We’re screwed! We’re screwed!” until Janey can’t take it anymore. She rushes at Moira, screaming at her until Joe can pull her away. “We’re all going toget through this together," he says to mollify Janet. Once calm, Janet apologizes to Moira, saying she was wrong for flipping out. “Maybe we are all wrong,” Moira says. Perhaps they shouldn’t be trying to escape, but instead, trying to help the outside world find them. They should build a signal fire, a large one. The rest of the group latches onto the idea immediately, and they rush out of the restaurant to grab materials.

In San Francisco, Renbe is at his office computer. His editor/girlfriend, Kat, wants to know hat he’s working on, and when he says Janet’s kidnapping, she isn’t happy. He stops her rant by telling her that the evidence leads him to believe Janet’s mother, Eleanor, might be behind the kidnapping, as she now has custody of Janet’s daughter, Megan. Further, Eleanor used to abuse Janet, and might be doing so to Megan now. Kat tells him to “find the sleaze by tomorrow,” or he’s out of a job.

Back in the town, Tori searches one of the stores for materials to burn in the signal fire. Bill enters, and remarks that they are both in new clothes that had been left for them in their rooms. He has decided that after their near-death experience, he wants to live each moment like his last. So, he walks over to Tori and starts kissing her. This is nota smart move as Tori whips out some serious self-defense moves and kicks Bill’s ass. He should know that she has “intimacy issues.” Tori lets Bill out of the arm bar she had him in, and leaves. Bill, too, leaves the store, sees Charlie, and warns him that they can’t trust the others. Charlie peers through the window of the post office and decides to look inside for more kindling for the fire. When he leaves, Bill leans against the window for the electronics store. Inside, a 1950’s era TV comes to life. The black-and-white scene is of Charlie sitting on a bed next to a woman. He begins to cry as he lifts a pillow and places it over her face. He holds it there as she struggles, until no life is left in her — Charlie killed his wife. Charlie bounds out of the post office (there was nothing that could be used for the fire) and tells Bill he’s going to meet up with the others. Bill, shocked at what he saw, slowly follows after him.

In the town square, Joe, McNair and Moira try to start the fire, but no matter what they do, the pile won’t light. It seems everything in the town has been coated in flame retardant. The Captives don’t have long to worry about their latest setback as Tori spies a helicopter heading their way. They are saved! The group waves at their salvation as it gets lower and lower; however it never reaches the ground. Instead, a hatch opens on its underbelly and a box drops out. With its payload delivered, the helicopter flies away. McNair approaches the box and is knocked backwards when it springs open on its own. Joe moves to investigate its contents, and finds seven boxes, each with a Captive’s name on it. Each person gathers his or her box and opens it. Most are empty, but three (Charlie, McNair and Tori) contain gas masks. Janet, distraught that she didn’t receive a mask, stalks off into the hotel. They all gather there and decide that they should partner up in case the masks are actually needed. McNair actually gives his mask to Moira, with whom he seems to be forming a bond. Janet flips out again, and demands Charlie’s mask, saying that she has a daughter to whom she needs to get back. Charlie sarcastically says that while Janet’s story is tragic, it is not exceptional; she isn’t the only one with a family. The Night Manager enters, and slides his sign to “On Duty.” Bill asks what he’s doing there being that it is mid-day. “I’ve received a promotion,” the Night Manager responds dryly. They ask if he has a gas mask, but he does not. Obviously, the idea that more than half of them don’t have gas masks creates an untenable situation. McNair suggests that there must be some other way to protect themselves, so they decide to search the town for other forms of protection.

In San Francisco, Renbe enters his apartment, but hears someone inside. He quietly grabs a baseball bat (oddly, in his golf bag), and moves to the kitchen. There he finds Reddick calmly sipping on a beer. Reddick tells Renbe that there is no story surrounding Janet’s disappearance. When Renbe protests, Reddick coolly replies that his employers asked him to kill Renbe, but Reddick insisted that Renbe would listen to reason and drop his investigation. Renbe continues to press the issue, so Reddick punches him in the stomach, takes his computer and files on the case, and leaves Renbe gasping for air on the floor.

Back in the hotel, Bill knocks on Charlie’s door; he has a question for Charlie. See, it seems that Bill had a dream. In this dream, he and Charlie were in Bill’s bedroom talking. Then, Charlie picked up a pillow and held it over Bill’s face. Charlie’s face goes white, and he flashes back to the time he was with his wife. He is weeping as he sits over her, before finally using the pillow to end his wife’s pain. Bill interrupts the memory by asking Charlie if he ever wondered what it was like to be smothered to death by someone he knows. Unable to face Bill any longer, Charlie rushes out. Downstairs,McNair talks with Moira. He tells her of the bad stuff he saw in war. Having never been a particularly religious person, he became interested in Islam. His practice of the religion gave him clarity. Moira, impressed by the story and the man telling it, asks if maybe he could teach her some time. “Maybe I could,” he answers. Outside, Janet enters the grocery store. She thinks she hears something, so she investigates. She makes her way to the back store room and finds Charlie rooting through bottles of soda. He asks if she wants one, but finds her staring at his gas mask. “Thou shalt not covet they neighbor’s gas mask,” he warns her. At that moment, a siren sounds, and the storeroom door locks shut. White smoke, like that in the tunnel, begins to fill the room. Charlie puts on his mask, but continues to freak out even though he is the one with the mask. Janet, with her shirt covering her mouth and nose, tells him to keep calm (he has the mask after all!) and help her open the door. They try using a bench in the room to break the door, but are unsuccessful. Janet begins to falter because of the gas when the door miraculously opens. Charlie carries her out into the square. “There’s no gas out here!” Charlie notices. “Why?!?!” he exclaims.

The Captives gather in the hotel lobby. Janet is better. She begins speaking to the closest security camera. She asks if “you” are just trying to get the Captives to flip out, to go crazy? ‘Are you getting off on this?” she asks. “Well, how about this?”she says before smashing the camera. She apologizes but her skin still feels like it is on fire. McNair explains that the gas must have a high toxicity. They’re actually lucky that they saw the gas coming because there are some that are invisible. Moira lists a couple such gasses (what doesn’t this woman know about?). “Well, we’re not dead yet,” Janet says. Bill responds, he’s really sorry to bring up reality, but “We’re so dead!” This declaration leaves a further pall over the group. Later, Moira sits in the Shanghai Palace at a piano. She slowly plunks the same key over and over again. McNair enters and as he asks her to come back to the hotel, she begins to play a piece (it was something I completely recognize, but I don’t know the name of the piece. Anyone know?). When she finishes, Moira explains that she learned to play in the mental hospital. She was an orphan as a child, and after a few problems in a foster home, she was taken to the mental hospital for some tests. She wasn’t crazy, but the hospital was the first place she actually felt cared for. To stay, she had to convince the doctors that she was crazy. At some point, she convinced herself.

Back in San Francisco (God, can we stop going to this storyline, please?!?), Renbe breaks into Reddick’s office. He gets into Reddick’s emails and reads a few aloud (despite the fact thatthey are huge on the screen so everyone watching the show can read them clearly). It appears both Janet and Eleanor were looking for Janet’s husband. Further, Reddick received a large wire transfer into his bank account. The confirmation email was from an unknown sender, but there is a toll-free number listed on the email. Renbe calls the number, but only hears some distorted music on the other end. He hangs up, and immediately cell phone rings. Renbe answers, but only hears the same distorted music. He hangs up, grabs his computer (which was on a shelf nearby) and all of Reddick’s files on Janet.

In town, Bill is in the sheriff’s office. Charlie enters, saying he was looking for Bill. He explains that his wife was very sick for many years. All the money in the world just couldn’t end his wife’s pain. “Is that why you smothered your wife?” Bill callously asks. Charlie asks how Bill knew that, and Bill explains that he saw it on the TV in the electronics store; however, Charlie shouldn’t sweat it. Without another word, Bill leaves. Janet, meanwhile, sits in the grocery store with a very large bucket of ice cream and a very small spoon. She invites Joe to sit down and have some ice cream when he enters the store. He tastes some — cherries jubilee, his absolute favorite as a kid. After every baseball game, his father would take him for cherries jubilee ice cream. The only problem was that his father would then proceed to tell Joe all the things he did wrong during the game. Janet replies that at least he had a father to go to his baseball games; Megan’s father disappeared before she was even born. A bit despondent, Janet looks around the store. Something in the 50’s era posters behind the lunch counter catches her eye. The images of a woman and girl are eerily familiar. She looks closer: they are of Megan and Eleanor! Janet freaks out and runs into the hotel where the other are gathered. She grabs a bottle and holds it aloft, demanding from Charlie his mask. Joe grabs her and forces her to look in the mirror. “Look at yourself! Look at what they’ve done to you!” he yells, trying to get her to calm down.

The next day, Janet comes downstairs into the lobby and apologizes to her “friends.” McNair says it’s alright; it’s not her fault. They are all being manipulates psychologically by whomever is holding them. At that moment, the sirens blare again, and the hotel doors are locked down. The Night Manager slides his sing to “Off Duty,” and hastens his exit. The white smoke pours from vents in the walls. Charlie, Moira and Tori put on their masks, but Bill punches Charlie, rips off his mask, and puts it on himself. McNair punches Bill and drops him to the floor, demanding he give it back to Charlie. Something is wrong, though. The gas isn’t toxic, they are all fine. But then, the masks begin pumping a green gas into Moira, Tori and Bill’s faces. Further, the masks are locked onto their faces, so they can’t get them off! Janet grabs a screwdriver (where’d that come from?!?) and is able to pry off the masks, saving all three of them. “God help us,” is all Joe can say.

Later, McNair prays in the town square gazebo. Moira approaches, and sits down next to him. They make eye contact and share a moment. Up the street, Bill finds Charlie and apologizes for his actions earlier. “You got insane,” Charlie tells him. “Well, I subscribe to the philosophy of “You gotta do what you gotta do,'” Bill replies. Charlie responds that he has always followed the Golden Rule of do unto others…. “That’s interesting coming from someone who killed his wife,” Bill answers back. Does Bill not believe his story, Charlie wonders. “I believe you believe your story about your wife, but I don’t think it’s the truth,” Bill responds, before walking off. "You’re not a car salesman, are you Mr. Blackham?” Charlie shouts after him. “No, I’m not,” Bill coyly replies. Joe finds Janet in the hotel lobby, and tells her that he’s going to go over to Shanghai Palace for something to eat. She replies that they can’t escape, and can’t bring help to them, so what do they do? “Maybe the way out, is the way through,” Joe offers, meaning that maybe they just ride it out to the end. Janet thinks, and replies, “No. The way through is acting like a shark. Show no emotion. Show no weakness. Munch your enemies.” “As long as you know who your enemies are,” Joe replies. The Night Manager then interrupts them with a large bowl of fortune cookies, courtesy of the Shanghai Palace. He presents them with a hearty, “Good luck!” and leaves. “We’re going to make our own luck,” Janet insists before taking the bowl of cookies and pouring them into the trash. They exit the lobby into the square with Joe emphatically stepping on a spilled fortune cookie on his way out.

In San Francisco, Reddick approaches Renbe’s police detective friend, Robert Gomez. He tells the Gomez that he can solve Janet’s disappearance. He says that Janet’s ex-husband lives not a mere five miles away from where they are sitting. “Cooper works here?” Gomez asks. “Yeah, but he’s not named Cooper.” Reddick drops an envelope on Gomez’s desk. He opens it and pulls out a photo. It’s a picture of Janet…and Renbe!

Commentary

Alright, not to sound like Randy Jackson, but for me, this episode was a little pitchy. By that I mean, there were a lot of discordant notes and beats in this episode. First off, was some of the worst dialogue I have heard in a while. Unfortunately for Daisy Betts, all of them were put into her character’s mouth. She had to say”we’re not dead yet!” twice, and the ridiculous stuff about acting like a shark (“munch your enemies”??? Really???). Further, she had those terrible freak out scenes (when she was first gassed and smashed the camera, and then when she attacked Charlie with the bottle) that were about as subtle as a chainsaw. I am going to chalk it up to poor actor coaching from the director, because up until now, Betts has been the best thing on the show, save Alan Ruck.

Then, we have all of the nonsense going on in San Francisco. Gerald Kyd is doing fine as Renbe, but the whole storyline is constantly pulling away from any dramatic tension the “in town” action is building. I mean seriously, can we please do away with that harpy, Kat? Lola Glaudini has chewed so much scenery I’m surprised she still fits in her costumes. Not that the writing for her has been particularly good (“Find me sleaze by tomorrow!”) but she has brought nothing nuanced to the role at all. Yes, the (possible) twist of Renbe being Janet’s husband is good, but I have no reason to believe it. To me, it looks like a straight set-up by Reddick and his bosses, which is fine if that is what the show is trying to construct. But if that’s the case, then why close an episode with the reveal of the photo, implying that Renbe might actually beJanet’s ex-husband? The show hasn’t earned that possibility. Renbe has seen the security camera footage, and showed no reaction to the audience that he knows Janet in the slightest. I suppose it’s possible that he is her ex, and that’s why he insists on staying on the case, but there have been no hints in this direction at all. It made, for me, the whole “cliffhanger” aspect of the episode fall quite flat.

Last, on the negative side, is just the way the structure of the show is being developed. I know it was only the third episode, but the series is now a quarter complete, and we have received not an ounce of insight as to why these people are being held captive, or what their captors plan to do with them. Not an inkling. All that seems to be going on is that they are playing psychological games with the Captives. But to what end? Why these people? I would like to know that there is a master plan of some sort at work here, and I would like for it to at least be hinted at soon. Further, the Captives seem to frequently find exactly what they need when they need it. The show hasn’t done a good job of establishing the parameters of what these characters can and cannot do, and what they do and do not have. After they receive their gas masks, they then search and find ponchos and other protective equipment. They really didn’t find this stuff the first two times they searched the town? Similarly, when the gas masks started poisoning their wearers, Janet was able to find a screwdriver (or was it a knife) just lying around, without it being introduced in the first place. Props need to be shown to the audience prior to their use as a tool or weapon, or it just seems like the items rain from the sky whenever the writers weren’t able to come up with a better way to get their characters out of a given situation. I hope this trend stops here.

Now, there were a couple positives in the episode. I like the unlikely friendship/romance being built between McNair and Moira, if nothing more than because it is just an unlikely pairing (tall, black, Muslim Marine and a short, white mental patient know-it-all). Plus, I think Chadwick Boseman and Tina Holmes are giving strong performances. Also, I enjoyed the twist that Charlie killed his wife. Yes, it was a mercy killing, but it informs the darkness inside Alan Ruck’s fantastic performance (honestly, he’s the best thing about this show). It also makes it quite curious as to why he keeps referencing his wife as if she is still alive. Just something to notice. Last, I’m glad they threw in Bill’s last exchange with Charlie that revealed Bill isn’t a car salesman. I was feeling very “meh” about his character, but this adds a little something for me to be interested in.

So, all in all, while there were some positive aspects of the episode, I think it took a couple steps backwards. I hope that next week (for which, Jordan Cramer will be stepping in while I’m on vacation!) the show ill begin to introduce the players that are manipulating the Captives and introduce us to the stakes for which each of the characters is playing. How was the episode for you? What did you think of Janet’s freak-outs? How about the budding relationship between McNair and Moira? What do you think Bill really does? Please leave your questions, comments and theories below. Again, Jordan Cramer will be in for me with next week’s recap, and I’ll be back the following week with the recap for the July 5th episode. Until then, I’m off to get a complimentary umbrella.


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