I am back everyone. A hardy thank you to Jordan Cramer for subbing for me last week and writing the recap for “Exit One.” If you missed last week’s episode, read Jordan’s recap here. Also, you may have heard that NBC is jettisoning Persons Unknown to the netherworld of summer Saturday evenings as of July 17th. Once again, NBC has decided that a show isn’t worth their time, even when they are responsible for not marketing it well. God knows what they’re going to put on instead, but there you have it. However, it isn’t the 17th yet, so we had a new episode, “Incoming,” this week.
The episode begins with the surveillance camera focused on Janet sleeping. A man recites Carl Sandburg’s “Wilderness” as he switches the camera feed amongst the Captives. It’s Tom, the manager of the Chinese restaurant and one of Joe’s conspirators. Tom flashes through the rooms but notices something is missing: namely, Joe. Unfortunately for Tom, and the conspiracy, Joe has broken protocol for the second time in as many days as he enters the observation room Tom is in. Tom points out (gesturing to the black camera dome above them) that Joe is walking on thin ice with the people that are watching them. Joe tells Tom that there is something about Janet that is bothering him; a reason she shouldn’t have been taken. Tom doesn’t want to discuss it, mostly because he isn’t there to make those types of evaluations. He orders Joe to return to the hotel before it is noticed that he is gone.
When Joe does return to the hotel, he is met there by Janet. He says he was out taking a walk, but their chit-chat is interrupted when Moira rushes in saying Tori is missing. Not only is she gone, but as McNair explains, her entire room has been cleared out, as if she was never there. The Captives run out into town square to look for her. Moira spots a blonde woman in Tori’s polka dot dress lying by the edge of town. They run to the woman, but she is definitely not Tori. Cut to a man sweeping up coins thrown into Carlo Maderno’s Fountain in Rome. He is startled when he spies something — it’s Tori’s dead body.
At the hotel, the Captives lie the woman on the lobby front desk. They remove the blondewig to reveal cornrows. They also find what look like prison tattoos, one signifying that she likely killed someone, and one with what they presume is her name, Erika. Moira also finds three needle marks that she identifies as administered by a hospital. Bill enters and is his usual annoying self until he is finally dismissed to go find some coffee. Back in Rome, Ambassador Fairchild (Tori’s father) is in the local morgue to identify his daughter’s body. With one of the security cameras zooming in on the distraught Ambassador, he confirms that the body is Tori, as the Italian police swear they will stop at nothing to find the perpetrators of the crime.
In her room, Moira works on her dry erase board, where she has written down all of the information she has gathered on the conspiracy the Captives find themselves in. McNair enters and she asks him if he is familiar with the Agatha Christie novel And Then There Were None. He is not, so she explains that in the novel, a group of people are brought to a secluded location and are murdered one by one. When McNair asks who committed the murders, Moira reveals that (SPOILER ALERT!!!!) it was one among the group. Perhaps, one of them is in league with their captors. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Kat fires Renbe for his continued work on Janet’s disappearance. She’s not firing him because she found out that he was once married to Janet, but rather that he lied about it. He swears that what he feels for Kat is real, but she isn’t buying it. It’s time for Renbe to pack his things and go.
Back in the hotel, Joe and Janet look over Erika in one of the bedrooms, wondering if she is in a coma. She is not, as Erika springs up, kicks Joe and Janet’s collective ass, and literally hurls herself out of the second-story window. Unfortunately for her, she didn’t learn about the pain fence before she escaped. Erika hurtles down the street to the edge of down and is stopped dead in her tracks by the invisible fence. Renbe, meanwhile, is drinking in a bar when he sees a report on Tori’s death on the bar’s television. When he hears that she had been missing for just over two weeks, something registers with him: Janet has been missing for the same amount of time. At the same time, Moira is in the dress shop. She looks up to the ever-present security globe and swears that should their captors have done anything to Tori, she will get even. In response, the television in the store clicks on. A reporter states that the Ambassador’s daughter, Tori, has been found alive. In fact, the report shifts to the Ambassador himself saying that he is happy and relived that his daughter has been found safe. The TV suddenly clicks off, but Moira is relieved to hear her friend is safe.
Erika rises from her stupor and runs back up the road. She sees Bill, beats him up and takes his clothes before running off again and into the Chinese restaurant. She sees Tom, who offers her some food and drink. She quickly gobbles a quick bite, grabs a knife, and runs back out. Joe, for his part, enters the observation room to search for Erika. When Tom enters, Joe asks about Tori. Tom explains that she is “no longer with us.” Joe asks what that means, but Tom responds that Joe knowswhat that means, “there will always be more eliminations.” Bill stumbles into the hotel lobby and collapses, bruised and beaten, onto a couch by Charlie. Bill begs Charlie for help, claiming that they all need to “stick together” if they are going to survive their ordeal. Charlie, reveling in Bill’s misery, responds, “It’s time you realized, Mr. Blackham, that it is survival of the fittest.”
Following up the hunch that he had in the bar, Renbe takes another look at the video of Janet’s abduction. She was taken by two men in blue jumpsuits, as was Tori’s body was recovered from the fountain by men in blue jumpsuits. Similarly, Renbe had been followed by men in blue jumpsuits. There must be some connection. Back in the town square, Erika is approached by the Captives. Armed now with a sign, Erika smacks Moira upside the head and runs into the bank, pursued by Janet and Joe. Erika hides in the safe and Janet follows her in. Right then, Tom closes the safe door, locking Janet and Erika inside, with Erika cornering Janet with the knife she grabbed from the Shanghai Palace. Joe runs to the observation room and demands that Tom open the safe. Tom answers that that would be against protocol. The women must remain inside until “there is a result” or their air runs out. Joe tries to force his way to the computer, but Tom pulls a gun on him. He will not be opening the door, so the women have nineteen and a half minutes until their oxygen runs out.
Inside the vault, Erika grabs Janet and holds the knife to her throat, swearing she will kill Janet if she is not released. Janet, however, is able to turn the tables on Erika, and wrestle the knife from her. With Janet holding the knife out for protection, Erika walks right up to it, almost begging Janet to kill her, “I’ve already died once.” Joe, meanwhile, grabs some pick axes and makes his way to the bank. Running into McNair, Joe explains the situation. The two men begin to tear away at the vault wall. Erika notes that Joe must really care about Janet to put forth such an effort, especially as he’s trying to chip through steel-reinforced concrete. Back in San Francisco, Renbe goes online to search for recent missing persons. “Bill Blackham” is the first name to pop up, but before he can read through all of the names, Kat enters. It seems Renbe is in her apartment, although it’s not breaking and entering if one still has a key. He apologizes for “breaking in,” but he can’t let go of Janet’s disappearance. He explains that it’s no because he cares about Janet anymore (he doesn’t), but because of Megan. “The [daughter] you abandoned?” Kat asks incredulously. Well, if that’s true he should actually try to be part of her life, and he should certainly not do it from her apartment.
Joe and McNair continue to try to bash down the vault wall. Erika wonders how long he and Janet have known each other for him to be so determined to free her. Janet admits it’s only been a couple weeks, but he is the only person she trusts. According to Erika, this is Janet’s first problem: trusting someone. Janet’s second problem? Trusting a man. With their oxygen depleting, and wooziness setting in, Janet tells Erika about Megan. Erika, in turn, shares with Janet that she has an eleven year old son, to whom she’s never been a good mother. Janet promises that Erika will see her son again, but Erika isn’t so sure. Their air is running out. Joe and McNair are no closer to breaking through the wall, so Joe tells McNair that he’s going to get help. McNair offers that Charlie and Moira will be no help, but Joe is off anyway. Joe runs into the hotel and into the elevator. He presses the elevator’s buttons in a specific code and the doors close. At that moment, Moira, who had been recuperating from Erika’s sign attack on a lobby couch, rises just in time to see the elevator doors close on Joe, but the light indicating the elevator going up from the lobby never change.
Back in the vault, Janet asks Erika what she meant when she said that she had “already died once.” Erika rolls up her sleeve and indicates the three needle holes on her arm. Those holes weren’t from drug use or a hospital. Rather, she was executed by lethal injection! She was on a gurney, and last remembered looking up at the ceiling. Then, she woke up with Janet looking down over her. From all the bad things she had done in her life, she figured she was in Hell, and the the Captives were all demons. Hence, her aggressive behavior. Janet assures that their situation is all together real. Janet begins to slip into unconsciousness, but Erika grabs her hand and encourages her to stay awake.
Joe makes his way into the observation room and to the computer. He tries to open the vault door when Tom enters, gun drawn. Tom asks if Joe is willing to throw everything away for Janet. Joe answers in the affirmative, so Tom tries to take him out with his badass martial arts skills. Joe is too fast for Tom this time; he disarms Tom, knocks him to the floor and puts a boot on his neck. Tom tells Joe that this is his last chance to “stay on board,” but Joe, once again, orders Tom to open the vault door. Tom finally does, with Joe smashing the computer afterwords. Joe runs back to the vault and embraces Janet. Both Erika and McNair, however, and for their own reasons, eye Joe warily.
In San Francisco, Kat is in the process of sliding an envelope under an apartment door when Renbe walks up the stairs. She swears he is still fired and doesn’t want to get back together, but she has something for him. It’s the list of the missing people, with both Tori and Janet’s names circled. Renbe thanks her, but the only advice she has for him is “Go see your daughter.” In the town square, Janet, Erika, Joe and McNair make their way back to the hotel, when, out of nowhere, Bill runs up and tackles Erika. He is quickly pulled off of her, but screams, “She is the enemy!” “No, she’s not,” Janet retorts. Erika, seeing Moira, apologizes to her for hitting her with the sign. Moira accepts the apology. Bill asks where his apology is, but all he gets in response is Erika grabbing her crotch.
Ambassador Fairchild sits in his office in Rome, contemplating a picture of Tori and him, when he receives a phone call. The caller thanks the Ambassador for his cooperation and looks forward to their continued work together. Fairchild says he paid his debt and that they can’t hurt him anymore, now that Tori has been killed. The caller swears that they can do more to him if he doesn’t continue to work with them, and hangs up. Back in the hotel, McNair is praying when he starts to flashback to his time in war. He moves through a town and building as his comrades are all shot. He clears the house and finds a boy who he holds at gunpoint. McNair rouses from his memory before reliving the next moment. He removes his dog tags and flushes them down the toilet. Out in the gazebo, Janet sits. She is approached by Erika, who thanks Janet for helping her throughout their ordeal. Erika finishes her thanks by swearing to Janet that no matter what, Erika has Janet’s back.
Renbe stands in a park looking at pictures of Janet and Megan. Megan rides up on her bike, and Renbe approaches her. She says that she’s not supposed to talk to strangers, but Renbe tells her that he’s not really a stranger as he knows her mother. Eleanor arrives on the scene, and tries to get rid of the man talking to her granddaughter. Renbe explains that he is Mark Cooper, which leaves Eleanor dumbfounded for a moment. She tries to get him to leave, obviously not wanting to confuse Megan, but he insists he just wants to do what’s best for “her granddaughter.” He promises to Megan that he will do everything he can to find her mommy.
McNair knocks on Moira’s door. When she lets him in, he apologizes for allowing Moira to get hurt. He is responsible for everyone’s safety, and he failed. Moira says that that is nothis responsibility. It doesn’t matter anyway, because Tori likely escaped and is sending help. McNair tells Moira that he believes Tori is dead. Moira tells him about the TV in the dress shop, but he believes that to be a trick. In fact, he thought this entire ordeal was a military training exercise; one that he failed because he has finally cracked. Moira soothes him by telling him that he has not cracked. However, there may indeed bean enemy in their midst. There is something she wants to tell McNair about Joe.
Joe and Tom wait in the observation room’s antechamber (off the freezer in the restaurant). Tom insists that this was his and Joe’s test, and that Joe’s actions have put them both in danger. “I can’t help the way I feel,” Joe states, but Tom isn’t interested. “So, what is going to happen to us?” Joe asks. “I don’t know,” Tom replies, “We’ll just have to wait and see.”
In my opinion, every “great” show needs to excel in four areas: plot, writing, acting and production. If one of these four is lacking, then the show can still be “good,” but not “great.” If two of these are missing, the show is average. Three, and you get a poor show, and all four, well, the show should never have been aired in the first place. After missing last week’s episode at the time it aired (thanks again to Jordan for filling in!), and then watching it a couple hours before watching this latest installment, the problems with Persons Unknown came into sharper focus: it’s an average show, missing two of the four characteristics above. I think the idea of the show is pretty great. As we’ve gone over before, this premise is nothing new, but it’s a good one: strangers brought together for an unknown reason and picked off one by one. In fact, the show actually made direct reference to its most obvious ancestor, And Then There Were None. So, a plus for plot. Also, I think the production values for the show are high. I like the “it’s supposed to look like a set” set, the color palette, and the directorial choices (although, how many places do the conspirators have cameras? Renbe’s office? Fairchild’s office?? The Italian Morgue?!?). So, a plus for production, as well.
Where this show lacks is in the writing and acting. I’ve discussed before my problems with Joe, Kat and Eleanor, so there is no need to go down that road again. Especially because I do think many of the actors (McNair, Charlie, Janet, Erika) are quite strong. The most glaring problem for me has been the writing. This runs the gamut from actual dialogue (how many times in this week’s episode was some variation of “we need to stick together” uttered? I think four or five. In 44 minutes.), to plot development (randomly, we see a bit of McNair’shistory four-fifths of the way through the episode, but it’s not explored. Yes, I know it has something to do with his “responsibility” to protect everyone, but it was so jarringly thrown into the episode). The pacing of the show, which is another testament to the writing, just also seems off. I know I keep harping on it, but the San Francisco stuff is so God-awful I wish Renbe and Kat would just disappear. Yes, finally, some connection was being made as Renberecognized that Tori’s death and Janet’s disappearance might be linked, but the story still bothered me to no end. It’s funny, because it’s not that leaving the town is the problem. When the story shifted to Rome to deal with Tori’s death and the Ambassador’s blackmail, I was actually pretty intrigued. So, it’s not that leaving the town is necessarily “bad;” it’s just that the San Francisco story is dreadful. Further examples are the weird bee story and the black semi-truck from the last episode. How random, and how bizarrely paced. I can’t build up any dramatic tension if every time I’m supposed to fear for my two romantic leads, we cut back to Bill Blackham and His Private Parks.
All that being said (and I know it was a lot), I actually think the show was moving in a positive direction this week. You know, right in time for NBC to banish it. The conspiracy is beginning to come to light (although, not the reason for the conspiracy), people are being knocked off, choices are being made, and consequences will have to be dealt with. These are positive developments for any dramatic series, and I’m glad we’re getting some payoff for the time investment. Now, why NBC had to shift the show to Saturday in the middle of the summer is beyond me. Was it really hurting Last Comic Standing that much? Does NBC really think people were saying, “Man, I’d really love to watch Persons Unknown, but it’s on against The Bachelorette!!”? It’s not like the summer is a sweeps period that millions of ad dollars are being lost. The only thing NBC is earning is a weary viewing audience’s ire. Now that we’re five episodes out of thirteen in, though, I will be soldiering on.
So, that’s what I’ve got for this week’s Persons Unknown. What did you think? Do you think the show is moving in a positive direction? What do you think about losing Tori and gaining Erika? Any opinion on my “four characteristics of a great show”? Am I totally off the mark here? I’m willing to hear arguments. Will you be following the show to Saturday nights? Remember, the next episode is Saturday, July 17th. I will be back then with another recap. Until then, I’m off to try the pressed duck. I hear I won’t be disappointed.